My grandmother sat on the dusty courtyard on her bare feet, her thighs resting on her calves. She wore black glasses, off center, which covered half her face. In her right hand, she held a cigar, and every time she puffed, her hand revealed deep folds and creases that laid beneath her skin and pale blue veins that ran across the elbow like tiny rivulets irrigating the whole body. She was dressed in an old, coarsely woven cotton sari, frayed at places, that clad her body head to toe. Beside her sat my grandpa in similar posture with the hands clasped together. Both my grandparents wore a sullen look. Their expressions vividly spoke of the hardships they went through in their youth just to find that there was no one with them at this stage, to help them, to hold them, or to ornate their dilapidated house with even the tiniest tinge of life.
Tihar was all over the neighbors. I could see the roofs lined with shimmering red, green and yellow lights. Long columns of lights, flickering in a pattern tumbled down the balustrades. Children were frolicking in the yard and the air was full with their noise, sound of firecrackers, cheering of people, and the beats of Bhailo. The richness of the festive mood was contagious, but it seemed my grandparents were immune and our ancestral house shared the temperament. It stood in stark contrast to the world around as an epitome of gloom, daring the surrounding to make it smile. I wondered if it had always been that way. I wondered if my grandparents never smiled. I wondered, for it was the only the third time in my nineteen years of life I had been to my grandparents’ and I could remember nothing of past two.
“Why don’t you sit down?” my grandma said, “Shiva! bring a mat for your brother.” Shiva, I later realized, was my uncle’s daughter. My uncle had married twice, and after my first aunt committed suicide, the new aunt wouldn’t take her, and since then she had been living with the grandparents. Shiva was a sweet girl of about nine. Her grey blue eyes, which I thought she might have got from her mother, glowed with excitement as she scurried outside the house through the small door with a mat in her left hand and a cup of water in right. She spread the mat on the floor, asked me politely to sit and handed me the cup of water. I was surprised to see a little girl with such courtesy. I was drenched in shame when she said “Dai, why did you come after so long?”. She knew I was her brother or maybe she mistook me for some other brother, but I, the eldest brother didn’t even know he had a cute little cousin sister, and had brought nothing for her. “Shiva, talk with your brother later. Go inside and prepare tea for us.” my grandpa told her in a meek voice. Shiva complied merrily.
“Why don’t you sit closer?” my grandma said after a moment of silence. I moved closer, facing her. Then my grandma must have studied my face for quite a long time as it made me feel awkward. I thought she was studying my acne scars but later my dad told me that she was trying to see how much I had grown up. She was trying to see my grandpa and my dad in me. And after she was done she queried about my dad. “Where is thule?” “Thule” was my dad’s nickname which means the eldest. I told her he would be arriving any minute. It was almost six in the evening and far beyond the vast stretches of paddy fields in the west, one could see the reddened skies, and the thinly scattered clouds above them.
“So grandma, how’s everything?” I asked with a vague sense of curiosity. Everything was as bad as it could be. I expected something like that, but why would my grandparents bore their grandchild with the tales of their hardships, and I also realized the question was a mistake. “Just fine.” I could hear her breathing heavily, “we are old now, much too old to do anything. I can hardly see and your grandpa can hardly walk, but we are fine. Everybody grows old one day, and goes through the same sets of problems. We have Shiva to do most of the things for us, luckily. She is little, but she is precocious with understanding sentiments.” My grandma continued, “We have seen too much of the world, now it is time we bid farewell happily.”
I felt sorry for my grandparents, and contrition burnt me deep inside. If only I could see them smile.
“Grandma, when did uncle say he would arrive?” I asked.
“Your uncle is as unpredictable as weather. If he wants to, he will, but he rarely wants to visit us. And he is not a man of his words.” Grandma answered.
I called my dad, and questioned him about his whereabouts. He informed me that it would still take an hour before he arrived. My dad is not known for his punctuality, and most of the times it annoys my mom, or even me, but not today. I was glad he was still in the markets and I could ask him to bring decoration lights with him, and so I did, and he consented.
