Sunday, 10 February 2013

Remembering Appappan

I happened to mention my maternal grandfather in my last post. Oddly enough, he came up in conversation and in my head a couple more times that week, which is unusual for a man who has now been gone quite a long time. A family friend I spoke to recently told me about having bumped into him with her father several times as a child, and still remembering him for his smiling face. As I was thinking about the year ahead, I  remembered that this August, it will have been twenty years since he passed away.

My grandfather didn't make it to college. But he managed to teach himself how to read, write and speak English. Even through the haze of my childhood mind, it did not take me long to register that he had a love for the language. He subscribed to Reader's Digest, a popular English magazine in India back in the 80s and 90s and would read out short pieces from it to his grandchildren as we hovered around him before his afternoon nap.

A picture of a picture of my maternal grandparents.
My grandfather and I had a special relationship. We wrote to each other by snail mail. I was the oldest of his grandchildren. The others were too young to bother themselves with paper and pencil, let alone letters. I remember the blue inland letter cards that arrived in the post for me with snippets about how the family was doing back home in Trivandrum. They were special, these letters, because they came addressed only to me. After my grandfather passed away, my grandmother wrote to us from time to time, and I wrote back as well. 

But these letters were addressed to my mother, with a little section devoted to the children. We responded similarly. My mother wrote back with details of life in Delhi, perceived through her adult eyes and I contributed a couple of lines at the end of each letter in my uncertain Malayalam, adding a child's, decidedly ancillary, perspective. The letters between my grandfather and I were different. No adult intervened in our conversations on paper. I waited eagerly for the postman to arrive with his letters, and something tells me so did he.

Typically, he was prompt in writing back. I remember a long lull in the conversation sometime in the summer of 1993. I wondered what might explain this delay in getting a response from Trivandrum. I waited patiently. One day, in late August, I remember coming home from school. I believe our father came to collect us from school, and my brother and I sensed that something was amiss. My uncle was at home visiting, which he never did at lunchtime on a working day, and my mother was in tears. I don't quite remember when we were told that Appappan had passed away, but before we knew it, we were on a flight from Delhi to Kerala, and soon after, at home in Trivandrum, where an eerie silence announced his passing. It didn't take me long to discover that last letter I had written to him on his desk, still waiting for his reply.    

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