How I met my grandfather

I am glad that birds don’t remind me of people. I wouldn’t enjoy the catharsis. There are two exceptions though. One is the Small Blue Kingfisher, which stirs up the love I have for my niece. The other – Spotted Owlets – that remind me of my maternal grandfather – Mr Clarence Motha. Unknowingly, he has been the most influential person in my life. At one point, we had not exchanged a word for nearly 10 years. We even barely even saw other.

Like Leo Tolstoy once said, “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way”. What is happiness anyway? Normalcy? No thanks.

Those in the family who were younger than grandpa, and related by blood, have always referred to him as Methaiapa (literally translated as “upstairs father”). His children had coined that name when they were young. The room upstairs was his favourite haunting ground. A church of his quietude. He was always in there. Reading, writing and keeping himself busy. He hardly ever came down. Unless the situation demanded his presence.

Methaipa is a published writer and poet (in two languages). He was a professor and scholar at Loyola university for almost half a century, and a mentor to many senior journalists from south India. He is now 89 years old, more nimble-footed and quick-witted than anyone I know.

Spotted Owlet, Pulicat Road

My sister and I loved to spend summer vacations at our grandparents’ house. They were our neighbours. But it was like a different planet. There was a humongous water tank right by the side of the hall corridor. I never knew what its purpose was but it was fun to watch mustard seeds pop open in the water. There were two toilets. One looked like it was made for a Stanley Kubrick film; it took about 2 minutes to reach the commode from the door. The other was in the backyard, facing a wildly-grown garden.

There was a storage room tucked away that always excited me. I found things in there that had me prancing about like a character from Aesop’s Fables. One time I stumbled upon a glass tumbler with an attached straw. The glass felt like it was half-full. Methaipa’s room was thick with the air of surrealism, and smell of old books. He often sat crookedly on a wooden chair, and wrote. I used to look at him, and wonder if it would drive him insane if he didn’t.

At night, he read stories by Arthur Conan Doyle and Edgar Allen Poe to us. He prefaced the ritual by carrying a mock lantern and wearing a shawl over his head, sneaking through the curtains.  He claimed, with panache, that it was story-time. Then the Kulfi man would ring thrice to bring us out. We would soon all wear cold milk mustaches and laugh about it.

Sometime during my primary school days, there was a loud argument. A silly one between adults. Things were said. It led to us being separated from our grandparents. There was to be strictly no communication between us. Everyone had agreed it was for the best. We, children, were kept in the dark for long but we had to follow their orders.

Spotted Owlet, Vedanthangal

It lasted for about a decade.  During the early 2000s, old wounds finally faded away, and our immediate families reconnected. Somewhere in-between, started writing. It was my way of staying connected to him.

I can’t say it has been perfect since the resolution. It has been fun though. Whenever we meet, Methaipa and I secretly poke fun at everyone else in the family. Or we talk about the decline of society. And how people watch too much television. It’s a barrel of laughs and a lot of reassurance.

Two years ago I got excited and self-published a poetry book. And I made only one copy. It was a collection of my poems dedicated to him. With artwork by a dear friend / wonderfully-talented artist/poet/filmmaker.

Better Safe Than Sacred

I posted this today because I miss my Spotted Owlets. And Methaipa too.

An excerpt from
Along with Youth by Ernest Hemingway

“A porcupine skin,  stiff with bad tanning,
it must have ended somewhere.
Stuffed horned owl, pompous,
yellow eyed;  chuck-wills-widow on
a biased twig sooted with dust.

Piles of old magazines,
drawers of boy’s letters
and the line of love,
they must have ended somewhere”

(Photographs – Ponneri, Kanchipuram and Chennai)

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37 comments

  1. the ties that bind, old voices that stir the mind. I, also, hear my grandfather talking to my heart, and I miss his smile now worlds apart. Thank you, once again, you have shaken forgotten memories back into consciousness.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Voices that have left behind breadcrumbs and footsteps of the sun. I am glad and humbled that I helped stir some of your precious memories, dear friend of mine. I hope you write about him someday and I ll take pleasure devouring it.

      Like

  2. First off, I am reading this from my desktop, post-surgery — no glasses. I couldn’t think of a better place to ‘try out’ my repaired eyes.

    What a tender piece to write, not only for your owls but for your grandfather. I feel joy that you have made up for the missing years and for your future gift of poetry to him.
    I wish my memories of mine were as sharp, but my favorite one passed when I was still a teen and the other — the gardener, the naturalist — hardly ever talked. I feel I am most like him of my whole family only never got to say to so to him; he passed before my oldest was born. We called him The Little General (and he was, retired from the army).

    My own father and I have been estranged for more than a year. I have tried hard to keep the lines of communication between my children and him open, but relationship-building takes two. Now that I am no longer ‘driving’ it, my kids are learning that lesson firsthand. If only he knew how much they longed for him.

    PS – what a noble way to publish your works! 😀

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you Shannon ❤ you summed up what I feel perfectly.

      Little General sounds boss (see, we can be hip).

      And the fences always mend themselves, Shannon. I am sure your children will have memorable experiences with theirs too.

      Noble eh? I ll take it (big, big smile)

      Like

  3. ‘college, like mastication, was perfunctory’,
    ‘If everything worked out perfectly for everyone all the time, it would lead to the dawn of the apocalypse. Or Chimpanzees. Maybe both.’
    ‘One looked as though it was made for a Stanley Kubrick film.’
    ‘He claimed, with panache, that it was story-time.’

    Very nicely done with just the right amounts of entertainment, wit, humor, emotion and heartwarming. Really good writing. Looking forward as always to reading more of this kind of stuff from you.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. maybe you should give him rather than drawing conclusions…maybe he will feel proud that his grandson is carrying on his legacy…or just happy that you did it for him…don’t back out now…

    Liked by 1 person

  5. To be honest, I loved the write up more than the pics this time. May be because I too was really fond of my grandfather whom I lovingly addressed as Muthacha. It is such a sad thing that the children have to suffer for the immaturity od elders in most family feuds. I have a boy all of eight in the neighbourhood, who spends four hours after school all alone as his parents have fought and separated from their parents. The boy misses them madly. And the grandparents come and meet him secretly. I read the post and then went back to enjoy the owlets. Beautiful clicks!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Rekha, you always say such lovely things, and share personal stories. It’s really one of the reasons why I love sharing mine, to hear others tell me theirs.

      And I hope the little boy keeps connecting with them.

      Thanks again ❤

      Like

  6. Thanks C for sharing this. I know this story from before and was very happy to read it here again. It’s written beautifully. Someday I will tell you about my grand father 🙂 If I were to think of a bird for him, I think it’d be Egret. It was great working on your booklet and I hope we’d collaborate again soon. Hugs! ❤ x

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Good post, Verseherder. Something about owls makes them intimidating creatures, like they’re aware of some profound truth that we can’t see yet and they’re just sitting there watching and waiting for humanity to perish so they can take over our cities and towns and live in our houses and stuff. Creepy owl watchers.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh you nailed it, good sir. The rock doves, at one point, used to scare me for that very reason. Flying about, back and forth, cooing like they knew something we probably should too.

      Loved the bit about “waiting for humanity to perish so that they can take over”. I will stoop down to betrayal and be their willing servant!

      Thank you for the wonderful train of thought, Robert!

      Like

    1. Aww shucks, thanks bud! That’s a mighty kind thing to say. I haven’t written a book yet because well, these things just happen, I suppose. I am very glad you found this space of mine, look forward to haunting yours.

      Liked by 1 person

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