Apologies for the delay... This would be one of the first stories I'd written after my return from Kerala. Alas, the one who usually reviews my work has gone into an extended procrastinating phase, therefore, I eagerly await your feedback on this one...
I let the wind play with my hair for a while. It began as a sober game, which as time passed by, knotted every strand of my hair in such an intricate manner, that it was impossible, not to frown.
I politely withdrew from this juvenile affair and absentmindedly ran my fingers through the knots; pulling, patting each and every intertwined strand. Finally, tired of the unwanted exertion, I rested my head back on the car's window sill as it sped along the neat, barely populated roads. Flashes of clear baby blue skies interrupted the expanse of holy green that jutted into your eyes.
I felt the butterflies in my stomach, pure excitement at thought of meeting Appa after so long. I tilted my head and tried concentrating at the scene that flashed by me while my mind whizzed into a swirl of nostalgia.
Vague memories of my grandfather sneaked in and out, as if they were hidden behind playful curtains.As a child, I would marvel at the similarity between my father and him, and how if only his paunch disappeared, he grew a wee bit taller, and his elf like ears shrunk to normal size, they would seem like exact replicas of each other.
But somehow, my grandfather had kinder eyes. Eyes that spoke tons to another, without a word escaping from his lips.
Or maybe that was just the epiphora.
Yet, I'd like to believe that it was just the kindness in him.
Ironically, he and I never had a proper conversation. My severe lack of knowledge when it came down to speaking malayalam and his severe lack of knowledge in any other language other than malayalam acted as a barrier that somehow always seemed to erect a vaccum in between. I would jubilantly plop myself on the sofa, with an air of unshakable confidence borne out of the extremely important fact- "It's MY grandfather's house!"
Though, right after the sofa came the part where my grandparents would come into the room, look at me fondly, tickle me under the chin and ask questions about the seemingly grand capital of the nation where their son had resided for the past 30 years. I would answer, and they would gaze at me with wondrous delight. Back then, I thought that Delhi was the reason behind their delight and curiosity. However, age teaches you otherwise.
Then, I remember feeling solemn in all my 8-year old innocence and believing that it was my foremost duty to inquire after their health. I'd ape the dialogues and expressions that my parents adopted when speaking to the elderly.
I'd attach utmost importance to the matter, gently rebuke them, appropriately widen my mouth in amazement, sympathetically nod my head in an alternative basis. And when the three minute inquiry would get over, I'd mentally congratulate myself for carrying off such an exceptional dialogue in malayalam, without a single awkward pause.
Soon after that. my grandmother would bustle off into the kitchen to pile the plate with rich delicacies, while my grandfather would sit with me in the drawing room, on his chair that overlooked the entrance of the house. I'd rattle away about my life, sitting at his knee, and speaking in a confusing combination of english, hindi and broken malayalam while he'd nod pretending to understand every detail. Eventually I would quieten, but not for long.
But somehow, despite this being the extent of our contact; those 3-4 days in a 30 day long summer vacation, (I generally avoided telephonic conversations with my grandparents owing to my severe discomfort with my mother tongue); I held my grandfather on a pedestal.
I'd conjure stories of heroism where he'd defeat all odds, work hard, take care of his wife and bring up all his five children without ugly stories of domestic violence that usually predominated any household of that time. He was, a legend, to me.
And then, come the flashbacks of a childish fool- when in the presence of my other cousins, I'd authoritatively sit on his lap to establish him as my property,
All in 3-4 days of a year.
We'd be meeting my grandfather after two years now. I'd heard news of his declining health in between the rush of a teenager's metropolitan life, and had barely paid attention to it. But now, amidst the tranquility that existed around me, I couldn't pinpoint what unnerved me more - that fact that I might be seeing him for the last time or that I had blissfully shut myself to this very important aspect of my life.
So as my car sped by, I revolved again and again over the minute incidences- mulling over my fondness for him and all the childish acts of mine that had made me once feel so superior, and the very thought that I never bothered to pick up the phone and call.
I reverted to the Orhan Pamuk that was lying dejectedly on my lap since the past 2 hours. And I lost myself again, this time not to pleasant memories, but to fictional terrains.
We slowed down as we approached the familiar countryside, the gentle grey elevating road ahead, which was flanked by small independent houses roofed with the endemic brown terracotta tiles and barred by blue doors. I saw the familiar sight of my ancestral house- old and uninhibited, and felt it's presence fill me up with an unexplained warmth.
"We're here." My father curtly informed the occupants of the car and got off. I scowled. I couldn't wait to contrast his curtness to my grandfather's elaborate and affectionate welcome
Before anybody else could say a word, I threw caution to the winds and jumped out of the car to run up the familiar garden and end the suspense. I forgot how old I was, I forgot all that I had learnt in the 18 years of my existence, I forgot my phone, my books, the gifts for my cousin, my expensive lifestyle- I was back to being the pompous child.
The door opened before I reached it, my grandfather's frail and shriveled face peeked out, and the door shut back again.
Confused, I tried to decipher what had just happened.
"What's wrong, moron?" My sister edged past me and rang the doorbell as I tried to clear my thoughts and coherently explain what I'd seen. But just then, the door opened, my aunt stepped out and gave me a warm hug.
"Come in!" She exclaimed.
I followed her, unsure, and asked her, "Is appa angry? He shut the door on my face."
She shook her head, and gave me a reassuring smile. We entered the drawing room and I saw him sitting at his chair with a calm look. All my previous misgivings dispelled, I gave my hands to him with a wide smile and dotingly exclaimed "Appa!".
I was relieved in his presence.
He returned my look with a quizzical glance, ignored the extended hand and asked me politely, "Who are you, child?"
At which, my mother put her hand around my shoulders and whispered softly into my ears, "Beta.. you surely remember..we told you... Appa was unwell and though he recovered... he..... lost his memory..."
I stood still for a while, trying to overcome the shock.
Alas, my grandfather, who had been intently regarding me for a while, spoke up, "What's your name child?"
And the gentle breeze that sneaked in from the window, tugged at my hair, inviting me to finish the game that began an hour back. And then it tugged at my clothes as a desperate attempt to distract me from the painful revelation.