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Dadu's 100th birthday.

It is my Dadu's 100th birthday tomorrow on the 7th of Dec, 2021. 'Dadu' is a Bengali term used to address grandfathers. My dadu's name was Sushil Kumar Das and he is my paternal grandfather. I knew him for the first 10 years of my life. Although I was very young when he passed away, he left me with a treasure of happy memories to cherish for a lifetime.

I remember him as a very tall, well dressed and disciplined person. He was also very handsome which I realized much later in life as fortunately I was much too young to grasp the idea of beauty. To me, he was was just my Dadu who I loved to hang out with. He was always dressed in a shirt and dhuti. Even though he passed away due to heart failure, he maintained an excellent physique to his last day. He was very particular about his food. He loved going to the local bazaar and handpicking the vegetables. I used to accompany him on his trips to the bazaar. These trips were always special. I loved to interact with the local shopkeepers and get treats from their shops for free. My love for food and cuisine, I believe started from here. He loved eating but was never over-indulgent, a trait I wish I had inherited.

There was a phase in their lives where he and my grandmother or 'Thamma', became strictly vegetarians. In today's reference it would bear resemblance to following an almost vegan diet with the exception of including diary and excluding onion and garlic. I remember both my grandparents to be very religiously inclined. They were postulants of the Vaishnav sect of Hinduism. They were members of Gaudiya-math which is primarily a monastic organization following the preaching's of the Vaishnav philosophy. As both my parents were working, I spent majority of my afternoons with them. As my Thamma prepared lunch, I eagerly waited to share it with them as they sat on the floor and ate in dishes made with marble. These dishes were special as they signified purity, as no part of a living being had been used in making them. I need to mention here that my Thamma was an exceptional cook. She could use the most mundane ingredients and produce a magical dish. Even though our maid would prepare food for me which included some kind of meat or fish, I preferred and loved eating with my Dadu and Thamma. Dadu used to mix the food and keep it aside in his plate for me to eat. Maybe it was Thamma's cooking or the pleasure of having their company while we ate, they still remain as some of the best afternoons I remember from my childhood.

My Dadu was a football fanatic. He played football himself in his younger years for Sporting Union, Guwahati and represented The Maharana Club of Guwahati as their goalkeeper in the prestigious IFA shield tournament against the formidable footballers of Mohamedan Sporting Club of Calcutta. He also captained the team. I remember my father bought our first colour television as the 1990 football World Cup was coming up and he wanted my grandfather to enjoy the game in it's full splendor. In contrast to today, where 4k LED HD televisions are a normal occurrence in every household, having a colour television was a rare phenomenon, available to only a privileged few. I am sure my father had to pull a few strings to make it happen but my Dadu's excitement and applause at the end of every goal made it worth every penny. I have imbibed his love for the game and enjoy watching it immensely. While living in England, me and my husband were fortunate to witness a game between ManU and ManCity which took place in the Old Trafford Stadium in Manchester, England. Every time there was a passionate argument or a ecstatic outpour of emotion between the fans in the stadium, it would remind me of him. It would transport me back to my childhood, where I saw him engrossed, watching a game of football between the two most popular local football clubs of Kolkata, East Bengal and Mohun Bagan(two sworn enemies for life) and making sure that he expressed his pleasure and disappointment very articulately.

Dadu was a very social person. He was very good at making conversation which resulted in him making friends even at the age of 70. I remember two of his friends very distinctly. I used to call one of them 86 Dadu (as he was 86 years of age at that time) and Sir Dadu (as I assumed his name was Sir as everyone used to address him with that name). I used to look forward to their visits to our house as all three would sit and talk about various topics which I had no clue about. All I used to care about were the snacks that was served and made sure that I surely got my share. I came to know later that 86 Dadu was a freedom fighter and Sir Dadu was a brilliant researcher with a wealth of knowledge. I repent not utilizing the opportunity to learn about their experiences and enrich myself. However, as a 10year old, the prospect of having Malpua (an Indian version of a fried pancake dipped in syrup), made by Thamma seemed more appealing.

Dadu had a brilliant sense of humor. He used to keep me enthralled with some form of humor, wit or nonsense verse that he would come up with. I wish we had camera phones or some sort of device to record his creations as they were a treat to hear. One morning after returning home, he called me to say that he had visited the most exquisite parlour in the area to get his haircut and it was called the 'Italian saloon'. I was very curious and kept pestering him to tell me more about it. He went on to say how brilliant the 'naapit' (barber in Bengali) was and how well ventilated was his saloon. The most special part of this whole arrangement was the seat in his saloon. On further inquiry I found out that the special seat was in fact an 'Eet' or a brick as we call it in Bengali. Hence my Dadu brilliantly used his wit to name it the 'Eetalian saloon' (pun intended). To put things into perspective for the readers, talented barbers of humble origin who had limited resources to invest in proper establishment for their saloon, used bricks under shady trees to cut their customers hair. This was a common occurrence in India in times when Habibs was just a word deciphered from Arabic and not an upscale salon in every corner. I have nothing against upscale salons as I am guilty of enjoying their services every now and then. Even so, it does make me wonder if I could narrate the experience as humbly with as much wit as my Dadu did? I doubt it as we live in a time where living humbly represents failure rather than a choice.

I am lucky to have spent a lot of time growing up with my grandparents. I lost my maternal grandfather when I was one year old. I only know him through the perception of others. I feel fortunate to have known Dadu, my paternal grandfather, and have learnt so much from him. He used to protect me from everything.

I remember him staying awake at night or evenings to fan me with a hand fan during load-shedding (light -outs) so that I could sleep. On our first sea side trip to Puri, he sat with me on the beach as I was too afraid to go into the water. I remember him as my protector and the first man in my life. I have no qualms in accepting that I was closer to him than my father. He is and always will be the first man in my life I could trust and depend on. I lost him too early in my life, I wish he had seen me graduate, wished me luck on the first day of my first job or blessed me with tears in his eyes while seeing me getting married and meet my husband and life partner, Arijit and welcome him into our family with his warmth and love. I am the person I am today because he chose to discipline me when I was in the wrong and encourage me when I achieved something. I still remember his hands and how my small hands used to get lost in them when I held them while crossing the road, or going to the bazaar or Deshapriya Park to play. I am now all grown up living in a foreign country 10000miles away from the place I grew up. Given a choice, I would trade all I have today to go back to those afternoons to enjoy the simple meals with my grandparents.

Nevertheless, life goes on and we have to adapt and move along with it to leave behind the past and embrace the present and prepare for the future. Having said that, this is one area of my past that I will never let go of as it makes me feel warm and happy even on the coldest day of the year. Happy 100th Birthday Dadu from your ever loving Didibhai. I miss you everyday and I wish I get to hold your hand again while crossing the journey of life.

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