I was rushing down the street, looking for him, gathering weird stares from the neighbors. I was really panicking now. I was the one who was supposed to look after him, make sure he didn’t get out of the house, and I had been unsuccessful. I had only gone in the kitchen for two minutes, and the next thing I heard was the big front gate closing with a thud. It was fine him leaving the house but who would ensure that he would come back home. I mean, he was not a child, yet even adults are sometimes vulnerable like children. He didn’t know our neighbors, let alone their address. He didn’t know our parents, our house, our family…
He didn’t even know me.
I saw two little school boys sitting on the pavement and I asked them in a hurry whether they had seen him exit our house or not. They told me that he had gone down the street, and had probably walked across the main road towards the market. It could not be worse than that. The panic blurred my vision as I crossed the road and ran a quick glance at the restaurants and naan shops, for any sign of him.
What was I going to do if I couldn’t find him? What was I going to tell everyone? That I simply ‘lost’ him? I stopped running around and closed my eyes, taking in a deep breath. ‘Where would I be if I were him?’ and BOOM! There he was, sitting in front of the tea stall, with a tea cup in hand, a big smile on his face, looking around the market with so much peace and contentment, that it made me forget all my worries for him and I smiled.
I walked over to him and put my hand on his shoulder, making him turn around, “Assalam-o-Alaikum, what are you doing here?”
He replied cheerfully, “Come and have a seat baji, do you want a cup of tea as well?” He didn’t know who I was, or even the fact that he didn’t have money to pay for the tea.
I took a seat next to him, as he resumed drinking his tea quietly, and called the waiter.
“How much does the tea cost? I’m so sorry but I don’t have the money right now. I’ll send my brother over with the money in the evening.” I said. The waiter seemed like a really strict guy, but he shook his head and smiled.
“Never mind baji, it’s okay. He just wanted some tea. It’s no big deal.” Well, it was a big deal, since it was his business. Instead of insisting to pay him, I asked him the first question that came to my mind, as it always happens to me in such situations. “Why? What did he say to you?”
The waiter replied, “Well, he came up to me, and asked me quietly if I wanted to have some tea. I was kind of shocked. People don’t usually ask me that in my own tea stall. So I told him that yes, I do want tea. He told me in a very secretive way that I could make tea for myself in the kitchen if I wanted to, and if I did, I should add a little more water to the saucepan for him as well.”
On the way back, I thought about what the waiter had said. Of course I was going to pay him for the tea, but I was curious. Why is he so alluring that no matter what he does, nobody seems to mind it?
I remembered that day when we were standing in front of our house and having a chat with the landlord lady, when he came over and straight up told her, “Don’t you go inside and steal anything from us. I’m watching you.”
I expected her to be angry, but all she did was give a polite laugh and say, “Sure, we’ll not steal anything. How are you today? Would you like some tea?”
I was surprised. Normally, this would have even resulted in some serious drama, but what made her respect him like this, I’ll never know.
As we were close to the house, he saw the garbage man passing by on his big donkey cart. He halted in his step and stopped him. I tried to pull him back but he was stronger than me. The garbage man looked curiously as to what the problem was. He asked him suspiciously, “Does your father know about this luggage you’re taking with you?”
I gave the garbage man an apologetic look, and he smiled, “Yes sahib, he knows about all this ‘luggage’.”
“Very good boy!” was the reply, as we started walking back to the house.
My siblings heaved a sigh of relief when they saw him. I made him take a seat in the lounge as I went inside the kitchen to make lunch, but making sure that the door was locked properly this time.
While making chapatti, my mind flew back to him. What was it, that everyone treated him in the nicest way possible. Why does nobody mind what he says?
I still remember the times when he used to play Ludo with me, and he always used to lose, or pretended to. The times when he (no matter what happened, or how enraging the situation was) he always remained calm and stagnant. The times when he poked me in the back when I was little, and then acted as if he hadn’t just done that. The times when he used to tickle me to death, and then take me to the supermarket to buy the sunglasses shaped chocolate buntees.
I look at him now, and I wonder where that person is gone? The person sitting in the lounge right now is him, but that part of him is missing, and we can never get it back.
I remember two years back, when he came up to me in the kitchen, and asked me what class I was in. I told him I was in second year, and he told me to do at least Masters, and then he said proudly, “Look at my daughters, I made all of them do Masters, and they can even drive a car, do you know that?”
If only he could actually see where his daughters are right now. If only he could see how his broad vision has paved success for his children. If only he could see how his love has made them the people he always dreamed they would be.
As I set the lunch tray in front of him, he looks up at me. I tell him, “This is lunch time. You should eat it. I have made Red Beans, do you like Red Beans?” but he’s blank.
“Yes.” He says, and looks down at the tray. “What do I do with it?”
“You eat it.” I replied, and still he is looking down at the tray in confusion. He’s forgotten what ‘eat’ means. This should come as a shock, but all of us knew this was coming.
I sat down and took a piece of chapatti and filled it with the red beans, and brought it to his mouth so he could eat it. He took the bite and started chewing it, taking a piece of the chapatti and preparing a bite for himself. He just needed a demonstration.
I went to make tea for him, even though he just had it. I smiled. Why is it that he says the most awkward things in the most unusual situations, but all we can do is have more and more respect for him.
Just two days ago, when I brought him tea, he looked at my mother and told her, “You’ve got a very hardworking maid.” And then he looked at me and said, “Go beta, come tomorrow, it’s late now.” I smiled just thinking about it.
He had called me a maid, and thought I worked in my own house, but all I felt was respect because he complimented me, and cared for me.
He doesn’t know me. He doesn’t know who I am but he loves me, and these are the things that tell me he loves me. He doesn’t know me, and will never know me, but I know him.
He’s my Nana-Abu. He’s my grandfather. He is the person who made me realize the meaning, the worth of a good human being.. He is the one who showed me the purity of his personality in this world of hypocrisy and falseness. He is the one who showed me that he would always be remembered in good words, with or without his memory loss. Alzheimer may have taken his memory, but his positivity will never fade away.
He was the one who stood up for his wife, and was with her throughout her difficult times with Arthritis; he is the one who educated his daughters when no one even educated their sons; he is the one who went around the world on tours, and brought back gifts for us; he is the one who told us stories of Independence, and how he lost his sister during the war; he is the one who was religious and broad-minded at the same time; he was the one who was known all around as the most wise person; he is the one who prayed for his parents in every Salaat, and told us we should do the same.
His memory is not with him; he may not be able to recall all his experiences and adventures and hardships; he may not be able to recognize us; he may not be able to play with me anymore; he may offer a Salaat six to seven times because he keeps forgetting that he has already offered it; he may tell off random strangers on the street; he may say the most awkward things at the most serious of times; he may not be able to exercise and read books like he used to; he may not be able to see the treasures his children have grown up to be; he may not be able to guide us the way he would have. But he has taught us what a good human being is. He has taught us that no matter what happens, the goodwill of the heart will always come to surface at last. His raw, unedited, pure personality that we see right now, is a symbol that when everything finishes, what remains is the virtue of the heart.
I love and respect him, not because he is my Nana-Abu, I respect him because he deserves it, and I don’t know how, but I think the reason why other people respect him too (even though they don’t even know him) is his kind self. His eyes, his smile, his aura radiates positivity. What he says may seem funny or offensive, but every word that he says, is a reflection of how pure he is.
We take care of him like a child, but he shows us what a legend he is. You may not be able to see who he is, but I know the person he was.