My grandpa was born in the early part of the 20th century.
He was not educated. The only thing that he was adept at was creating magic on our patch of agricultural land and our paddy field. All through his life, he felt very proud about owning them.
He cultivated everything – bottle gourd, ridge gourd, cucumber, potato, tomato. The list was endless. Anything that he planted would flourish abundantly. “Some people have a Midas Touch. Nabin da has one!” said Kon Bapu once while sipping tea in our paddy field.
Pineapples grew in abundance back then. My grandfather once said that he used to sell bullock carts full of pineapples to the Gora Sahibs before independence. He would always do this with his father, Domai Daria. These pineapples would be shipped to England.
Times were so different then. No internet. No mobile phones. These things have become a necessity now.
During the rainy season, the paddy fields would be filled with waist deep water. Every morning, I would gaze at the sunlight leisurely peeping through the distant eucalyptus trees which lined the Sunti Pukhuri. The villagers would be busy planting tender paddy into the wed mud.
Small walls called aalis were built on every patch of paddy to fortify it. These aalis demarcated the paddy fields belonging to different villagers. Small gaps were created in these aalis so that water could pass through and reach the other fields.
Every evening, grandpa would place small bamboo traps called sepa or khuka between these water inlet gaps. The next morning, he would inspect each one carefully. Voila! We would find different fishes trapped inside. I would always join him when he went about this morning errand. I would balance my small feet delicately on the wet aalis as I went around with him.
Grandpa was losing his vision. He once brought home a snake trapped in one of the khukas thinking it to be an eel fish. Had it not been for my youngest uncle, he would have cut the snake into pieces along with the other fishes.
The sight of the water-filled paddy fields was too tempting for me to resist back then. I would go solo fishing secretly. I would peep inside the kitchen and quickly grab one of the khorahis (bamboo netted bowls) and dash to the paddy fields at the back of our house. I would catch small fishes and would return home covered in mud with a mind full of fear ready to face my mother’s fury. I would store the colourful fishes in one of the empty Maltova bottles. The rest would be on my lunch plate.
When it was time for the monsoons, grandpa bought a multicoloured umbrella for me. I was in the 1st standard at that time.
I would tell him the colours in the umbrella and he would clap for me every time. I would sing rhymes and read out from my school books. Although he didn’t understand anything, he would always clap for me.
We had a big litchi tree in our house. All the village folks would come and throw stones or use a stick to bring down the ripe litchis. Honestly, I didn’t like it when they did this because I wanted them all for myself. “These are all mine. Don’t take any litchis!” I would shout at the villagers but they would never listen to me. They would just ignore my vocal tirade. I would run back crying to my grandpa who would always be seated on the long wide verandah behind our house.
“Kaka, they are plucking the litchis!” I would complain. He would run his hand over my hair and smilingly take out a few ripe litchis and say, “Never mind. They are taking the young unripe ones. I have got the best ones for you.” A smile would replace my frown and I would savour them sitting on his lap. That was my grandpa – Nabin Chandra Borah.
He had a mop full of white hair. He had those cute wrinkles. I would affectionately touch them and ask him innocently, “Kaka, you are growing fat. Look how the flesh around your mouth is protruding!” He would laugh and I would join him.
My granny (I called her aaita) would shout from the kitchen and say, “Are you waiting for the villagers to empty the entire tree?” Grandpa would grumpily say, “This woman will never change.”
After my kaka’s demise, the litchi tree was cut down. The villagers stopped coming. I missed my grandpa. My little mind could not decipher that he had left us forever. I had lost my friend.
His body was cremated in the bamboo grove behind our house. Whenever my mother scolded me, I would run to the bamboo grove and cry. I hoped that my dear grandpa would come to take me in his arms and wipe my tears. I waited there till my tears dried up.
Finally, half-heartedly, I would walk back home. But I would keep turning back with the hope that my grandpa would come.
All this happened thirty-four years back. My once innocent world has changed a lot now. Today, I live far away from my hometown. The litchi tree is no longer there. My grandpa is not around anymore.
But somewhere deep down, I am still the same five-year-old kid – ready to watch the villagers pluck the litchis while I ate the ripe ones on my grandpa's lap.
I miss you, grandpa. I wish you had lived for a few more years so that I felt as protected now as I used to then. I would like you to know that no matter where I am or what I am, I will always be your little ‘Deu.’ Yes, my grandfather always affectionately called me by this name.
Today I can see that my son will always be the same old ‘Tuk Tukia’ for his old grandpa. Tuk Tukia is leaving tomorrow. I know his grandpa will be fighting back the tears that flow from his 80-year-old pair of eyes when he bids his grandson goodbye. Somehow after thirty-four years, I feel that my son will remember his grandpa in the same way that I remember my grandpa.