Friday, April 24, 2009

#16. My Dear Uncle


My youngest uncle is a strange character. My father had three
brothers. Chhote Kaka was the youngest, and a posthumous child. My
grandfather had died of cholera which was a yearly feature those days
in eastern part of U.P. If you mark, all the English settlements were
some distance away from the town so as to keep away from filth, and
crowd. They were thus saved from the epidemics because of this
distance from the native colonies.
Anyway, to come back to Kakaji who is the only survivor of the four
brothers. He is above 80, but he is mobile, and his mind is alert.
Healthwise he is ok. I don’t think that he has even hypertension.
The stories I am narrating are not of recent times, and they had all
happened when his mind and body were fitter and more alert.
Kakaji is known for his miserly habits. Once somebody closely related
to me by marriage was sitting with him in his drawing room. It was
mild summer,which requires a fan, and not a cooler or AC. I don’t
know whether he had a single phase electric connection or a three
phase one. Anyway, after 5 minutes or so, my Kaka asks this
gentleman whether he would mind if he switches off the fan in that
room, as another fan was on in another room in the flat. To say the
least, the gentleman was stunned, and he could only shake his head in
assent.. Nedless to say this gentleman after a few minutes said
goodbye to him and walked away.
Those days I was posted at Delhi. I had serious road accident in which
I injured my backbone, and was in bed for three months. For about a
fortnight I was admitted to Safdarjung Hospital. On such occasions
people close to you, friends and relatives come to see you, and as I
was fully conscious with all the limbs intact (touch wood!) they could
easily come to my bedside and chat. One afternoon Kakaji came to
see me. He was living in far-off Janankpuri, and before the coming of
metro rail, going from one place to another by public transport was
quite time-consuming. Kakaji chatted with me for sometime, and also
saw a few magazines lying on the bedside table. When he got up to
leave he suddenly picked up a magazine (it was Navneet I think). I
mildly suggested to him that he took another magazine (Kadambini I
think), but he said that he had already read that. In truth, the magazine
he wanted to take was mint-fresh and I hadn’t read a word of it. But
then chivalry is the best part of valour and I said ok.
Much later a cousin of mine (I will call him Munna) who stayed in
Nagpur told me that Kakaji was talking to him on phone on the same
day in the morning, and had told him in disgust and frustration as to
what custom we Indians have that people had to go and see if
anybody was not well and admitted to a hospital.
Munna had a few more stories about him. Once he was visiting Kakaji
for a few days, and one evening Kaki had cooked mutton. Munna told
me that even while the mutton was being cooked, the children (three)
and Kakaji entered the kitchen and started eating the delicious pieces.
Later even Kaki feasted on a few pieces. What was left now was the
curry for the poor guest, to be eaten with chapatti and rice. Now don’t
think that Kakaji was poor. He had a Reader-equivalent post in a
Delhi university, and had his own flat, with all the installments paid.
Earlier he had spent about 15 years in a south-east asian country, and
had earned good money. Although he claims that he lost a lot of
money in some foolish investment in some dubious company.
Munna also told me that Kakaji had a phobia about guests coming and
staying with him, some for a few days and some for longer periods.
Once Munna had some work in Delhi, and he rang up Kakaji to
inquire whether he would be available during that period. Promptly he
replied that he and the entire family would be out of station for some
time in connection with a marriage in his in-laws’ family. His reply
was so quick that Munna got suspicious, and at Delhi when he got
down from the train, very confidently he drove straight to his place,
and lo and behold! Kakaji was very much there. Later when Munna
asked him as to why he had not given correct information to him, he
coolly replied that his programme got cancelled at the eleventh hour.
To think that this was when Kakaji had stayed with Munna’s family in
Calcutta for almost a year when he had a job there.
Munna incidentally is a heart patient, he took voluntary retirement
from a good bank job, and the last angiography he had was in 1995 I
think. He must have a few blockages, although he never reveals
anything truthfully, and refuses to undergo surgery saying that he has
lived his life, and there is no point in going in for a major surgery. Not
that he cannot afford it.
A similar incident happened to me when I was posted to Mumbai. I
was going on a short trip to Pune, and my wife decided to join me.
Kakaji’s younger daughter is married to some guy in Pune. I rang up
Kakaji at Delhi and tried to find his daughter’s phone number. Well,
he did give a number but when at Pune we tried to contact her on that
phone number, we found that it was not her number. I immediately understood that
Kakaji didn’t want his daughter to be disturbed….. we could have
gone and stayed with her for a few days. Ultimately we found her
correct number from her elder sister who stayed in Chembur. When I
once met him at Delhi after some weeks and told him about it, he very
easily replied that the number he gave must have been her old
number. I then remembered one or two of my colleagues when asked
about their residential or mobile number, they did give it to you, but
with one digit wrong! If asked about it later, they could very well say
that it was a mistake on their part or my part. Such are the ways of
Remebering Munna’s experience, I once played a crude joke on him. I
rang up from Gwalior and told him that I would be coming with my
step mother who was a cripple in her last days and will be staying with
him for about a fortnight for her treatment. I also told him that I would
have to bring two servants with me, one for carrying her up and down
(he was staying on the first floor), and her maid servant for helping
her in her daily chores. He almost had a fit. After a sleepless night he
rang me up and told that it would make things very difficult if Jiji ( as
we called our step mother) was brought to his house. I was laughing in
my heart, and argued about it for some time. We could not reach any
conclusion at that time. I got a call from him a few hours later. I
thought enough was enough, and told him that I had no intention of
bringing my mother to his place, and it was all a prank played on him.
He was not amused, obviously.
To wind up, Kakaji came to my son’s wedding at Delhi some time
back. The venue of marriage was quite some distance from Janakpuri
where he has lived all through. I was really grateful that he could
come with his son and daughter-in-law, after a couple of hours or so
on the road, so probably he is not all that bad.

1 comment:

Ashwani Bhatt said...

Kakaji is a very peculiar character person, but when I met him at Varanasi in Feb 2009 I found some changes in him. He has become God fearing person which at his age is a natural process.