My Platinum Grandad
Updated: Apr 21, 2020
While at the risk of sounding pretentious quoting Murakami forthwith, “memories are what warm you up on the inside. But they also tear you apart.” This quote from his wildly successful novel titled Kafka On the Shore is one that I could never forget, for good reason. However, the strongest I felt for them was while on call talking to my aunt about my grandfather in all his star-like presence in our lives. I was bawling for the most part and felt like my head and heart hadn’t exactly dealt with his earthly death until said conversation. Someone asks me about my grandparents and a smile lights up my face and I say that I’m very close to them, but it’s been over two years since my grandad’s passing and I still sometimes forget that he isn’t with us. Maybe this essay will act as a catharsis of sorts and is, for the most part, going to be a brief ramble about the rockstar, for lack of a more fitting term, that was my muthachan (grandfather in Malayalam)- throwing light on how he affected us passersby who had the good fortune of having been a part of his journey.
Muthachan spent most of his working years in Doha, Qatar, where my mum and aunt were raised. A bunch of South Indians in Qatar- no one is surprised. They lived in a joint family with my muthachan’s sister and her family. He was quite the cool cat who never let ego dictate his actions. There was this one incident my mum told me about wherein he was on his way to office, trash bag and car keys occupying both hands. As one probably saw coming, while aiming to throw the trash bag into the trash collector, he threw his car keys instead. Bag and baggage, scrip and scrippage, he dived into the trash pile without asking for any help. My ammuma (grandmother in Malayalam), still talks about what a sight (and smell) he was to see with his tie loosened, sleeves rolled up, reeking of fresh garbage. He always took everything in his stride and never held anyone else accountable for how his own life panned out. He was also extremely generous with money and never once questioned the borrower’s intentions. Like Oprah sans the fame and fanatics. Their time in Doha was what my mum and aunt call “the glory days”. My muthachan, being who he was, had quite the blooming social life. I have heard countless stories about all the parties muthachan used to host. Everybody who attended a party at Mr. Kongot’s house would arrive knowing they’re in for a night a-brim with laughter and warmth. Even though he was always the life of social settings, he never left my quiet ammuma behind as he socialised. He would drag her along with him into their merrymaking and would always ensure she was having a solid time. Muthachan was also quite the darling romantic. When he first moved to Doha, ammuma was still living in their house in Bombay. My aunt was born within a month of him leaving and he wrote letters to my ammuma until they moved in together at Doha. Perhaps love and reverence of this kind was much more prevalent in their time, but they were truly a couple who my mum and her little sister looked up to for reference on what a loving, mutually giving relationship should feel and look like- one that my family is inspired by to this day.
We come predisposed with a tendency to blame externalities at a time of crisis. Not once did muthachan direct any blame onto anyone for his conducts or happenings around him. He was a man not disconcerted by his past- he wore it like a beautiful vignetted photograph in his mind, never one to emotionally guilt his children like a lot of us have been in our childhood. My generation has grown up with our fair share of uncles and aunties saying “you kids don’t value all that you have been given, always wanting more and more. We had to endure poverty and could hardly ever afford anything”. But muthachan never burdened my mum and aunt with preaching of such nature. He was always of the mindset that him not having as privileged a life in terms of material richness was all the more reason to always fulfill my mum and aunt’s wishes. They truly were a fortunate bunch, lucky to have grown up in an environment flushed with unconditional love, having given them a story so heartwarming, it hits you right where the good, magical stuff happens.
My ammuma’s father passed away when she was merely 6 years old and was taken care of by her mother and extended family. She lived in a very big house in Kerala, with several family members around her at all times, but sometimes you feel the loneliest when surrounded by people. One of her younger uncles worked with my grandad in Bombay, and their bond was one that surpassed that of common colleagues. They were the best of friends and when his compadrè suggested that muthachan marry his niece, he agreed without the slightest apprehension. It sounds like the onset of a catfish situation, but my muthachan met his future wife for the first time only on the day of their wedding. His sheer love for and trust in his best friend is what makes this a very precious anecdote in our family.
Muthachan is a term of endearment derived from the words “muthu” meaning “pearl”, and “achan” meaning “father”. In hindsight, this name fits aptly. As does my favourite description of him-platinum grandad. Platinum brings with it the patina of age, flourishing with the passage of time. My muthachan was a reason for the light behind countless people’s eyes and with his sudden passing, it feels like the light has vanished from our eyes. Losing someone you love and revere is not simple, and never will be. But I smile thinking about the good fortune I had to have known a mind as beautiful as his. For the days that I cannot seem to crack a smile on my own, I will always come back to these words and bring back the little flicker in my flame.