My Teacher, My Grandfather
My grandfather was the smartest, most well read person I’ve ever known. I had the great privilege to live with him for a little over two years in my pre-teens in India. He died a few years ago but he is now more of an influence on me through death than ever before. I see him in myself now more than ever before. Actually I never really saw him in myself until I stopped neglecting my love for writing about 5 years ago.
He was a college professor, he taught English literature. He would eventually become principal of his college. Literature was his passion, my grandmother was his love. He would read every single day. I would play around him while he sat in the veranda reading and constantly underlining. Only his family and close students knew what a truly loving person he really was. To an outsider he might’ve seemed somewhat stern, rigid and maybe even cold. And truthfully he could be all three at times, actually, most of the time, but we all knew of his soft side that peeked out of its shell at the most unexpected moments. He had an air of importance about him. He would be in a tie and sweater vest by six a.m., even on Sundays when he wouldn’t even leave the house. He was a loner, a solitary man by choice. He preferred the company of books to men. There were very few people outside of family that he would happily sit with. Sometimes he would have visitors, like minded men. They would sit in his library, drink whiskey, laugh and talk. No one dared opened that door to hear what they were laughing and talking about, not that any of us would get it anyway. They would sit and drink and talk in there well past my bed time. He viewed most of mankind to be beneath him. Those around him felt that way too. He bored easy among company (aside from his friends mentioned above). But he always stuck around for the whiskey. He was very well respected by everyone. No one ever questioned him. No one ever raised their voice towards him, except my grandmother, the only one that wasn’t scared of him. The man was barely over five feet tall and still seemed larger than life. He wasn’t intimidating per se but he had an aura of authority. He only spoke if necessary and made sure his point was succinct and clear. He was a mystery to me. I would sneak into his library when he wasn’t home and snoop around every nook and cranny trying to solve this mystery. All I really found were words I was too young to understand. I wanted to be intelligent like him.
As you can imagine, school came first with my grandfather. I never had a problem with that, I was always somewhere in the top three of my class. This was not enough for him. He would make me read text books during the summer so I had a head start when the school year started. He wasn’t Christian but made me read the children’s version of the bible for the life lessons. He sneered at the idiotic Bollywood movies I loved so much and would show me old Charlie Chaplin movies and Laurel and Hardy and old Hindi movies. Even my illiterate grandmother would surprise me with the occasional English or her understanding something I said to my grandfather in English. She obviously learnt from my grandfather. All these things that I hated at that time I would come to appreciate later in life. Seems we all go through something like that with our parents or in this case my grandparents.
I went back to India about five years ago. It would be the last time I saw my grandfather. He was old and seemed a foot shorter. He didn’t talk much and didn’t care if I did but he wanted me in his immediate vicinity as much as possible. He showed me some of his sketches (I think my grandfather would’ve rather been a sketch artist like I a musician). They were good but there was a definite recurring theme, lone cabins in the woods, the solitary wolf, untouched forests… go figure. I now think this might have to do with the love of his life being fatally ill for over twenty years and being completely helpless to do anything about it but watch her wither away. But I didn’t know him before this so I can’t say for sure. When I left a month later I took a little piece of his library with me. I’ve been collecting from it ever since. Whenever a relative goes to India I look forward to the books from his personal library that they bring me back. He literally had thousands of books. (He donated 2000 to his college to give you an idea.) A couple of months before his passing I called him on a whim requesting to hand pick some books for me. I wouldn’t receive them until after his death. The first book I read was the biography of J. Krishnamurti. This book changed my life and much of what I write in my blog is influenced by him, Khalil Gibran and of course, my grandfather.
His library is slowly turning into mine. Fortunately he usually dated when he read them and some date as far back as the early 40s, underlined with his footnotes and all. So as you see, he is still the biggest influence on me even through death. Those books might not contain his personal words but they helped in shaping him and they are now shaping me.