In Bengali, your mothers father is called ‘Dadu’ and mother – ‘Dida’. In a similar manner, your fathers father is called ‘Thakurda’ and mother ‘Thakuma’. However, for reasons unknown to me, my brother and I never used Thakuma or Thakurda. We always called my dad’s parents Dida and Dadu and my moms were Nani and Dumpa.
Dadu was a most intriguing person. The man was a genius with a hatred for wastage. He was a retired engineer. Retired long before I or my brother were born. But his eagerness to fix things never left. He often restored the toys that we broke, telling us not to throw anything away but to use it. He’d probably make us use everything till they’d be nothing but dust. One time, after Diwali and Kali Pujo, Dadu told us he wants the burnt out remains of our sparklers. Obediently we made sure we collected the white hot metal sticks and presented them all to him. He was very pleased. He took them all and when we asked him what he wanted to do with them he’d look at us and say, “Dekhbe!” But we never did get to see because Dadu said the sticks were too short for what he was making. He never threw them away though.
The first pair of torn jeans, or rather, distressed jeans I ever had – sent all the way from Canada to me by my uncle – had some miniscule holes in the knee areas and a few rips. When I wore them and went to Dadu to show them off, he looked at me very concerned and told me, “Diye dao, ami shelai kore di.” (Give them to me, I’ll stitch them.) I was scandalised and had to quickly explain, “Na Dadu, eta ajkaal style!” (No Dadu, this is the style nowadays!) Dadu always made a face when I wore those jeans.
When I was much younger and had no school to go to, I would often eat breakfast with Dadu. He would eat cheera with milk and sometimes a banana. Whenever he ate the banana, he would wash it, peel it, and then with utmost care cut the fruit into pieces against the sharp edge of his stainless steel bowl. Then he’d take his spoon and scoop some of the cheera and milk onto it and eat, as well as feed me. Whenever he’d scoop up a banana piece as well, he’d tell me, “Eta-te byang aache.” (This one has a frog.) For some reason, this would tickle me greatly and I looked forward to the scoops with banana. I’d tell him, “Byang dao! Byang dao!” (Give me the frog!) Once all the ‘frogs’ were finished, Dadu had a hard time keeping me there to finish eating my meal. Dadu would hate too much dal on his plate when we ate. He would scold my grandmother if she put too much saying it was like his plate was a pond. He also managed to get me to eat my fish which I absolutely detested. He’d give me the tastiest bits and showed me this bone that looked like a duck.
In the evenings, Dadu would occasionally have puffed rice – moori – mixed with just a few drops of mustard oil Sometimes I’d sit with him and Dida and watch television while having some moori myself. The Bengali serials would play and we’d sit around the T.V. munching… Dadu also taught me to make little balls of my rice and curry to get me to eat it faster, it didn’t work but I now know how to make the Solar System with my food.
Dadu had his serious side. He was an intelligent man – the coveted engineer. He had already started balding by the time he asked for my grandmother’s hand. Dida told me once that he’d seen her in the balcony of her house with her long hair open and had fallen for her then. Dadu often looked grumpy. His mouth would be a perpetual frown but he wasn’t disgruntled. He just had that face. When he would lie on the bed on his stomach, clad in his white, cotton pyjama bottoms, reading his newspaper, my brother and I would scramble onto his back to play. We’d pretend he was a car and his raised feet and legs were a steering wheel and gear. Dadu would read the Bengali version of The Statesman while we did. Once I didn’t go to school, so Dadu and I got together and decided to have a picnic – in the bedroom of our house… We got biscuits and some other stuff like ‘jhuri-bhaja’ and of course, moori. Suddenly we realised that we had no water with us, so I told Dadu, “Darao.” (wait) and went to get water for us. Upon returning I saw Dadu, standing on the bed – his head nearly touching the fan. He looked at my confused face and said, “Darate bolli je!” (You asked me to stand) (Darao means both wait and stand in Bengali.) This was his rarely seen, less serious side.
Dadu was from Sylhet originally. During the partition his family moved from Bangladesh to India. I don’t know much about it, but we lost our ancestral home during the move – according to Dida it was a beautiful house.
Even to his last few days, Dadu was a very sharp minded man. In the hospital too, he once alerted a nurse to the fact that there was a bubble in his saline. He then proceeded to tell her, she should tap it so it’d go to the top and not enter his bloodstream. It was finally heart problems that took the man from us. I didn’t cry much when he passed. I think I didn’t really know how to react to having someone so close being taken from me for the first time. I don’t eat cheera and milk anymore. Fish and I are enemies once again. And Dadu, I miss him.