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An impish grandpa

VAIDYA VISWANATHAN


... but Vaithy thatha was far too innocent and had a pristine heart



The tall, medium-built, balding old man with sparse silvery hairs adorning the rear portion of his head, wearing large round-rimmed spectacles and looking mischievous totally incongruous with his 60-plus age could be spotted, more often than not, surrounded by a battery of effervescent children in my grandfather's house in Tiruchi located on the banks of the Cauvery. He was the second of my maternal grandfather's two elder brothers. The troika lived in the same house in a joint family. “Vaithy thatha (grandpa)” was how everyone would call him and he would respond with a wide grin that would bare the few teeth remaining in his oral apparatus, reinforced with a tinge of red thanks to his regular chewing of betel leaves.

“Children, I am going to dole out chocolates. Fall in a queue and here we go,” he would proclaim and at least 10 children from the household and neighbourhood would pour over him. He would distribute green, cellophane-wrapped, tantalisingly-packaged chocolates to the assembled kids and, within minutes, one could hear screams of “ah, ouch, thatha, you are a big cheat,” from all around. Vaithy thatha would have substituted the chocolates with the finest shaped, smooth dark brown pebbles, meticulously sourced from the shores of the Cauvery where he would religiously go every morning to bathe, he being a classic swimmer in the mould of a Michael Phelps.

On seeing the plight of the children, ‘thatha' would laugh uncontrollably, tears dripping out of his eyes and his whole body trembling. But before the kids slipped into the sobbing stage, he would console and compensate them — this time with original chocolates.

Even the adults would not escape his pranks. Sitting on the cement bench erected in the front side of the house, he would be seen prising open kernel shells collected from a nearby tree. “These are home-grown badam [almond] and very good for health,” he would market his product and the unsuspecting persons would accept them with glee. Once they bit the seed, their faces would twitch portraying bitterness in all its glory. Vaithy thatha would have swapped badam with neem seeds that he stocked by the side stealthily. Once again, he would laugh and enjoy himself thoroughly.

Suddenly, as if in panic, he would call out a family member and squeal, “Hey, he is running. Catch him, catch him.” “You mean, a thief around?” the member would shiver. “Not a thief, you coward! River Cauvery is running by the backdoor. Catch him, if you can.” He had a habit of addressing all non-living things and the flora and fauna with tags of respect while, with a twinkle in his eyes, he would equate his wife, whom he loved so much, with any static object.

Vaithy thatha was much in demand for his extraordinary typing prowess, even after his retirement as a typist in a government office. The supersonic speed at which he would type and nonchalantly pat the cylinder at the end of each line like an expert ‘ghatam vidwan' made us believe that his typewriter retaining its balance without flying away was a phenomenon that defied the laws of physics.

Despite all his histrionics and theatrics loaded with tons of practical jokes, Vaithy thatha was far too innocent and had a pristine heart. Once, a tricycle-rickshaw-wallah rang his bell outside the house and the whole family ran to the gate, as was the wont those days with guests being welcomed wholeheartedly with excitement.

Surprisingly, the rickshaw was empty and had only two large-sized mangoes on the seat. The rickshaw-wallah delivered the mangoes and the message, “Vaithy thatha picked up these mangoes in the bazaar and asked me to hand them over here. He will soon return walking.” The mangoes were bought for two annas while he had dished out eight annas for its transport, much to the chagrin of his wife. It was quite likely that he had wanted to reach out to the rickshaw-wallah.

The climax of his acts was yet to come. It was a cold, wintry morning in December. The frenzy of household chores had not picked up. Vaithy thatha was sitting on the cement bench and reading the newspaper with hot steaming filter coffee by his side. An aged beggar, scantily clad and shivering, thanks to the nippy breeze, opened the gate of the house and walked in, straight towards Vaithy thatha and begged for alms. ‘Thatha' fed the beggar his coffee and then he did something monumental. Without a second thought, he removed the sparkling white new dhoti and towel that he was wearing and gifted them to the beggar, giving him a total makeover. The beggar, now finding himself cosy, prostrated before his crazy donor and ambled out. Some time later, Vaithy thatha's wife came out and screamed hysterically, seeing her husband sitting on the bench with just a piece of loin cloth on him. Thatha was unperturbed. “The beggar was shivering. How can he bear this cold?” He justified his act and continued reading the newspaper.

(The writer's email is vishyvaidya@gmail.com)

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