Being a single child is sometimes described as being lonely. Not for me. As far as i fathomed, there was always another child in the family. My grandfather. My Dadu. I have no earliest memory or any such thing. Dadu was always there. When, from being the eldest member of the family, he became my friend, i dont know. I have a best memory, I have a hilarious memory, I have a sad memory, I have a proud one... but no early, and no last.
My conversations with Dadu was often on the terrace. With his evening cup of tea with me, I went to him whenever I got tired of Enid Blyton. Along with being highly calory unconscious, Dadu was a great story teller. With his simple words, the jungles of Ramayan, the battlefield of Mahabharat, the frolic of Krishna, the adventures of his own life in the Sunderbans came alive on a warm evening on a warmer terrace. He gave to me a world that existed only in my imaginations. I do not know if it coincided with his, but who cares? All that mattered to me then, was that no one had the guts to take me away and make me study as long as i was with Dadu. He would not tolerate such tortures inflicted on his Shona.
For a long time, Dadu was my shield. There was only one place to go to, one bed to sleep in, when my bad marks, worse behavior, and worst food habits came into my father's attention. Dadu would unflinchingly praise me even if I burnt the food, tore up his rose garden, or got pathetic marks in every single exam. In his eyes, I was perfect. I could do no wrong. Even the time I replaced his sweater for a similar coloured mosquito net, and he actually went halfway down the road untill someone pointed it out to him, even when I broke his specs into two, in a futile attempt to look studious. Not only did he not mind, he proudly went about telling the same to all his friends, showing off how naughty his Shona was. As if I was not notorious enough!
Dadu thought he was the luckiest man alive. Coming from a very poor family that migrated from Bangladesh, he could never tire of wondering how in the world he landed up taking an evening stroll in Juhu beach for the last years of his life. To remind himself of the days gone by, he kept rubbish in his small bag. It consisted of the most unnecessary things ever collected by man. But to him, they were priceless, they spoke the same language as he did when he himself, was a child. He often told me, "to be successful, all you need to do is remember how hard you worked to get till here". And perhaps to keep reminding me of his humble life, he always got me the same gift throughout his life. A single sweet in a small paper box, found in any roadside sweetshop in Kolkata. It was too sweet, too small, too cheap, but to me, it was priceless. Just like the stuff in his bag.
Then a time came when this relation was reversed. Dadu became ill. He became old. He often became, a child. And then, I became his mother. A very indulgent one at that. I bathed him, read him his newspapers, told him gossip from my teenage school life, supplied him with an occassional ciggarette. He was a demanding, yet happy child. One day, the happy child fell. In the closed confines of the bathroom.
Seeing the most vibrant man lying helpless in a hospital is probably the most scared I have ever been. I still dont know what ailment he suffered from. His lost his eyesight, he lost the strength in his legs, he kept losing his breath. I knew he would go anyday. As the doctor ruthlessly told us, it could be three days, it could be three years. I knew it was the beginning of the end. And i still allowed him to smoke in stealth. I wanted to give him what gave him joy. It would not make a difference as it was. Night after night, I woke up to see if he was breathing. If he was still in form to tell me another story. If he would still be my playmate.
Years have passed. I do not have to share my room with anyone anymore. I am finally, a single child, whose motherly instincts are uncalled for. His luck was with him untill the very end. He breathed his last among the closest people he had, in a second, without any pain, any prior warning. He just....vanished. He had gone to Kolkata to visit my aunt, and the day before he was supposed to be back, he called me saying the journey back home would be tiring. The next morning, he made his shortest, simplest, tireless journey possible.
I gave away his bag of rubbish with him. I was not sad. I did not cry. I did not know then.
Now I know. Now I need him again, to be proud of me when I am not good, to comfort me when nobody else will, to listen to my ramblings when all are too busy, to partake my imagination which nobody else understands...
Because now, you see, I am lonely.