Some thirteen years ago, when the glorious lightness of Autumn mornings snailed towards the heavy mist of winter, my maternal grandfather, Saradindu Gupta died in the afternoon of the 4th of November. I had already moved my base to Delhi but my brother and mother gave me a blow by blow account of how Dadu spent the day he died. It seems that he rose early as was his habit and took his morning walk, returned, opened his keds and true to his routine, used a white chalk liquid to clean it and put it out in the sun to dry. Then he relaxed into his bedroom slippers and had his morning tea. He spoke to my father about affairs of the country as usual and reminisced a bit about his days and times from another era. Dadu, on that day, was already 97 years and 4 months old. He then took his paper and pen and with his neat handwriting wrote out his own brief of a criminal suit that he was filing against one of his coparceners in his village over some land dispute. He had for three months by then been studying Criminal Procedures against land appropriation and he issued law books from the libraries of one of the many companies on whose board he served as a member. After he completed writing his brief by hand, he sent someone, I forget who, to photocopy the papers. The person who carried the papers as well as the person who photocopied amazedly inquired whose hand writing it was that looked so much as if the words were printed. At 97 years, he had an unbelievably steady hand.
After the exercise in writing was over, Dadu ate his breakfast consisting of an assemblage of fruits, raw garlic and some milk. I forgot whether he ate toast or not. Then he had his shave using his electric shaver. At 97 his hand was steady for this too. After the shave he had his bath and prepared himself for a meeting that was held in our house. He dispensed with his colleagues by mid morning and sorted out some papers filing them carefully and arranged them in a suitcase. By the time he finished this task at hand it was time for his lunch. Dadu ate his daal and bhaat with torkari and bhaja and a piece of fish and finished his meal off with plain doi and a sandesh. He sat around for a while with his own readings which would usually be one of the Purans; he was obsessed with Sanskrit texts and could read the language fluently. He then had a brief nap. At about 2.30 pm he rose from his siesta and watched the cricket match on television. At about 3.15 he woke our maid Alpona up and asked her to call my mother and to tell her that he was not feeling well. Ma rushed up because Dadu was usually in the pink of health. Dadu told her calmly that he felt as if he was feeling very uneasy. But he did not lie down immediately. He went to the bathroom and relieved himself first so that the final call of death would not catch him unprepared. Ma asked his advice on whether she should call Boromama, a doctor. Dadu said that it would be indeed a good idea. As Boromama and Nondini (Boromama’s daughter) drove down to our house, Ma and Pam were standing by his side; Dadu quietly removed his spectacles, put them in the case, took off his hearing aid and put it in its box, slowly turned to his side and declared that he was having a heart attack. Then he closed his eyes slowly and deliberately and breathed his last. The time by the clock was 3.30 pm.
It was a long journey for Dadu which ended on that day. Born to a modest family of Sanskrit teachers in a village in Bardhhaman, Dadu rose by the dint of his merit. He excelled academically and grew to be a man who despite not being fortunate to have an elite background was confident and arrogantly self assured. He was a great success with his British employees, being more of a Brit than his masters. He looked after a large family of widowed sisters and sisters who decided never to go to their in-laws and had eight children. For most of his life he spent as a banker with the Imperial Bank in West Punjab, which is now Pakistan. He never quite forgot those days of immense happiness in Lahore, Faizlabad, Marhi and Karachi. He loved the fragrances of its earth and the champa flowers, of which he spoke often and adored the lovely girls of Lahore with bright salwar suits and colourful silken parandhis on their plaits. He loved the snows on the mountains from which in summer he could see the valleys of Afghanistan. He spoke often of the Pathans, the dry fruits, the thick milk in brass tumblers that was served at “tea time” in Imperial Bank. After Partition, he came to reside in Kanpur where he spoke of sprawling staff quarters of the State Bank, which was the sovereign avatar of the Imperial Bank, and of its mango gardens. After he retired from the bank, he was employed with the Martin Burn Group of Companies from where his fortunes only rose in a steep linear curve. He built one of the largest houses in Kolkata, rode a wide black Dodge driven by Abbas, a faithful who accompanied him after the borders were set up dividing Pakistan and India. In cricket matches, Abbas and Dadu both supported Pakistan.
Slowly Dadu’s empire crashed. Abbas grew old and left him. His sons left him one by one as their families grew larger. The large house that he called Indulok started looking deserted and even haunted by memories of laughter and merriment of toddlers, their young mothers and cheerful fathers, their argumentative ayahas and garrulous cooks. One day Dida passed away too. Dadu had calculated his savings to last till about his 65 years of age and when he lived on and on; penury hit him because the discounted value of money and the inflation that eroded his capital. Finally he sold his house and after a brief stay with Mejomama, he came to stay with us at Dover Lane. My mother had the least time to stay with her parents because she was married off at the youngest age. She had a renewed lease of spending time with her father. Dadu also had a chance to stay with Ma, who, I suspect was his favourite daughter, if not the favourite child. Dadu’s passing away did not leave a vacuum; it fulfilled us with the event of a death that was an ideal way to literally hang up the boots.
I used to be greedy about only one of Dadu’s possessions. This was a set of four boxes that looked like books held together in a small book case. These boxes were actually clip boxes which one could use for gem clips, stapler and alpins. When I finally went down for his shraddha, I saw that Dadu had left that set of boxes for me on his shelf where his copy of the Gita also rested. I inherited what I always dreamt would someday be mine.