21st June was usually “get-together day” for the CS Ananthan Nair family. If it was a holiday, it was lunch that went into tea. Otherwise, tea that eventually carried on till dinner. Apart from being the longest day of the year, it was a special day that we all looked forward to, my grandpa’s birthday. When he turned 80, we had a bit of a big celebration, where we called all his relatives, friends and neighbours. Grandpa would have been 106 today. And in a week it would be 10 years since he moved on.
During visits to grandpa’s, we usually carried a bunch of flowers. For his birthday it was white rajnigandha and red roses, with a sprinkling of baby’s breath. Grandpa enjoyed receiving gifts. He had lived a hard honest life and seldom indulged in something not essential. So everything he was given was treated like a treasure. Among his favourites were walking sticks, walking-stick umbrellas, pens, neck ties, Yardley perfume. An occasional beer or whiskey. He did have a British bias, that could be attributed to the time he served as a surveyor in the Survey of India and in the army, under British officers, before independence. My mom Rukmani used his birthday as an opportunity to replace his stock of socks and vests.
After I moved from Bangalore to Mumbai, I sent him a musical card. Timed to reach him on the 21st, I later learnt that he was very excited when he heard the “Happy Birthday” tune when he opened it. He had never seen anything like it before, and as you can imagine, it remained with him forever. Another time, I ordered a “dog” cushion, online, that was delivered straight to his home. He made good use of it while he watched every cricket match on television, wearing the India cricket T-shirt that I’d sent him on another occasion.
Grandpa loved listening to the radio. My aunt Leela, his eldest daughter, lived in Britain, and she had given him a nice transistor that lasted a very long time. Must be still around somewhere. His only disappointment was that though it was a European brand, it was made in China.
“Doh” he would call out to my Grandma. And she knew it was time for tea. This was an essential, several times a day. Brooke-bond Red Label, brewed to perfection. Haven’t tasted tea like that in years! Unlike all of us who drank our tea in steel tumblers, Grandpa drank it from a porcelain cup with saucer, piping hot.
His bathwater also used to be piping hot. When he exited the bathing room, he would have his towel around his waist and we could see the steam emanating from the surface of his body.
When we were really young, our grandparents lived with my aunt Ramani and family in Langford Town. Their own house in Domlur, one that my Grandpa had meticulously got constructed in the early 1970s, had been given out on rent. Domlur was still the back of beyond at that time and not many would live there. Also, my aunt was working so it was good to have my grandparents around, and in addition the rent earned would make it easier for the house loan to be paid back. With our home being walkable distance, Grandpa was a daily visitor. If he didn’t come, we would go to find out what had happened (no phones those days!).
Even later, Grandpa continued to be a walker. There were times when even past age 80, he would walk from his Domlur home to Richmond Town. Otherwise he would take the BTS bus, mostly route no. 142. Autorickshaws were used only if unavoidable. And if he really needed a car, he would expect either my dad or me to do the needful. A stickler for time, he always left home so that he reached his destination not later than when he was expected.
When I was in Std 6, I lost my new red bicycle. It was actually stolen and I was left without a cycle for several months. One day, Grandpa landed up with a ladies’ bicycle that he had pedaled all the way. It was one of the black hardy ones, that he had managed to find, second hand, for Rs 175/-. I used this bicycle for many years.
Being the eldest grandchild, I was privy to some of the adult talk. Grandpa was very upright in his dealings. There was no room for shadiness and corruption. Some of this surely rubbed off on us. His house was built exactly as per plan. Not a centimetre off anywhere. It pained him to see new constructions breaking all the setback rules which are the most visible deviations in any building. Akrama Sakrama would have been put to shame.
Known to be a social worker in Domlur, he was frequented by people who were facing problems in different aspects of their lives. Grandpa often sought my opinion, not that he always considered it while making his final decision. Later in his life, with Parkinson’s, his hand was sometimes unsteady so he usually waited for me to write out important things, applications, complaints, and the like.
Everything he did was recorded in his diary. Yes, one thing he sought before every year ended was a complementary diary and calendar (in Malayalam and English) of the following year. Sometimes my father’s company would make diaries to give out, sometimes my uncle Bala would get a Bank of Maharashtra diary. After my dad started going to Sabarimala in December each year, he ensured he came back with a Sabarimala diary for Grandpa. On days that he didn’t have much to write, he would write Om Narayana several times.
