1990 was a memorable year for my mother’s side of the family. This was the year that my Aunt (my Mom’s only sibling, who passed on in 2016) got married. It was a festive few months between her engagement (June) and wedding (September). My grandparents’ house would be filled with wedding-related items. Friends and relatives who were part of the wedding planning efforts would flit in and out of the house. The stove in the kitchen was perpetually turned on. One sinister – and utterly irresponsible, I shall add – thought that I had was that I could totally flop in my quarterly exams and could conveniently shift the blame onto my family for not helping out enough with my preparations. (What actually happened was…why don’t you take a guess?) But in between the engagement and wedding, something significant happened. My grandpa retired from his job in July.
You might wonder what was so significant about someone retiring from his job. It was actually quite straightforward. Thatha had worked for The Reserve Bank of India from 1954 until 1990. He had turned 58 in July, refused the offer of an extension and happily retired without a crease in his forehead. All the creases were appearing on the broad forehead of his pudgy 9-year old grandson, yours truly. At his retirement dinner, I was the only one who appeared unhappy. When my family checked on me, I responded, in all seriousness, “If Thatha retires, what do we do? Will we become poor? Retirement means we will not have any money, no? Why are we eating at this restaurant now?” Everyone at the table burst into simultaneous laughter. I was reassured by my Thatha that life will not be a struggle. That everything from the dinner to my Aunt’s wedding will be paid for! I was also gently reminded that my parents were working professionals as well. That the family’s fate did not depend on just Thatha, his job or his pension payments!
One of my fondest memories of that dinner is the son-in-law of my grandpa’s friend narrating the delightful “kozhu kozhu kanne” story to me. I don’t remember if it was to cheer me up. But by the end of the dinner, I was taking great pleasure in being able to recite all the lines in the story to anyone who cared to listen.
Those last three words. That’s really it. “Cared to listen.” That is really why this dinner stands out in my memory as fresh as this morning’s filter coffee. I was never given the feeling that me, my words or my worries – as amusing as they seem now – did not matter to my family. My Thatha knew that it was my fondness for him that made me tie our entire future to his employment. Even when the table erupted with laughter, I never got the vibe that my feelings were trivialized or ignored. Their laughter was just a spontaneous adult reaction to a kid’s innocent inquiry. That an Uncle chose to regale me with a story despite having no need to give me the time of day at a dinner party, warms my heart when I think about it. These might all seem like minutiae. But just like how scientists in a lab discover wonders through a microscope, we can all do the same through the magnifying lens of introspection. Seemingly little moments will seem wondrous. 32 years from the dinner, several of my near and dear are gone – my grandparents, their best friends, even my Aunt. I don’t remember what I ate on that day. But their kindness and thoughtfulness certainly gives me plenty of food for thought on how I can pay that goodness forward.