The Hope In Despair


After a gap of nearly three years, I recently met one of my favourite octogenarians of the family. He is my grandmother’s brother, fondly called ‘Dad-Ji’. Odd as it sounds, ‘Dad-Ji’ was coined by me as a toothless toddler, because of my failed attempt to pronounce ‘Dadaji’, since he greatly resembled my grandfather. He lives to see three generations, who all lovingly call him ‘Dad-Ji’.
I have such vivid memories of him getting boxes of sweets and candies for my sister and me every time he would visit. We would sit for hours in the winter sun, shelling peanuts, while he would regale us with his childhood stories. It was especially fascinating to imagine my silver-haired, stick wielding grandmother as a naughty, frivolous little girl who would boss over her baby brother. He always had a witty joke to tell.
As I grew older, my attachment with ‘Dad-Ji’ deepened and I realised that there was a lot more to him. He had had a rough childhood, and nearly 40 years later still bore the scar of it. He was embroiled in litigation; and the little pocket diary that he kept in his shirt pocket had a record of all the court hearings. I started noticing that in every trip, he not only carried packets of chocolates for us, but also lugged with him a huge folder of court documents and a heart — heavy with legal battles with his kith and kin.
As I became busy with the mundanities of a teen’s life, he grew older. His stories became shorter and his visits less frequent. He complained of failing health, and stopped travelling altogether.
Work, marriage and a baby later, I guiltily decided to go and see him.

He was sitting on the porch of his house. He looked nothing like the ‘Dad-Ji’ of my childhood. The tall, smart, well-dressed Sardar was now a hunchbacked, frail, old man. He now resembled the ancient men of his stories. I kissed his hand and he gave me a tight hug. He had recognised me! When I introduced my husband and daughter to him, I knew I had lost him again. His eyes suddenly seemed vacant and he looked away.
Dementia had set in.
I yearned for him to embrace me and hand me my favourite Cadbury chocolate, but in vain. We sat together in complete silence. What a contrast it was to those cheery winter afternoons! Not only me, he had forgotten the battles he had fruitlessly fought all his life, the ties he was bound to, the pain that had scarred him.
Maybe he was in a better place now.
Maybe this was his sense of humour.
Maybe this was his way of mocking at all the brickbats life had thrown his way — by erasing their very existence from his memory.
I held his hand and pondered. Maybe, in the Supreme Court of Life, ‘Dad-Ji’ had finally emerged victorious.