As Grandpa loved flowers and plants, we visited the Lalbagh Flower Show every year, usually on 15th August. This used to be our Independence Day outing, complete with lunch at a restaurant. Grandpa did like eating out occasionally. On outings, Grandpa would be dressed with coat, tie and polished shoes from Wardy & Co. His feet were higher than the normal, a trait that my uncle Bala and brother Nagesh inherited. So his shoes usually had to be made to order.
At his home, he lovingly tended his rose and jasmine plants and used to proudly show visitors the flowers in bloom. During the days of horse carriages, the streets of Richmond Town were often littered with horse droppings. Grandpa ensured that these were not wasted, but collected and used as manure for the plants.
He was thrilled to become a great-grandfather. When Siddharth (my son) was born, he and my Grandma took an autorickshaw and landed up in our house as soon as I was back from the hospital. He also made it a point that we kept visiting him at his home in Domlur till I went back to join my husband in Hyderabad, where he was posted.
When I was moving to Singapore in 2001, Grandpa was very excited. Singapore was a place with which he had close connections. Some of his relatives lived there, and he himself had served there in 1946. He had also served in Ceylon and Paiforce (Iraq), and was awarded a “Card for Good Service” from Lord Mountbatten. He had vivid memories of Singapore and the field where they stayed, but little would he have known how much the city had changed! I would have liked to take him, but he was already very old. I did get my Grandma who is 12 years junior to him to visit in 2005.
One of those to follow doctors’ instructions to the letter, Grandpa took good care of himself. He exercised by walking, ate on time, took his medicines regularly. Once, he had a boil in his mouth. The doctor recommended removing it and doing a biopsy. I accompanied him for the small surgery that it involved, and luckily it was not serious. It healed soon after. Another time, he felt a rough patch on his back, which was diagnosed as TB and again promptly treated. He used two Kottakkal ayurvedic remedies, Pinda thailam and another one (Vadamardhini or something that sounded like that), that my aunt Ramani or I picked up from the Infantry Road outlet. Till his last days, all the teeth he had were his own. He always swore by Forhans toothpaste. The other patronised product was Cuticura powder, sold in a tin dabba those days.
Sometime in 1994 I think it was. Grandpa was crossing Airport Road (the original!) at Domlur. He was preparing for the arrival of my cousin Nandan from Britain and had gone to do a bit of shopping. While crossing the road, his feet did not take him across in time, and a speeding Ambassador car could not stop until it had flipped him onto the bonnet. One can only picture the scene of an 85+ old man getting tossed like that! The driver was decent to stop, drive him home and get in touch with my mom to make arrangements to get him to a hospital for immediate treatment. He had suffered a fracture on one foot, but what led to some complication was the reaction between the drugs he was taking. Amidst a traction-ed leg and hallucinations, Grandpa survived. It was during this time that we also discovered that Grandpa had only one working kidney. It did him well.
In April 2004, my grandparents were finding it difficult to manage by themselves. My Grandma at 83, though still in a position to cook, would be better off having someone to do it for her. Almost 96, Grandpa was still extremely vigilant. He noticed that the man who was looking after him at his house, after shaving him, was using the same equipment to shave himself. Some monitoring was definitely needed. So they reluctantly moved in to stay with my mom Rukmani in Richmond Town. I and my boys were also in Bangalore and the boys got to spend some time with their Great-grandpa. Siddharth was just 3, and Gautam less than 2. Both have only the photos to recall the old man, but Siddharth remembers the wheelchair. Grandpa’s legs had become too weak for him to walk, and he used to be wheeled around.
Grandpa stayed with my mom for just a couple of months. He insisted that he be taken back to his own home in Domlur in early June 2004. My mom and I, along with the boys, visited him on 21st June 2004, his 96th birthday. He had not been eating properly ever since he went back and though aware of our presence and talking, it seemed he had forgotten it was his birthday. He passed away in hospital on 27th June 2004.
Seen it all,
the changing times,
the uncertain climes
all duty done, plaudits won
and now the well earned sleep
so deep. – Aunt Leela
Good reading.We remembered.So did granma.The mother teresa’s old inmates will enjoy special snacks with tea on 27th by our contribution
Nice reminiscences , lucidly put across. came to know some new facts about the Grand Old Man, a colleague of my FiL ! Brig Surya