Subbu . . .

My hand felt cold. The freezing temperature made it worse. I felt like I was holding a bar of ice. My heart was heavy too. Very heavy with the feeling of immense loss and a feeling of guilt. The body had solidified within a day and my grandpa felt like a block of stone. His eyes were blissfully closed in oblivion. With a smile of an achievement. But ours were’nt. Blood red after forty eight hours of sleeplessness the fatigue showed on everyone. It was my first major loss and emotional blow after a period of 30 years. Subbu – the legend of his era, was dead. Forty five days ago, my son slept with the same bliss on Subbu’s lap. In a few hours time, he would be christened. Both of them were immersed in a feeling of extreme togetherness, a bond which was very special. Subbu and Ved were three generations apart and it was a once in a lifetime event anyone could be part of.

But even on this happy day there was a sense of missing something for grandpa. The sense of sight. He had been blind since fifteen years. A rather non descript doctor at the only hospital near my home tried his experiments on Subbu’s eyes, totally rendering them useless. Subbu’s hands were furiously searching my son’s body, his elation knew no bounds. All that Subbu wanted to do was touch and feel his great grandson endlessly. It was as though he lived only to see this day. Here was a display of such joy and eagerness at a time when most of our relationships were almost being written off in one way or the other in the modern world. Memories flashed past my eyes. Three years since my marriage the only wish Subbu had was for me to hand over a male new born to him. This according to him would signify his Kanakabhishekam, the event where a great grandson bathes the great grandpa in gold coins. But it also meant the end of his life, as it amounted to him reaching the gates of heaven.

A grand meal followed the event, and everyone went to their homes. Except Subbu. As I stood staring at Subbu, I could not believe that a man as hale and healthy as me had to be hospitalized the very next day. He had collapsed on the ground that morning. No one knew what was wrong with him. He could not digest what he ate. No amount of feeding him did any good and it all came out immediately. No doctor could tell us what the issue was. It was a shame of some sort in today’s world that this was happening. After a week of analysis, they decided he was afflicted with colitis – a disease of the colon. His intestines had got paralyzed and rendered useless, all because of taking heavy dosages of antibiotics at a ripe age of eighty seven. What followed was nothing short of hell.

Subbu was on his deathbed. No amount of medical help could save him from his fate. The realization dawned on all of us only after one week. Batch after batch, Subbu’s entire family tree checked on him one last time. One fortnight on, and he was going from bad to worse. He was recuded to half his weight after no food intake. His systems seemed to be giving up one after the other. He saw his grandons and wished them well for their future. He wanted them to grow up as good engineers and doctors to prevent what had happened to him. He met the unmarried grand daughters and grandsons and wished that they get married and settle well in life. Whenever he met his sons, the only thing he ever mumbled through mask fitted on his face was to ensure they take care of my grandmother with pride and care. He still was not talking about himself. Through his eighty odd years of fumbling around in the big bad bold world, he had managed to give all his sons a house of their own and married all off them to everyone’s satisfaction.

My grandma walked slowly into the hall where he lay on his bed. To call it a bed was an understatement. Even leprosy patients in government hospitals would have been treated with more respect. The toilets in the hospital ward stunk like they had not been cleaned for ages. There were no lights in the corridor. Blood stained syringes and bottles were lying unattended to. Attendants to patients had to sit next to them and sleep in the same stance all night long. They seemed more like dogs guarding their owners. As Subbu’s eyes met with his wife’s, tears rolled down the side of his eye. A slow moan could be heard. He was helpless that he would not be around to take care of her anymore. He could not even lift his hand to put it on her’s. This was the irony. I hugged my grandma and promised Subbu that I am there for her. We left the room to join the others waiting outside. Subbu had mildly lost his consciousness.

When I walked back into the room to see him all alone, he only said one thing. And it stung me like a bee. Real hard. My pulse went high. I had butterflies in my stomach. He told me the same thing. In all bravery – “My Kanakabhishekam is over. My time has now come”. It was the most difficult thing for a person to say that knowing fully well that he is about to pass away. There was an uneasy feeling in my throat, but the tears were not to be seen. My father was one of his four sons, who took care of him in hospital. Cleaning him day in and day out. He was on adult diapers for the entire month. But in reality he had become a kid once more. I left the room with a heavy feeling. Standing at a corner I saw all the others consoling my grandma, that nothing would happen, even though Subbu knew his future. All of us did too, but we never wanted to acknowledge that fact.

Deep down within myself, Subbu’s words echoed into me once more: “My Kanakabhishekam is over. My time has now come. Thank you showing me my great grandson”. The feeling of guilt doubled. Already I had not seen him enough or helped my uncles take care of him. And now I felt that the sole reason for his death would be me, more so the birth of my son. The tears came. And they came real fast. My entire body shook and trembled. I was convulsing unable to control myself. The feeling was like I would pass out before Subbu. An overwhelming sense of disgust at the juncture I was at in my life. I really did not want to see this day. Suddenly I felt a hand over my shoulder calming me down profusely. I opened my eyes slowly. My eyes were clouded with tears all over. My uncle was calming me down. I vented out my feeling of disgust and guilt to him. He assured me it was not because of that event that things went horribly wrong. Maybe yes, maybe no. But fate had it that the birth of my son and the death of my grandpa had to coincide. With an evil perfection.

My grandma walked towards me. I regained a bit of my composure and hugged her. For the first time in my life, I wished someone died. Subbu, to be precise. I could not tolerate the trauma he was undergoing in his body. Each and every injection of the sodium and potassium salts mixed with his blood, burning him from the inside. If this is not worse than hell, I dont know what is. I wanted an outcome – either he dies peacefully or he lives healthily. I discussed this with all my family, but they were as helpless as I was. Two days later the sons huddled close to each other, discussing what the next step was. Subbu had expressed his wish. He did not want to die on the streets. All his sons had houses and he wanted a death of pride. All of us decided to grant Subbu his wish. He was brought home and fed good tasty food according to his whims and fancies. He felt his bed with his hand and felt very good. A caretaker from Kerala expressed great amount of maturity in taking care of him well. One week passed. On that fateful day, after a light breakfast and a cup of juice, he collapsed on his bed. Never to wake up again. He was one with the almighty.

His last rites were done with full honours and his ashes were dissolved in the river Cauvery. The river of life and death. My hand felt cold. It was the same wintry night one year after. I was trembling. I held his framed photo tight in my hand. Subbu was alive. Very much alive. He was one year old and slept beside me. As my son.