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Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The end

February the 12th was quite an amusing day. I had actually come back from college that very day with a heavy load of books that I had picked up at a fair a week before and I was dying to get my hands on them. It was then that mom instructed me to go to the hospital. I was disappointed, but I didn’t have a choice. Grandpa was ill and there was no one to take care of him. I wasn’t really attached to my grandpa. In fact, I’m not emotionally attached to most people around me.

I had to endure a lot of embarrassing moments that seem to be extremely funny in retrospect. Thaatha( Tamil word for grandpa) seemed to have lost track of reality. He didn’t seem to be aware of the fact that he was actually in a hospital. He thought that he was still in his house. Coincidentally, the room that was allotted to him in the hospital was scarily similar to his living room. His living room has a cot in the centre and a bench alongside. Opposite to his cot, there is a door which leads to the kitchen. Behind his cot is the entrance to his house or what used to be his house rather.

The hospital room had a cot in the centre as well.  Parallel to the cot, there was another cot which had a green bed sheet on it. It was the only hospital in my small town and hence it was crowded outside. My grandpa, according to whom the place we were in was his house, called me closer to him and asked me, “Dai Sudar, why are there so many people outside my house today? What’s happening? “. Aakash, my little cousin who had accompanied me, was grinning while I was pondering over how to answer my thatha’s question.  I gave him a random answer and put him to sleep.  A few moments later, he woke up suddenly and called me closer to him again. This time it was about the cot alongside him. “Dai Sudar, what is this big green banana leaf doing on my bench?” This time I burst out laughing along with my little cousin. I told him that Viji Chithi (Tamil word for aunt) had kept it and will be coming back shortly to take it.

My Thaatha was an independent person all his life. After Paati (Tamil word for grandma) passed away, we asked him to stay along with us. He refused. He held privacy and individual freedom in high regard: both his and ours. So he obviously didn’t prefer being chained to a drips bottle in a hospital room, though it had been hydrating him all along. Once every three minutes, he made a valiant effort to break free from that pipe which had been curtailing his freedom and independence. And every time, we had to disturb our inertia in a bid to stop him from disconnecting that pipe. My Thaatha was a short-tempered man and he saw us as people who were pulling all the stops to prevent him from doing what he wanted. The first two times, when I took his hand away from the pipe, he pinched me hard. Given the state of his body, I could sense that he was giving it his all to stop me.

From the third time, the smarty employed a different strategy. He threatened to spit at me. And I obviously didn’t want to be spat at, though my heart kept telling me that it was a mentally unstable old man living in pseudo-reality. I was helpless and hence did what any sane person would do. I called for help, LOUDLY at that. As soon as the nurse came in, I stepped out along with my cousin and as expected, people in the corridor gave me weird, apparently judgemental looks. Unperturbed, we went to the nearby hotel to get my grandpa some milk to drink.

He had low BP and wasn’t supposed to drink anything hot. But my grandpa had been used to drinking piping hot tea early in the morning. So when I offered lukewarm milk to him, he wasn’t satisfied. His big booming bass voice was heard again. “Dai Sudar, milk is not hot. Boil it again and add some sugar”, he said and pointed to the door in front of him. In his house, it would have been his kitchen door. There, in the hospital, it was the toilet door.

 “What are you staring at, enter the kitchen and boil it?” I stood right there, helpless for a second and went blank. The two most obvious things followed. He threatened to spit at me and I called for help again!

At 4 in the afternoon, Chitapa (Tamil word for Uncle) came to relieve me. As I walked back home, I thought about a lot of things. I started thinking about my relationship with Thaatha, the days when he used to take me to school. But one startling visual memory of my grandpa is this image of him sitting and watching TV alone during the last leg of his life, the one post-Sulochana (my paati’s name). That image will never cease to haunt me, the image of a lonely old man not interested in anything in life watching TV only because he had no other choice or desire. His wife was long gone; sons were busy with their own families and grandsons found him too boring. I didn’t dislike him, I didn’t like him either. It’s just that I never felt anything about him.

I was also pondering about how religious my grandpa was, like most people belonging to his generation. He used to be extremely fit and was a perfectionist. He was a very serious person in life; it’s ironical that he contributed to some hearty unintended laughter on the last day of his life.

