I spent my summer vacations with Grandpa, at his place, just blocks away down the road from my house. I could say he and Grandma really looked forward to these days, as they would send the errand boy to fetch for my favourite jaggery chips prior to me arriving. Grandma was quite robust for her age, baking, volunteering or doing something or the other but never still. But for Grandpa the days were starting to get blurrier since the Alzheimer’s crept in three years ago.
It was Grandma’s birthday. I discretely reminded him of it, while he was inspecting the pods of the tamarind tree in the lawn. For a moment he stood there motionless, but then took my hand asking me to escort him to his room. Grandma was busy preparing the lip-smacking tamarind chutney for me, the taste of which only she could get it right, and was invariably ready before lunchtime. It was one of those things she did to pamper my already plump self.
Grandpa closed the door behind us impatiently opening his almirah. There in a box full of his old army emblems which Grandma never touched, lay an old pendant, supposedly silver once, now brazen and camouflaged in dust, but still elegant in its entirety. Wiping the exterior with his quivery fingers his eyes lit up as he smiled, remembering Grandma, who knew how much he valued this, like a souvenir. But over the years he’s forgotten about the day he was given this and the person even who gave it to him. Probably it was on the retirement day, when his favourite batch of trainees had arranged a beautiful event. Or maybe during the time when he’d received the Medal of Honour. Or so he believed to be true as this lay gathering dust among his other army accomplishments. He was too shy to ask her, and never asked, to escape her mocking, for forgetting about this obsession of his. He felt there was no better moment or occasion than this, to hand this over to her, as a gift.
It was ready, dusted and cleaned with his own hands, allowing me only to help with the wrapping. I didn’t get to think of options there as well as he returned with a handful of his old brown envelopes. The same ones in which she used to receive his letters from the border. He simply slid the pendant inside folding the envelope. Smiling, he said “We’ll give it before lunch. Now off you go, help Grandma, she’ll be looking for you. I need to rest for a while.” I watched him recline in his favourite chair resting his diary on the chest, zoning out into a state of bliss.
The arrival of noon was pretty much dictated as I would sit by the porch observing the illusions of wavering images created by the heat bouncing off the street. The scorching humid afternoon had this deadly silence, the trees standing still as if too hot to move. One could only hear the cicadas and their soulful melodies.
Proudly marching up to her he held her delicately, gleefully asking me to hand over the envelope. With hopeful expressions in our eyes, we waited for her to unwrap the gift. Smiling wide, she tore the end of the paper. Figuring out that it was something like a bracelet she emptied the packet into her palm. Before even she could react, Grandpa proudly started singing for her, he asked her to read a letter which he had folded and kept inside.
“I can finally let this go, you know how much it means to me. It still does, but not as much as you. I know it’s like handing over someone else’s gift but please accept this. It just purely harbours my feelings of love, because I’ve forgotten every other memory related to it or when it was gifted to me. Happy Birthday to you Kavu. With love, yours.”
Grandma folded the letter, looking away for a moment, I could see her eyes which had begun to glimmer with tears now tracing down her wrinkled smile, as she held Grandpa, looking into his eyes as if searching for something. Then, hugging us both said that she loved it a bit too much.
Later Grandpa went off to lie down for his afternoon nap as I hurried to the kitchen to taste the tamarind chutney, now it’s aroma really beckoning me. The taste was flawless, taking a spoonful I tapped it on my palm, enjoying it. Then went on to giggle and asked, “Grandma who had gifted this to Grandpa?He’s shy to ask you!” I said smiling wider as my mouth just kept watering for more of this tamarind.
She said, “The name was etched on it when it was gifted. Maybe your grandpa can’t read it now child.”
Rushing to satisfy my curiosity, I took the pendant and started surveying it. In my impatience I couldn’t see anything written. Although there was a symbol, on the backside of it, which had amassed rust. Grandpa couldn’t be blamed as it was actually not so noticeable, but I don’t think he remembers much too.
Taking his old polishing brush I scrubbed to decipher some outlines at least. I could read now. Straining my eyes, I read through the brown stains of time, it said – With love, Kavu.
Written by Neeraj Giri