Today is 19th July 2009. For some it might be just another day, for some it might be just another date but for me it is not just a day or date. It is very important day and date in my life. 19 July is deeply etched in my memory. And believe me, it is not sepia toned memory. It is neither hazy nor obfuscated. It is still fresh in my mind. 50 years back, precisely on July 19, 1959, I lost my grandfather, Kunj Bihari Chaturvedi. Normally grandchildren are always very close to their grandparents, and so was I. My grandmother Uma Devi died before my birth. So I have no fond memories of her of any kind. My grandfather was only elderly person in the family and during my infancy and early childhood, I used to cling to him. I used to play with him a lot.
He was an enigmatic person. Born approximately in 1875, he was third son of his uneducated parents. He left his native village Sonbarsa, and first joined George Islamia College, Gorakhpur and later on went to Queens College, Varanasi and did his post graduation in Mathematics, approximately in 1895. He was only graduate in whole of Deoria, then a tehsil in Gorakhpur district, U.P. Since he was the only graduate in whole of Deoria, he was the only eligible voter for graduate constituency of U.P. Assembly and candidates used to come to Deoria to seek his vote, just one vote. And during elections, Election Commission used to send an officer to Deoria, so that my grandfather can cast his vote, just one vote. During British era, he briefly served as Inspector of Schools but later on, when he saw that his less educated elder brother Ram Swaroop Chaturvedi is unable to manage vast family estate, he quit his job, and started managing the movable and immovable ancestral property. His second brother Jay Gopal Chaturvedi, being in government service as Post Master, was never available for any family job and moreover, he died young.
While managing family property my grandfather felt that knowledge of law is necessary. He took admission in LL.B. and became a lawyer. He was secretary of Deoria Municipal Board in1930. I still have a photo of the foundation stone of Deoria Municipal Board building, which bears his name. I am posting that photo in this blog. It is worth mentioning that 37 years later, precisely in 1967, his son and my father became Chairman of same Municipal Board, Deoria. This grand building of Municipal Board Deoria bears silent testimony of that historic event.
Another little known facet of his life was that he was very fond of animals and used to rear cows with great care. He used to take his cows to annual Pashu Melas of Deoria and always got first prize. Once he got thousands of white mice at our home and used to take personal care of them. Whole Sonbarsa village used to call him “ Musahava baba ” [ mice baba ] with fondness.
A paralytic stroke, approximately in 1958, incapacitated him partially. Little did I realize then that I would lose him very soon. I was just 6 years old and was too small to understand all these things. But today I know, realize and understand that he became extremely fond of me after his illness. I particularly remember one evening, a humid and warm summer evening, when I was playing in the drawing room of my Deoria mansion. It used to be my grandfather’s living room then. He was sleeping and I was playing in the same room. In those days kids used to just scream, shout and jump in the name of playing, and I was doing precisely the same. Little did I realize that my ailing grandfather needs some rest and peace. He woke up and called me fondly. I went and sat near him. He was silent and was looking at me intently. I was clueless and didn’t know what was going on in his mind. Even today I could feel the eerie silence of that half lit room, I could vividly remember that gloomy evening. All the doors and windows of the room were open. Sun was setting in the west and it’s red rays were filling the room and playing with the darkness, trying to overpower it. Suddenly I saw tears rolling down my grandfather’s cheeks and he spoke to me in Bhojpuri—Ab ham bahut din jeeyab na. Ka jaane kab chal jaib. Tohake log hostel bheje chahat ba. Bujhat ba ab bhent na hoi—(I wont live long and I don’t know when I will leave this world. They are planning to send you to a hostel. It seems, I wont be able to meet you again.) That time I did not understand any thing. I was unable to understand his feelings. I played along with him for some time and then left. Luckily, the plan to send me to a hostel was differed and I did not go anywhere. One year after this incident , I woke up one morning and saw my mother and my aunt crying. Feeling strange but without sensing any trouble, I came to the ground floor of my house to play along with my grandfather and saw that there are many people assembled in his room. They were putting him on a stretcher. Then they started taking his frail and unconscious body out of his room and it was put in a vehicle . Then I was told that he is very sick and is being taken to Varanasi for treatment. He was unconscious, so I could not talk to him. I stood silently near the vehicle and was watching him. All the females of the family were standing in a veranda (uttar ka asora) and were crying profusely. My father was standing silently and was watching his father being put in the vehicle along with the stretcher. Our driver Shivapoojan started the vehicle and my father sat in it . They drove past the gate of my Deoria mansion. I came inside the compound and the huge and massive iron gate was shut. I got busy in my asinine, kiddish world, thinking that my grandfather will be back soon. Little did I know that my unconscious grandfather is not going to return again. He could not see me, he could not even see the mansion, which bears his father’s name ( KRISHNA ) along with his own name ( KUNJ ) . KRISHNA KUNJ still exists and silently reminds me about the good old days, when everyone was alive and it was full of people. It reminds me about my grandfather because he supervised it’s construction and was always busy in maintaining it. He was being driven out of it and he could not even see it. He died and was cremated in Varanasi. He was laid to rest in the same city, where he once went to study.
The incident, I mentioned above, happened in 1958, one year before his death. That time I did not understand the helplessness of my grandfather. Today, when I myself stand on the threshold of becoming a grandfather, I can fully understand his feeling, his emotions and his helplessness.He knew that any decision about my future will be taken by my parents and no one will listen to him, or seek his permission. Tears were rolling down his cheeks because he knew his limitations and could sense his helplessness. Today I am ashamed that I could not understand his feelings. I feel guilty that I could not reciprocate his love. I was 6 years old and had my own world. And in that kiddish world of mine, there was no place for an ailing, incapacitated and helpless old man. I forgot that I used to play Tabla on his bald pate and instead of getting angry, he used to enjoy it. He lived a frugal life and bequeathed a large empire for me and my brothers. But when he wanted to hear some reassuring words from my mouth, I kept quiet. Today I want to say so many words but he is not there to listen me.
Today I am 56 years old and I am the only surviving link between my late grandfather and my younger family members. All the family members and relatives, who knew him intimately, are dead. Only two people are alive; my elder cousin Buchchan bhai, and Shri Ramesh Chandra Dubey, a close family friend. I didn’t call them. Instead I called my brothers and informed them about his 50th death anniversary, hoping that at least they would try to remember their grandfather. I know, my brothers were too young then, one 5 years old and another 3 years old, to remember him. And my sisters were not even born. So for them he is just a figure. For my sons, nephews and nieces, he will be just a portrait, a lifeless, fading portrait . So I am the only surviving link between him and my family. After me this link will be snapped. One day I will also become a portrait on the wall, a lifeless and fading portrait. That lies in future. But today, when I am writing this blog, I want to say that as long as I am alive , for me, my grandfather will never be just a portrait. 50 years ago he was a living being and as long as I am alive he shall always be a living being. Sorry BABA, I was a tiny kid and could not reciprocate your feelings and love then. Today 50 years have passed. I am sitting in Mumbai, 1700 km. away from Deoria and everything that happened there is still fresh in my mind. 50 years can not diminish or obfuscate your memory. I still remember your toothless chuckle and I sorely miss you.
Filed under: Memoirs