In a big house on the roadside of a small village of Kerala, an old man sat on an age old but gleaming and strong arm chair, with a walking stick resting nearby and his chest covered with a white towel. Whatever hair remained on his head was fully white. Frequently, he shot anxious glances at the wall-clock.
The road was not tarred nor were there streetlights. No buses would pass that way but cycles could be seen now and then and an occasional jeep would leave a cloud of dust. As the sky grew darker and the threat of rain loomed, the old man's anxiety increased. His grandchildren should have returned from school by 4 p.m. It was already 4.30 p.m. and he was obviously very restless.
After a while, he got up from his chair and paced the room like a caged animal. "Ammu, get my umbrella, I'm going to look for the children," he called to his daughter, who was busy in the kitchen preparing some snacks for the kids.
Before she could get the umbrella and just as a drizzle started, the children arrived. The old man hugged and kissed all three of them and gave them biscuits and sugar candies but cautioned them to eat only after having a wash.
Patting them on their heads fondly, he told them how he was worried about their safe return and slowly asked them about their school news. The kids loved those precious moments filled with little mounds of affection.
By 6 p.m., they would come and sit with their grandfather after their bath, fighting with each other about who should sit next to him. They would recite prayers and the days of the week, months, stars, and the arithmatic tables with their grandpa beside the burning lantern.
During dinner, the kids would fight to sit next to him, and wait for their usual share of the most delicious rice balls mixed with all curries, from him. Soon his big plate would become empty. Only after seeing their delighted faces, the old man would have his food, which would be very less. No matter what the mother had prepared for them, each of them wanted a rice ball from their grandfather. Until they got their share they wouldn't touch their own food. It was like a ritual for them.
Their father was away in Delhi, employed in the Army. He would visit the village every April, with two suitcases full of clothes, toys and sweets for the children. They were scared of him with his thick and curled moustache. He was a strict disciplinarian and hardly spent any time with them. He hardly shared their joy and sorrow even while he was with them and kept a distance at all times (like most of the other fathers of his time did).
Occasionally the father and the grandfather would pick up a quarrel about the children's upbringing. The kids would wait for their father's departure back to Delhi, to stay more closer to their grandpa and enjoy his abundant love.
Even today, after many years, I wonder what made Grandpa's rice balls sooooooooo tasty!