I then went back to the hospital. He was sleeping. Chitapa, Appa and Amma had reached by then and we were discussing about the various things that had happened that day. Not a single soul in the room, including Thaatha would have imagined it to be his last night alive on this planet. We were so optimistic that he’d be back home in a couple of days that we didn’t even take him to a city hospital. And Thaatha was a person who loved anything and everything cooked at home. So we saw no point in taking him to a city hospital.

I went back home and had a disturbed sleep. Chitapa and Appa decided to spend the night in the hospital. I woke up hearing Appa scream at half past four the next day. He had called mommy’s phone. Mommy was unusually calm and I could hear Appa panic over the phone. I sensed what was happening and sprinted to the hospital. Unlike city hospitals, anyone can storm into an ICU here in Tiruninravur. Thaatha didn’t like the oxygen mask and he wanted to get rid of it. Appa was trying to hold it tight, in vain. He was obviously not able to watch his dad die in his arms. I took over from my dad and held the mask close to his nostrils. After a while, a nurse took over. I went and stood near my grandpa’s legs and was looking right into his eyes. He was struggling to breathe but was looking right into my eyes. Slowly the eyes started losing focus and started looking upwards. I started screaming at him, I told him to look at me, my eyes. The eyeballs rolled back to their original position again. We were making eye contact again. An eerie 30 seconds followed before my grandpa’s eyeballs looked upwards permanently. The doctor, who was adopting desperate measures towards the end, left the room in despair. My thatha slept that day and never woke up again.

Chithi, my cousins and Amma had arrived by then. All of them were crying and I didn’t make any attempt to console them either. I was just shell shocked; I was plainly staring at my grandpa’s walking stick leaning against a cot in the room. I wasn’t crying, I have never cried after someone’s death. But this death had definitely affected me. It was ironical that at 4.15, when the doctors were in desperate need of an ambulance, not a single vehicle turned up. But at 5.45, the ice box arrived within ten minutes of our call.

A slew of rituals that seemed pointless to me followed. I was under constant siege for being lazy. I am irreligious and I just wasn’t interested in the proceedings.  But I wasn’t lazy here. I wasn’t ready to the question the blissful pseudo-reality that everyone lives in. Each person has his own pseudo-reality and it’s unfair to question it because you’re living in one yourself. The body was then taken to the graveyard. The undertaker apparently charged a whopping 7000 bucks to burn the body. It’s funny how people can be extremely heartless and selfish even in times of extreme grief. My dad was obviously not willing to bargain with the undertaker with his dad’s corpse on his shoulders.

I stood behind the funeral pyre and watched the body burn to ashes. Beyond the raging fire, I saw people cry. I then saw them leave. And after a point, I was alone. The fire was burning faintly. Director Bala’s words struck my mind as I watched it burn. He once said in an interview that he preferred going to a graveyard to a temple. After all, if peace is what they want, what better place than a graveyard. I realized the truth behind that statement. My grandpa had finally reached a state of eternal peace.

I also pondered over his film Pithamagan. I marvelled at the thought process behind the story, the concept of an emotionless orphan drafted into the seemingly beautiful world of emotional give and take only to be stranded in a limbo after his friend’s death. I was more like the protagonist. I didn’t feel anything towards my grand-dad till that last day of his. Why did he have to make me laugh like that and disappear the very next day? God is a sadist!

I also realized how death effortlessly achieves the equality all of us strive for, throughout our lives. It makes us humble, keeps us grounded and tells us with an evil smile on its face that it owns us. And that it owns all the citizens of the world and remains impartial. I wonder if there can be an alternative to death at all! Death after all, is such a beautiful thing.


  1. So sorry for your loss, Sudarshan. Such a gripping post.
    It also reminds me of a person I wrote about last year; we lost that person a few months after I wrote that piece.

    1. thank you for dropping by. the idea behind this post is not to make people feel sorry. its just a random rambling about the life of a person i know. his death gave me a reason to analyse the nature of life and death.

  2. sry 4 ur loss...actually dun know wat to say bcos i felt emotionless when i watched my grandmother in her ice box...wz sittin in the corridor wondering if i should cry or not while everyone around me was..i wont say i miss her but maybe the memories are becoming fewer and everyone else is just as accustomed now. Death exacts its toll and there is no bargaining the price.
    p.s. sry if the comment ws too long

    1. ure not alone pranav. i felt the same way when another grandpa died an year ago. and u don have to feel sorry. i have just used the loss as a prelude to express my feelings about the nature of life and death in general. thanks for dropping by.