Meanwhile I sipped tea from the steel cup that Shiva had just brought, and my grandparents followed suit. Shiva stood beside me, eyeing me, studying me with her inquisitive eyes.
“Where is your tea, Shiva?” I asked her breaking the silence. She giggled and replied softly, “I already had my share.”
“Dai, what do you do?” Shiva said in an innocent voice, “And why don’t you visit us more often?” But before I could answer, she saved me the trouble. “Do you want to see my drawings? My teacher likes them. Do you want to see?”
I nodded, and she rushed inside and came out with a small notebook. She opened it and pointed to one of the pictures and said, “This is mustard flower.” She then pointed towards the empty fields in front of the house, “There will be a lot of mustard plants in Baisakh dai. Come here in Baisakh, then I will show you how a real mustard flower looks like.” I smiled, she continued, “Last month my daddy brought me some crayons, and I love them. I don’t like yellow color. I wish mustard flower was pink. And this one is marigold. Grandma says I will have to a sew a marigold garland for you too. You will stay until Tihar is over, right?” I could sense suspicion on her face, but after I assured her I would she returned back to her jolly spirits.
We went on talking for some time. She told me that she studied in “Dudhena School”, and she was in grade three. She didn’t like the school much, but she really enjoyed the drawing classes. She spent most of her time looking after cattle, and helping grandparents. “How do you look after the big goat there, does it not hurt you?” I had asked her in between. “Goats don’t bite” she had said. Shiva was a wonderful girl. You could talk to her all day and not get tired of her little talks about the cactus that she had planted or the way she braided her hair.
My dad finally arrived with the lights that I had asked for. He greeted my grandparents by touching their feet, and lifted Shiva from her waist. “My little sweetheart!”.
Shiva seemed to enjoy it. My dad put her down after a while and gave her candies, which she immediately started unwrapping.
“Here are your lights boy. Don’t go on climbing roofs now. Your mom wouldn’t want that.” My dad warned me. “Can I put these over the house grandma?” I asked, “Of course you can.” She replied. Shiva looked excited, “Can I join you dai?”
“Come, let’s go inside.” I replied.
My dad, grandpa and grandma busied themselves over a conversation. Meanwhile Shiva and I busied ourselves decorating the house with the lights. After almost an hour, we were done. We ran down the stairs and hurried towards the front yard to see how it looked.
My grandparents and dad were no longer talking. They were all gazing at the house. My dad’s face shone in the yellow light given off by the tiny light bulbs dangling from the rectangular window on his side. Red and green lights ran down the roof like a veil concealing the face of newly wed bride. A few rows of lights drooped into an arch like a garland across the central main door. The air felt warm because of the lights, soothing and serene. We all stood there silently watching the lights, watching the house glow with life. I could see the arc of smile in my grandpa’s mouth. From where I stood, I could see my grandma’s eyes moisten behind the thick glasses. That was the moment I longed for and I only wished the moment never vanished. I wished time froze and everything stayed exactly the same for eternity.
Question and Answer with Ashvin
1. Tell us more about you.
I am a restless person who wants to remain occupied all the time. Although engineering has done a fabulous job of keeping me occupied, movies, music, sports, fiction novels, and writing fill remaining voids.
2. What was your thought when you applied to Wordism competition?
I just thought it would be fun if I won the gift hamper. 🙂 🙂
3. What are your dreams and aspiration?
To be honest I have always dreamt of being a Physicist. Knowing that something as bizarre, as wild as nature also works on a certain predictable set of rules mesmerizes me. For me, to be someone who tries to unravel the complicated tapestry seems like a Utopian experience. That is why I am trying to cherish the Physics in my world of Civil Engineering as a Pulchowkian. 🙂
4. How do you feel being the Wordism Hero for Kartik?
I feel jubilant, and am excited about the final competition.
5. Anything you want to say for who is reading this!
I want to read about YOU next time.
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