For every one of us in this new age big family, he was the biggest nuisance in life. His punctuality was sickening, his food routine and preference - absolutely incorrigible. His age was the biggest headache of all. He was an eighty five plus years old man who carried rules, regulations and grit back from his yesteryears. The lines on his withered, dark skin spoke about years of back-breaking hard work and hardships of life. He paid a three-fourth from his retirement money every month for his food and lodging; to stay in the house that he built when his back was still erect. It’s not that the family did not love him. They couldn’t find time between their busy work schedule, social life and virtual life to find time for that one soul which craved nothing. Nothing; but that.
I served him breakfast in the plate specially cast aside for him, poured some water in his thermos while he started on his idlies, with his hand shaking vigorously. He took the first piece, grabbed my hand for grip and slowly started moving towards the ancient looking compound wall that surrounded our house. He placed the morsel of food in his hand on the compound wall, amongst other debris of the same customary ritual of the previous week, and the week before that. This was one another annoying habit that never changed in his lifestyle. Every day, the first handful of his meal during breakfast and lunch, went to the compound wall.
It was a downright irritating habit as he usually dropped food all through his journey, from his room via hall to the front door. It was my duty to clean up the whole floor after every meal. Cleaning the compound wall was the next disaster. Some squirrels and crows dine on the food he keeps and rest all stays on top of the wall, in various states of decay. The food then covers the seat of the brand new pulsar of the tenant staying upstairs.
“Why can’t you stop this stupid habit thatha ?” I asked him with acrimony.
“Those little animals depend on me. I won’t stop this habit as long as I live” was his calm answer.
In the following months, his health started deteriorating severely. We could see his will breaking, his life seeping away from him. We started feeding him in bed. Every day he kept looking through the door at the compound wall, there was always a tear trickling down his cheek, which we forgot to notice.
A week went on this way, and that fateful Saturday as I started feeding him his porridge, he shook his head, and grabbed my hands, indicating that he wanted to get up. I refused, but he held my hands with such strength, that I was shocked for a moment. He got up and placed his hand in the lukewarm porridge. He scooped up a handful from the bowl, slowly started dragging his feet towards the front door. I tried to stop him; but he moved on with determination, leaving a trail made of porridge in his way. He positioned himself near the wall, slowly moved his hand up to the wall and placed the few drops of porridge that was left in his hand. I saw a small squirrel running towards the fresh food, the moment it touched the food, I saw my grandfather slide down, slowly lapsing into the deep darkness. I shook him hard, called him aloud, but deep down I knew he had already reached a place where he could hear us no more. I saw the last of life leave him, his eyes looking at the wall and his lips curved in a gentle smile.
Three months later:
I sat down for breakfast, when I heard the little squeaks outside. I smiled to myself taking the tiny bowl that lay beside my plate. I passed the portrait of my grandfather, smiling a little as I went. I placed the morsel of food on the earthen bowl that I had placed on the compound wall. My grandfather watched the little act of love, hanging in the portrait that stood facing the compound wall.