My maternal grandfather was a watcher of buildings.
He lived in a small room accorded to men of his profession. He didn’t live there alone. He had a wife, their three out of five children, and two grandchildren. He moved from one building to another, wherever he found work and he took his family together with him.
My grandfather did not have many possessions. There was a small kerosene stove on which my grandmother used to cook our meals. There was a metal stainless steel torch that my grandfather carried with him. I think there was a baton too. Then, there was a steel almirah, which held some stainless steel utensils, his uniform, some sarees of my grandmother, and my uncles’ clothes. He had no furniture, just mats and some sheets for covering our young bodies. There were however, pictures of many Hindu gods and a small lamp lit in front of them on most evenings.
My mother was the fourth-born. She married a man who found work outside their place of origin and she had two children herself. I was the first-born. When we were young, we would go to our grandparents’ during our summer break. Each year, we would live in a new room, in a new building.
My grandfather would leave us to watch the building at night wearing his khaki uniform. We would sit under the night sky on one of those mats and listen to stories made up by our uncles. We would eat from the stainless steel plates. Later, the plates would be washed to be eaten from again. This round would include our uncles. By the time, our grandmother would eat, we would be lying down on the mats watching the stars covering the expanse of the night sky. A coil would usually burn beside us to protect us from mosquitoes but we all know they didn’t work. So, we would cover ourselves head-to-toe with our sheets. Eventually in the eternity of the night, the sheets would slip from our bodies and we would wake up with mosquito bites, the size of a well-fed ant.
The last time I saw my grandfather was when he was living in a temporary-made single room ailing to diabetes. His right leg had been amputated and he had by that time lost all his possessions. Only his wife sat next to him, fanning him to keep the flies away from his wounds. His grandchildren would come and visit him and his sons and daughters would come talk to him.
He also lost his memory. He could not remember my mother’s name but responded with a fragile smile when he was reminded. He recognised me too, I think. I saw it in his eyes. I was fourteen then.
Ten days after the death of my maternal great grandfather, my grandfather passed away. He died in the same temporary-made single room that I had last seen him in. He still had his wife next to him. Most of his grandchildren were with him. Some were very far away and some had barely remembered him.
But, a picture of him has been taken from the day when he attended his son’s wedding with an amputated leg and it hangs in a single room of his children’s home. At least, most of them.
I think my grandfather died in the night, when the stars were misaligned in the sky, needing the guidance of a watcher.
My maternal grandfather was a night watchman. He watched over buildings and walked in the night. He lived in a single room for most of his life but he was never alone.