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No guts, no glory

My nana’s mobile ringtone was Don’t Be Shy by Rouge. When my dadi passed away in 2006, his phone rang during the puja and after that groovy tune of a rather “sexy” song filled the room, none of us could really keep a straight face for the puja.

For this and many other reasons, he felt more like a friend than anything else. He hated eating dal. He never cared about using swear words in front of us. And he always gave us chewing gum, much to everyone’s irritation.

I remember one time my cousins and I had stayed up the whole night watching TV. At 6.30 in the morning, we went to my nana’s room to sleep on the extra mattress there and he didn’t scold us for staying up. He just didn’t care for bedtimes and other stupid rules the responsible adults in our life made.

In the last decade of his life, by sheer stubbornness, he convinced everyone that his birthday was on April 14, even though he had celebrated it on April 15 for seven and a half decades. He was the kind of person who wanted everything done his way. If he said he was going to pay the bill, he was going to pay the bloody bill. You could try to stop him, but you would fail miserably.

At his cremation, when my uncle lit the pyre, the wood didn’t catch fire the first time round. Another kilo of ghee was poured in the pyre before the wood and the body could burn. My mother thought it was his way of saying, “You’re not getting rid of me this easily.” Even in death, he wanted things “his way”.

Here was a stubborn adult with a flagrant disregard for rules and yet everyone gravitated towards him. At the prayer ceremony a few days after his death, 200 people showed up. It was a full house. So what was it about him that drew people?

I think part of it was charisma. Always dressed in a white safari and aviators, he stood out in a crowd. But there was another, more significant reason people admired him. What I call “stubbornness” is almost synonymous with perseverance. You could also call it confidence or quite simply, guts. 

He had weathered so much in life. He had witnessed the Partition as a 12-year-old boy and had moved to India from Pakistan. He had started working at 18 or 19, and was able to work his way up from selling second hand tyres to setting up a construction business.

When professional success eluded him, he refused to be knocked down. He got back up and simply tried again and tried harder. In 2019, after he suffered a stroke, everyone thought he only had another couple of months to live. I suppose it was his stubbornness that kept him alive for years, not months, after the stroke.

And in all this, he lived his life with a selfless generosity that defied logic. It almost felt like he was looking for excuses to give us money —

“You wrote your board exams, take 2000 bucks.”

“You drove to come meet us, all by yourself. Take 500 bucks.”

“You stayed the night at our house. Take 1000 bucks.”

The generosity was not just reserved for his grandchildren. He was like this with everyone, so strong was his instinct to share whatever he had with everyone around him.

Under all the toughness, there was a sensitivity that became more and more visible as he grew old. In the last two years, when he met someone, he would kiss their hand and touch it to his forehead. When my dog passed away in 2021, he cried because he, like us, considered Shuffle a member of the family too.

To have grown up around him and to have had him in my corner always, I know I won the grandfather lottery.

With his death, he leaves behind a legacy of generosity, of the confidence to live life by one’s own rules and of never sharing kulfi with anyone, no matter how much you may love them.

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