My grandfather breathed his last today. Before the day had even dawned in my subconscious, he was gone.
Sri Bhagwan Gupta was born on the other side of the India-Pakistan border, almost a century ago. He was the youngest in a family of twelve siblings. He grew up to become a farmer, learning to till the lands like his father. He must not have been more than 16 years old when he, with his family, had to flee from his village and relocate, restart life from scratch in some obscure village in Haryana.
Here too, they began with agriculture, but he wanted more. He was an ambitious young man, which eventually led to his own ‘padchoon ki dukaan ‘, his own wholesale grocery store. He resettled in Rishikesh- that holy town with the ram and lakshman jhula, which today is more famous for river rafting opportunities than anything else. He bore seven children, my father the youngest of them all. He also supported his brothers, who could never even aspire to be as successful as he became.
He was popular around town – smart, confident,god-fearing, benevolent, with the glint of the knowledgeable in his eye. He went about his business with sharp focus. He made donations and organised ram and bhagwad geetha kathas on Ganga’s ghats. He threw two of his sons out of the house when they didn’t show any inclination towards becoming financially independent. And welcomed them back when they proved their mettle. He made sure his daughters went to school, and were at least decently educated. He, along with his younger brother, opened a school and college for girls in Rishikesh.
He was the typical Indian patriarch , running his life, and that of those who populated his world, with an iron fist.
He talked in Haryanvi, read Urdu and even tried to teach me to do so. He used to say that it was the most beautiful language in the world. (but isn’t the language that we call our mother tongue the most beautiful always?) He used to take a dip in the river at 5am, every day, paying no heed to the season. He ate well, didn’t smoke or drink, was tremendously active (we would see him walking briskly, with his cane in his right hand as only an accessory, in and out of the house at least 10 times a day). He scolded us slothful city kids to get some blood rushing. Of course he was right, even though we resented being told so.
He would always be happy to see that his kids were doing well, and always took active interest in what we all were doing. And anything that pleased him was followed by “jeetey raho, jeetay raho “.
And those oft repeated words always made us feel happy, simply because you could feel how heartfelt it really was! (at the risk of sounding terribly cliched).
He was never the doting granddaddy, who would shower us with gifts or cuddles. He was the father figure, who we were all supposed to respect, and be a bit afraid of. But he inspired respect in every single person around him.
He lives forever in my mind as the sturdy old man, even at 70, who would sit in my tiny balcony on winter mornings, basking in the Delhi sun, lost in thoughts of divinity, with the makeshift temple in front of him. And there’d be the contented smile playing on his lips, and the bhajans that he’d whisper spilling out in a hurry, before he completely lost himself in his own pure world…