They were together for 70 years. And then they left this world together.
He had been sick for weeks; he was in his early 90’s. A month before that, I had broken into tears sharing with a friend my fears of his end.
Despite everything, there still was disbelief when I received the news. I was at the same place out-of-state as I was when I received news of grandma’s passing away.
I looked at the people laughing next to me with shock – how could they be laughing? Don’t they know they’re dying!? How much time do they have?
I can still meet him in Paradise, I consoled myself. “It’s Ramadhan – I’ll beg God to get everyone I love into Paradise.”
My Grandpa was a gem from a bygone era – of British and Royal India. He grew up in Coorg, a hill-station in South India – full of Coffee plantations, a part of India I have never seen. My earliest childhood memories of Abba Jaan include him gifting us fresh Coffee beans and honey from his farm when our family would visit him in Mysore.
He graduated from College in the erstwhile Princely State of Mysore in British India – a rare enough feat at the time that he was invited to dine at the Palace with other graduates with the Maharaja, the King of Mysore. His classmates in university made it big – the more financially sound of them continuing their education in Aligarh and outside of India, but Abba Jaan had to support a family, so he took up a desk job with the Government in Mysore.
He spoke British English, a lot different from what his grandchildren spoke. He was suave, handsome, well-dressed in Western dress pants and shirts and well-groomed. My mother and aunts would giggle about how he wouldn’t stop getting a haircut every two weeks and a neatly trimmed and shaped beard every so often no matter how old he got. In fact, it is when he stopped his regular hair cuts that my mother knew his end was coming. He worked out in a gym and played badminton with proper badminton attire – few men in his time were as “Western.” His refinement was not just in his physical appearance but in his manners and conversations. He was also very well-read, quoting European thinkers and writers, showing a lot more European Western influence as opposed to the American influence his later generations would come to have. I remember the jokes he would read to us from Urdu newspapers and his giggle.
An old man came face to face with a tiger in a forest which wanted to eat him. The old man reasoned with the tiger – I’m old, my blood is cold. Why don’t you go there where you could have a younger man? The Tiger says it’s very hot these days in the summer. I would like some cold blood!
The jokes may not always have been rib tickling funny, but his giggle was what made us laugh and smile.
His interest in history and politics meant Abba Jaan and I were natural conversation partners. I would love how he would wait for me so we could talk. I listened with relish as he described historical events. He was deeply pained by the Second Iraq war, enough that for a brief while, we thought he was losing his mind as he argued over diametrically opposing points at different times, confusing everyone.
He was politically and religiously active, for which he had to seek an early retirement from his job during the persecution of all political opposition during the Emergency imposed on India by Indira Gandhi in 1975.
His only son tragically passed away relatively young, in front of an old father in a painful time for the family. If my Nana was known for his patience all his life, his repeated heart troubles and trips to the hospital in the months after that showed us his patience perhaps included more of hiding his pain from the world than a lack of it. Two weeks before he died, he saw his lifetime companion pass away. No one knew what he went through. He was silent. Was he in pain? Did he understand? Is he grieving?
Nouman Ali Khan shared exactly what was on my mind – ” I look back and half of Ramadan is over in the blink of an eye. Before I know I’ll be saying that about my entire life.” I can already see myself following in the footsteps of my father, and my grandfather, and time is unstoppable. My thinning hair is a daily reminder for when I forget. Before I know it, I will have to face my Lord with what I accomplished in this world. Will I be ready? What will people remember me for?
Time to pull up my socks in the few remaining days in Ramadan.