How does a writer grieve? By writing, what else. But it was not clear to me initially.
My babuji, my father’s eldest brother, passed away last night. I came to know early morning today and I have cried so much since then. But the lump in my chest fails to diminish even an iota. And then I realised that tears were not the way to grieve for a man who introduced me to the dreamland called books. And not just me but my whole generation, and then the next one too.
Babuji was a Hindi language teacher in the village school. He was a great scholar who knew the Ramcharitmanas and Bhagvad Gita by heart. He had read the Puranas and the Upnishads, which he quoted at the drop of the hat. He was equally fascinated by the scriptures, fiction novels in both English and Hindi, Bollywood movie stories, and God only knows what else. And he was as prolific a writer as he was a voracious reader. He wrote analysis of many scriptures, translations of English books and parody of Bollywood with equal élan. Everyone wanted him to publish but he always scoffed at the idea. May be because he relished being the truly eccentric creative, who created at his own will. No one could dictate (!!) him what to write and when.
Everyone in the family, including our own parents, always said that he was a talent gone waste. He could have achieved so much. I used to agree with them, but today when I think about it I am not so sure. He has left behind his legacy in his children, who owe their love for books and literature to him, his rich library and his freedom to explore. How many of us can claim this?
His library, rather his room itself, was a sanctum sanctorum that not everyone could access. However, I was among the lucky few who could borrow whatever book I liked.
Besides days spent without any adult supervision, the main attraction of our annual summer trip to our native village was those books. I read my first Kalyan there, gorging on all the mythological stories. I read Chandrakanta Santati and lost myself in the world of ayyari. I also read Vardi Wala Gunda, the cheap action thriller that was a rage with the Hindi belt at that point of time.
I remember these so explicitly because I never read them anywhere else. His room urged you to gorge on whatever you could lay your hands on. And he had a vast collection of renowned Hindi writers like Premchand, Dinkar, Gupt, Nirala and Pant too.
Even though I borrowed the books mostly in his absence, he always knew the ones I had read. Whenever I read a book I was not supposed to, because I was too young, he would give me a thump on the back and say, “growing up, eh?” And I wouldn’t know how to respond.
Every time I create something, I feel that he would have been proud of it. But scold me as well that I have chosen English as my medium of expression. He often complained to my father that he should have motivated me to pursue Hindi or
I do not know whether he knew that I have turned a writer. I am sure he would have been proud of me.
A couple of years into my marriage, he gifted me a huge book of Gita saar. It is a tome, which is litearally too heavy to carry. I asked him in disbelief, “you expect me to read this?” To which he replied, “you just keep it in your home, that’s enough.”
That was Babuji, expressing even his love and concern through books.