Several years ago, mornings in Delhi were not as dusty as they are today. The sun would rise fresh from his night-time slumber; the birds would be out for a flight over the dewy grass. I would be busy gulping down the milk Granny made sure was mandatory for me before school. In the courtyard below, Granddad would be conversing with a morning stroller. He was an elderly Sardarji, his turban always bright blue and shirt always chequered. On Sundays, when I would be finishing my homework in time to watch the television classic Mahabharata, Granddad would come up the stairs, smiling from ear to ear. Sardarji, by now, would be well on his way home, his arms moving back and forth swiftly.
“What do you and Sardarji talk about, Dada?” I asked Granddad one Saturday. “Do you discuss politics?” Even back then, the country’s political nuances managed to find their way into all conversations.
Granddad guffawed. “Well, sometimes. But mostly we talk about more interesting things.”
“Writing, for instance. He tells me of the splendid way we can keep track of our memories, for years to come. I tell him of the one,” he smiled and picked me up in his arms, “I have the most splendid memories with.”
Though I couldn’t make much of this at the time, I eventually learnt that Sardarji was a writer. He used to work with a Delhi-based newspaper but now, after his retirement, spent his time penning down his best memories. From the time he had been a young lad in love to his life as a widower, his wife away in a distant world unseen to the rest of us. He lived on his own, tucked away in a cottage in Karol Bagh, with a garden and his writing for company. Now, I also know of how he had severed his relationship with his son, refusing to forgive him for a quick money-making scheme at work. The losses had been quick and abundant: a second childhood with his grandson, whom he got to meet very occasionally, a lonely old age, which he filled with voices from the past.
At the time, I was curious about the whole keeping-memories-fresh business. Once, all charged after my new Science lesson in school, I confided in Mom.
“Why do we need to keep track of our memories, Mamma? Doesn’t our brain do that job?”
“Of course it does, dear. But when we grow older, so does our brain. It becomes harder for it to retain the memories in all their freshness.”
Now I could see the urgent importance of what Sardarji was doing. How wonderful it was that he had found a way to check ageing, a way to ensure that my remembrances of Mamma’s goodnight kisses, for instance, would always remain nice and ripe.
When winter arrived, Sardarji would put on a cardigan. That too, was always blue. Though morning then would hardly be welcoming, with fog and chilly winds, he never missed his brisk walk. Granddad and Sardarji sipped from cups of steaming tea, while the birds chirped over them, pleased to have company in winter’s desolation. One morning, I spotted the two busily arranging a snug nest for the birds. In turns, the two had managed to purloin a substantial amount of Granny’s netting for the purpose. Another time, I found Sardarji slipping a new set of pens into the hands of the laundry-man’s son. “The boy wants to study, Bhattacharjee Saab.” said Sardarji. “When I walk past his father’s little hut, I often find him scribbling into his books.” Perhaps, Sardarji thought, here was another one on an early start to penning down memories. And, in the process, creating some beautiful ones.
It has been many years since I saw Sardarji last. I sometimes sit by myself in the balcony, watching the evening go by. Little children walk beside their Granddads, balloons in their hands. Young men and women speak incessantly into their phones, moving on to make highlights of their life permanent on social media. Delhi is now far more glamorous, money both more alluring and more pricey to come by. Even now, when I sit back to write, I inadvertently conjure the sight of Sardarji and Granddad sipping tea in the courtyard, Sardarji’s turban bluer than the sky.