A bowl of kulfi, golden and dripping, contrasted against a black and white film playing across from me. My view every night remained constant: stark white walls, the tv inclined at an angle, and Nani’s photograph staring back at me. And so the days rolled by with the changing roles of Dilip Kumar, the reflection of the setting sun in the neighbour’s window, the ripening and falling of mangoes, and a cyclic changing of pyjamas: pink loose ones for Sundays, and the darker striped or dotted ones for the rest of the week. The only other person who was sharing this view with me every day for the past two months was nana. White, crisp pyjamas, hair inching over his ears, and a furrow-less face hiding eighty years of an animated life.
A virus, infamous for forcing people apart, had brought us together. Had it been any other summer day, nana and I would have probably been strolling down Hyde Park or buying crepes at hole-in-the-wall stores in Zermatt with cups of coffee warming our hands, but today we satiated ourselves while sipping on some green juice on his balcony that overlooked tops of green trees.
We fell into a rhythm right from the first meal - two rotis for me, one for him - I remember because Nani would count them when she was around.
And so, together, we reminisced about our days spent with our respective grandmothers in the same house - one that he designed fifty-three years ago. Four bedrooms, three balconies, two-and-a-half floors, and one library - once overrun by a family of seven and frequented by guests for every meal. However, even though we were just the two of us now, the meals were just as grand as I had heard they used to be - always a starter preceding a five-dish thaali, and a dessert different from what was served the meal before.
Rays of sunlight dodged through window railings and fell against paintings that were bought back from fine art galleries. Along with luminescence they carried memories: those of butter heaped on biscuits, prayers chanted before air-travels, the warmth of the sofas because of how often they were sat on.
Besides reliving the days of yore, nana and I were also creating fresh memories. Since he couldn't go for his morning walks in the local park, we paced up and down in the garden balcony - four slow rounds for every batch of fifteen fast ones. Often in the afternoons during the weekends, when we would tire from reading our respective novels, we would play a game of Chess (when I lost under ten minutes, we’d extend our session to two games.) While learning strategic movements of the knight and the queen, I also imbibed tactical moves of life from Nana.
Relationships are your biggest strengths, comparisons - your strongest enemies.
For peace focus on your breath, for joy drink coffee, travel, eat good food, work hard.
Tough times don't last, tough people do.
I also learned by observation. When a super cyclone (Amphan) hit the city, and water leaked from the terrace flooding the first floor - he waited calmly for the storm to pass. When it did, his expression remained unchanged - a tranquil visage: thick eyebrows laid restfully atop keen eyes, not a hair out of place, and a smile of grace. The world outside his window had little impact on the world inside him.
As for me? My firing neurons mirrored his until the storm brewing inside of me too faded away. It was then that I recalled a conversation from a couple of years ago.
I had asked him for the secret behind the roots of his knowledge and his success.
Tauji, he had responded promptly.
"Gentle, far-sighted, mindful, warmhearted, tender, sensitive, empathetic, true," he had attempted to describe his Tauji. And just then, as the wind rattled the sliding doors one last time, I caught him gazing at the direction of the clearing skies, unblinking. Unknowingly so, but over the years he had embodied each of the traits in himself.
And so, somewhere in the summer of 69 days, I found my own roots: those of the foreign traveller, the reader and dreamer, the coffee-lover but lemon-honey tea drinker and the chivalric romance lover. My own roots - those that stemmed from him.
Written by Aradhita Saraf