Thatha was the evolving, dynamic, magnetic center of our family. Whether we wanted him to or not, he pulled us in, didn’t let us get away. He’d call my mom at all hours just to talk. He’d inquire about the most minute things in my school life, just to know. He’d mosey from room to room in the house, wearing a polo and a veshti, simply to see what was going on with us since he had last seen us in the room. He’d usually have an opinion on everything, and would proclaim it after announcing his presence with a characteristic clearing of the throat.
Thatha was the picture of curiosity, even at an old age. He read economics tomes with his senior citizen group and went to the supermarket just so he could see what deals he could get in the sale section. If you didn’t explicitly tell him not to, he’d click a random link on the computer, not realizing it was spam. He joined Facebook about two years ago at the age of 85. If you took him to a school event, he would read every name in the program and ask you about everything.
He was always on the lookout for jewelry for his granddaughters. Thatha doted on his grandchildren, with gifts but also with his curiosity. He was the one who kept tabs on family birthdays, jobs, and travel. It was impressive how sharp his mind was considering he could snore off in the middle of a conversation. He was a dichotomy of cute old man and intellectual giant, weathered and impassive, serious and hilarious, sleeping and yet very much attuned to the world.
When I was younger, I was very concerned with Thatha’s bald pate—it grew shinier every year as the hair fell, and I decided I needed to help him out. I spent many days collecting other people’s hair shed in the bathroom, on the carpet, and around the house, gathering it to give to Thatha to put on his head. My mom was flabbergasted when she found out.
Now, when I reflect on the last few years, my favorite memories of coming home from college including finding Thatha and Ammamma emerge from the family room as I walk in the door, bending to envelope them in huge hugs, and rubbing Thatha’s shiny head for good luck. I knew the scars and freckles on his scalp like they were the treasure map to his brain. Thatha wouldn’t get annoyed, he would just sort of grin at me, with a bit of a snort and chuckle, and ask about my studies.
Whenever you’d talk on the phone to Thatha and it was time to go, you’d want to say a customary “bye.” Suddenly, as you were about to, he’d say “All the best,” and hang up, and leave you wondering if he was still there or not. He never said “bye,” just “all the best.” When I think of Thatha leaving this world a feeling of sadness and uncertainty wells up inside me, but at least I think of him leaving this world, not with a “goodbye” which has the stench of permanence, but rather with an “All the Best,” a farewell of hope and of goodwill that he leaves with us on this world as he goes to the next step of his curious journey.