Unconditional Love

April 12, 2010
Ramendra Kumar

Babuji, my father came to live with us when my daughter, Ankita, had just turned ten - months, not years. He had retired as a Professor four years ago, and spent the initial period catching up with his friends and relatives. A forced bachelor, he had no responsibilities and wanted to make the best use of his new found freedom.

My wife, Madhavi, had to join duty after her year long maternity and child care leave, on 20th November, 1991. I had hinted to my Dad that we would be needing his help, in the initial years at least, since we did not want to leave Ankita at the mercy of a maid servant. He had assured me, "Don't worry beta, I'll be there a couple of days before Madhavi joins office."

"But Babuji, a day or two won't do. You should be there at least a month before. After all Ankita has to get used to you."

Babuji had laughed, "Beta, you are forgetting I am her dadaji, the bond between a grandfather and a grandchild is much stronger than you think!"
And he was right. Ankita was a very shy and sensitive toddler and would rarely go to anyone. Even with me, she was comfortable only when in a good mood. On every other occasion it was 'mama' mia for her!

The first 'encounter' between Ankita and Babuji will be etched in my memory forever. When Babuji entered our living room Ankita was sitting on the floor, playing with her stuffed puppy. He went down on his knees, spread his arms wide and very softly said, "Ankita, beta, aaja (come),"

She looked at him, her eyes growing a wee bit wide with curiosity. She then stumbled to her feet and toddled straight into his arms! It was as if she had been there for all the ten long months of her existence on Planet Earth.
I and Madhavi looked at each other, stunned.

That was only the beginning. By the time Madhavi left for office the next day, Ankita was as comfortable with Babuji as she was with her mom. From the time we went for work (we are employed in the same Steel Plant and have a 9 to 5.30 job) till the time we returned in the evening, Babuji took complete care of Ankita.

Gradually we came to know, from the maid servant and the neighbours, the extent of his concern and commitment. Babuji always gave her a bath, placing her in his lap. The routine would commence with him pouring the warm water first on his feet, to test whether it was okay for the little one. Every dish that was cooked for Ankita, too, was first sampled by her grandpa and only after his clearance, was given to her.

Ankita was always a fussy eater. Feeding her was a task which could make even a Buddhist monk resort to sledging.

But Babuji was not a Buddhist monk, he was a grandfather. To this day my neighbours recall an engaging scene they witnessed in the scorching heat of May. Around one in the afternoon, a small procession would be seen in front of our house. The leader would be a cow (Ankita has always been crazy about animals - she loves me the most!), followed by Babuji carrying Ankita in his arms, with the maidservant trotting side by side, a bowl in her hand. While Babuji invited Ankita's attention to the charms of the bovine beauty, the maidservant fed her. This charade would continue for almost an hour for most of May, with the Mercury often touching 46 degrees.

A year or so later, Babuji decided to teach her about the world outside. Naturally you would expect that he would take her to a park or a zoo or even the market place. No question! His favourite destinations were half a dozen banks where he had invested his life's savings, and that is where he took her almost everyday, telling her stories along the way. He knew three stories in all, the very same ones which he had told my sister and me. But it didn't really matter to Ankita. For her he was nothing less than Grandpa Scheherazade himself!

When she started lisping, she could not pronounce Babuji and ended up saying Apuchi. And soon Babuji became Apuchi for all of us, including me.

At the age of three, she got admission to a school nearby. I and Apuchi, used to go everyday to drop her. Apuchi would go till her class, say hi to her friends and come back.

A couple of months later, I met Ankita's class teacher at a social function.

"Mr. Kumar, last week I was showing the kids pictures and asking them to identify the pictures. When I showed them a picture of an old man sitting under a tree, reading a book, guess what, the entire class shouted, "Ankita's Apuchi!"

I can't forget the look in Apuchi's eyes, when I related this little incident to him. It was almost as if he had been made the honorary Consultant of all the banks on his 'hit list'.

During those days, Apuchi and I often had arguments regarding how a child should be brought up. Though I raved and ranted, I always ended up accepting, grudgingly of course, that his gentle wisdom was far more correct than my in- your-face acumen.

Two years later my son, Aniket, was born and history repeated itself. Three generations now went to leave Ankita to school, but it was Ankita's Apuchi who continued to remain the most sought after.

For many, many years Apuchi lived only for his grandchildren. No one and nothing else mattered to him anymore. Seeing his love I was reminded of a saying in Hindi: "Asal se zyada sood pyara hota hai" (One is more fond of the interest than the capital).

Apuchi taught me that the connect between Gen Ex and the Gen Next is pure and pristine - a connect that the 'generation-in-between' can rarely comprehend. He also taught me that even in this day and age, love can be unconditional and sublime, in fact true love is unconditional and sublime.

Thanks Babuji, sorry Apuchi.

Ramendra Kumar is an award winning writer for children with 15 books to his name. He also dabbles in satire, poetry and fiction. His work has been published and reviewed in major newspapers and magazines and translated into several Indian languages as well as Japanese, Spanish, Basque, Sinhala and Mongolian. He is also an inspirational and motivational speaker for children.
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