Alex Haley said,
“Nobody can do for little children what grandparents do. Grandparents sort of sprinkle stardust over the lives of little children.”
On 26th November 2020, when I got a call from my father, I thought it must be the normal day-to-day update call on ‘How are you?’, ‘We are fine here’. Little did I anticipate that the next two days and nights would be spent in worrying over my grandfather’s sudden decline in health. I mean, we spoke to him every few days (and took an update about his health from my father everyday). So when dad said grandpa wasn’t able to get up and move about, it came as a shock for me.
My 91-year-old grandfather was fit as a fiddle for his age, I mean, this was a person, who shirked us away when we offered assistance to him for moving around or while getting up from his seat. He liked moving about on his own, albeit with slow steps, and hated it when we made fuss about it. So though things seemed dire, I had faith in his willpower and assured my father that grandpa will bounce back in no time and we need not worry. My positive outlook turned out to be fruitful, and grandpa was normal the next morning. We spoke over video call and when I asked him how he was feeling, he gave his trademark twinkling smile and replied, “I’m completely fine now, you don’t worry about me.”
I hung up relieved, grateful and also marveling about his body’s strength. Fast forward to that evening (and just a couple of hours following that video call) when things went downhill. He had to be admitted to the hospital (owing to kidney stones) and the next night, he passed away. I could not wrap my head around it and only recalled that last conversation where he said not to worry. How could he be gone? We just spoke to him!
It’s been less than twenty four hours since he breathed his last, and a whirlwind of memories have been exchanged by those of us who knew him. A successful and respected sales tax officer in his time, Mr. Gunvantrai Dahyabhai Naik, was a man of ideals and someone who was so broad-minded that it was hard to believe he belonged to an era when most people, especially women, did not have much freedom and sources.
Some exemplary actions of his included:
- Returning the dowry money which was taken from them during their weddings, to all his daughters-in-law (all 6 of them!!) because he thought it was the right thing to do.
- The money that came in from selling his house (the house where he used to live with his wife till her demise in 2018) was handed over to the daughters-in-law and not his sons.
- Divorces are still frowned upon in our society, but he opened his heart and home to a granddaughter who was finding her footing in the world after a rough marriage and divorce. This granddaughter lived with him and his wife for a year for completing her further education and later moved to USA. At this moment, she holds a prestigious higher level position at the Bank of America.
- Giving away an amount of 1 lakh rupees to a friend who simply asked for it . The friend in question was someone he barely knew for over a month and the money was never asked back.
- Donating an amount of 90,000 INR to the (Desai) community (for which he was even honoured by the then CM of Gujarat and now PM of India, Shree Narendra Modi)
Besides this philanthropic and exemplary works, he was highly spiritual and a wanderlust at heart. Along with his wife he travelled far and wide, including undertaking the Chaar Dham yatra. But for me what stands out among their travel stories, are these:
- Both my grandparents used to undertake a trip to the holy city of Haridwar every year, till they were both well in their 70s. Point to note here is that they did this alone, none of the sons or the grandchildren were taken along during these trips.
- They visited Dubai in 2016 (with my father and one of my uncles), when they were 87 and 83 respectively. Wheelchair abound, they both went atop the Burj Khalifa (which FYI even I’m yet to do) and covered all the major attractions in the city including the desert safari.
- In the same year, 2016, they visited the holy city of Haridwar one last time. As per the Hindu beliefs, even took the dip and washed away their sins in sacred waters of the Ganges. (which is considered a right to passage before death in the Hindu religion)
These actions cannot be shrugged off as ordinary because it were these that personified ‘Leading and living by example’ and it was by watching him doing these that made good human beings out of his sons and grandchildren.
A man of principles, he was independent; emotionally, physically and even financially (his tenure as a government employee ensured he earned a good pension) right till the end! So much so, that he leaves behind nothing in terms of property which can cause any kind of conflict among his heirs.
Having a wife like my grandma, who herself had a strong presence and personality, my grandpa was usually overshadowed because of her; he was a man of few words and only spoke, when spoken to.
But I do remember how fondly he smiled at Manan (my husband) and would ask my grandmother to get that a cup of ice cream or any other dessert (which was invariably always there!!) from the refrigerator for Manan. I had never seen him being so consciously hospitable to us or any other guests over the years. On an occasion or two I had also caught him admiringly looking at Manan or laughing/chuckling at a silly joke Manan would have cracked, and it always warmed my heart to see his affection towards the man who was now tied to his granddaughter.
He never complained or made a fuss about anything, and happily ate whatever was made at home, without asking for any specific kind of dish. And because of that, taking care of him, was never a burden.
That, I believe, is the true essence of ‘Simple Living, High Thinking’. He became even quieter and kept to himself after my grandma’s demise in 2018. I do not believe in fate much, but I do believe in karma, and his passing away within such a short period after my grandma, makes my belief in the concept of karma and soulmates, stronger. Not to mention, his death came at almost the same day/date as her (my grandmother passed away on 4th December, 2018)
Despite all his milestones and virtuous traits, the one thing that stands out in my memory about him, is his love for books and reading. Whenever he came to live with us, he was the only one, who would check out my bookshelves (yes, I always had a library at home, right from childhood), pick up a random book, and then come back and talked about it with me after he had completed reading it. That twinkle in his eye went up a notch when he spoke about books.
In an extended family of over 20 people, he was the only person, who I shared my love of books with. And it is through him that I believe I have inherited the love for reading, which eventually led to my calling as a writer. I remember how proud he looked whenever I spoke to him about my work or when he said he read my stories and liked them.
No review, feedback or award matches that feeling for me, even today.
Thank you for being the person that you were, Baapa; always smiling and sticking to your ideals.
You live in our hearts and memories forever.
R.I.P. , dear departed soul.