Letter to my Grandfather

As some of you already know, I lost my grandfather this morning. He had been battling with illness for many years now, and he passed away today, peacefully and without pain. He was an incredible man-- a fighter to the last moment-- and a huge part of my childhood. I shared a very close relationship with him, and today, even as I grieve his passing, I also appreciate his life and the 24 years we had together.

Sitting here in New York, there wasn't much I could do, so I did what I do to make sense of the world-- I wrote. And I want to share this "letter" with you all because I want to share this incredible human being who I was lucky to know and love, and who will always remain an important part of me.

Dear Nanu

As we all sit around, thinking of you, I wonder what you have said to us right now. One thing I know—you would not have wanted us to mourn your death. You would have wanted us to celebrate your life. You might even have made some silly joke that would, despite everything, have made us smile. And so, I choose to remember your life more than I mourn your passing.

I remember how, many years ago, we used to have morning tea by the pond. You wanted to build so much surrounding that pond—a water fall, a canal connecting to the other pond that had frogs, a whole landscape. I remember how your eyes would light up when you described it, how I too could see the landscape through your vision. You taught me about beauty and dreams and possibility.

I remember how, in second grade, my teacher asked each of us to clip the name of the newspaper we received at home because we were doing a survey of which newspapers were read the most. I remember you giving me clippings of each of the 6-7 newspapers you subscribed to (and read each morning), so much so that my teacher thought I had gone around collecting clippings from all my neighbors. You taught me about a love of learning and of different perspectives.

I remember your excitement about birthdays, the lists you would help me make of the eats, the games, the guests, and the decorations for every childhood birthday party. I remember going to the cake shop with you to choose a special cake—a princess or a bird or a superhero. I remember how much you enjoyed the planning and the party. You taught me about celebration.

I remember your stories about the Indian independence movement—remember watching it unfold through the eyes of the teenager you used to be. I remember your staunch idealism, which you never lost through the long days working in the London factory that you described. I remember your zeal for the causes you cared about, remember you going for a protest march in 2002, when you already had knee trouble and could barely walk. You taught me about fighting for one’s beliefs.

I remember how, when I was little, you would introduce me to people as your “favorite granddaughter,” and I would shoot back “how many granddaughters do you have?” and you would respond, “only one, but you are still my favorite.” It was the same conversation every time. You taught me about a love so strong that it had no room for comparisons.

I remember how often, as a lawyer, you took on cases for free when your clients could not afford to pay. I remember how, for a long time, I wanted to be a lawyer because I respected what you did so much. You taught me about justice.

I remember, many years ago, walking with you and feeding the fish in the pond and in the aquarium, feeding the birds in the garden, walking amongst the plants as you pruned and nipped. I remember you explaining the name of each plant, telling me which trees were planted when and what they were good for, plucking narangis for that sour taste that shook my whole body early in the morning. And I remember how, when Karun and I were little and one of your birds died, you helped us bury it so it could be safe. You taught me about life and about death.

I remember how you and I would debate about all kinds of things, ever since I was four or five, in ways that the rest of the family wrote off as our special arguments—haazir-javabi. You taught me about thinking through and voicing my points of view.

I remember how, when I sat with you in the intensive care unit after your stroke last year, you apologized to me for the “trouble.” And I remember one day a few months ago when I was visiting you at home and I had a slight headache… you forgot your own pain and discomfort in your concern that I be able to rest. You already couldn’t get up from bed, but you made sure you didn’t once ask me for anything because I fell asleep near you and you didn’t want to wake me up. You taught me about unselfishness.

I remember how, through all your years of pain, you never complained and you always responded to the question “How are you doing?” with a decisive “I’m okay.” I remember how even in those last months, you were never short of silly jokes and puns on words like “bas” and “kaafi.” You taught me about strength and a sense of humor.

I remember how, even after my 24th birthday, you continued to call me TM, short for “teeny meeny.” And I remember you explaining to my friend and me that I was still “teeny meeny” as far you were concerned. You taught me about the way grandparents’ love.

You taught me so much that you are inextricably a part of me, of the best in me. Anyone who looks deeply into my strength, my love of beauty, my passion for justice, my desire to learn, my starry-eyed dreams, my insistence on speaking my mind, my understanding of life or my acceptance of your passing—anyone who looks there will see you hidden inside it. You can never be far from me because you are a part of me.

When they told me that your heart kept beating for almost 10 hours after everything else in your body gave up—that your heart outlived your body—I couldn’t help smiling through my grief. Of course your heart would be stronger than anyone believed, of course it would be larger than life (larger even than death)... and of course your heart would be the last to give up.

I love you,

TM