When he walked me back from school every afternoon, he would often ask me about my day. And I recall talking in tiny details for hours. I now wonder how he had the patience to listen to everything for hours and laugh at even the tiniest of anecdotes. He always asked me about what I learnt, and as I went along with my stories, he would come back to his question till I concluded the learning. Now when I look back and compare, conversations parents have with their children are so different from grandparents’ conversations. I do not recall my parents ever wanting to dig into every detail of my everyday encounters. With them, the course of conversations was mostly directional – about what I wanted to do, my homework, my studies, my hobbies, what I wanted to buy if I got good results. But with grandparents, it was always selfless, as if their entire world succumbed to my everyday nuances. And funnily, the life lessons I can clearly recall today to every detail, are indeed from my grandparents.
When I reached home from school, my grandmother would wash my face, change my clothes and sit me down at the table to eat. She sat with me the entire time as my grandfather got ready for his afternoon session in his library. I used to take the chance to put on his coat and hold his walking stick in my hand. I even put on his watch which was ten times the size of my hand. “Don’t drop it, your grandfather will be very upset”, my grandmother used to say. I squeezed the strap of his watch in my palm and imitated his walk. How my grandmother used to laugh!
My grandfather retired from the postal department in Government services. I often saw how people walking on the road waited to greet him and respectfully nod to him. Even today, after many years of having retired, people often stop at the house to ask about his health and well-being. He often told me that a person is respected because of the way one treats other people. If you give love and respect, you always get it back in some form or the other. And if you hurt someone, it always circles back to you. And then he pointed to his watch. “You see, this was my father’s watch. He was a respectable and noble man and the Queen of England had presented him with this watch. He gave it to me when I took on my first job in the Government Services. He always told me ‘Be early and do early’. Never be late for any task, because when you don’t respect people’s time, you don’t get respect. And never delay the task in hand. What might be a trivial task for you, may affect someone’s life in a way unknown to you.”
He was an early riser and I knew it was 5 am when his alarm sounded. He got dressed, and no matter what the weather conditions might have been, he never even once skipped his walking routine and his deep breathing exercises. Although I never woke up that early, but while he walked me to school, he would stop near the park and ask me to close my eyes and take deep breaths. “There’s nothing like fresh oxygen to kick-start one’s day. Never miss this refreshing time sleeping.”
We would always be ten minutes early to school and while at the school gate, I never felt like leaving his hand and going inside. As I walked towards my class, I always looked back and he was always there, waving at me. He waited for the entire ten minutes at the gate and I sat at the window just to wave out to him.
“What would you like to be when you grow up?”, he asked me. “I want to be an important person and wear a watch to work every day.” And he laughed with such effervescence. “I promise I will buy you a watch when you start working. But don’t forget, you are already very important to me.” He knew how I liked playing with the sun’s reflection from the watch, and he would twist his wrist so the reflection danced on the ceiling and I chucked with delight.
As we grew older, the time we spent at our grandparent’s house dwindled. It got cut down to birthdays, anniversaries and family gatherings. We no longer stayed at their house for extended times or for the summer. Summers were always about family vacations to the beach or mountains. And then times were spent doing homework, assignments and planning for our careers.
He came and met me when I first started College. He was much older and walked slowly, with a very pronounced decency on his walking stick. But his trousers were neat and ironed even today, his checked shirt neatly tucked in and his black belt right in place. I could tell he had lost a couple of pounds, and I had heard from my mother how he could not see very well from the right eye due to cataract. But the same bright smile shone on his face and he hugged me tight. “So you are ready to become an important person? I always knew you were special. I wish your grandmother was here to see you today, she would be very proud.” A tear trickled from his eye and he shoved it off as something alien.
Four years passed. At my graduation ceremony, I was a speaker and I awaited my family’s arrival. He was the first person to arrive and sit in one of the front rows. I instantly went over and hugged him. He was wearing a warm Blazer with a tie and I could see the pride in his eyes. He noticed me nervously clinging on to a sheet of paper with my speech written on it. “You don’t need that, you will be fabulous! I got you a little something.” And he handed me a small giftwrapped box. I looked in his eyes and smiled. I quickly unwrapped it and opened it to find a beautiful watch staring back at me. “I didn’t know what else to get you. You are a very important person to the whole world now. But to me, you were always the most important.” I gave him a big, warm hug and tears raced from my cheeks. I wore the watch on my wrist and raced backstage. As I got ready for my speech, I flipped through the pages. I stood at the podium and there was pin-drop silence. Hundreds of people were ready to listen to what I had to say and my heart thumped louder than ever. And in the midst of the anticipation and the silence, I heard my watch go tick-tock. I touched it with my other hand and looked at my grandfather, who sat there with an assuring smile on his face. And that’s when I spoke, fearless and forthright, without hesitation. When I finished my speech, I saw him wiping away his tears.
I see this watch on my wrist, and it’s importance is not just in the time it tells, but all the memories that keep rushing back, those tiny nuances I shared with him, those incredible things I learnt from him – it all rushes back. I know his wishes are with me, even though he is several oceans apart from me today. But I am stronger and braver, knowing that I have him in my life as a guiding light. I never leave home without it, and certainly not when I have unimaginable challenges at hand every day. The watch that will always reverberate with my heartbeat.