Summer afternoons were wonderfully lazy. For a child at her grandparents’ place, it was paradise. Heavy lunches, fresh chilled juices and heavenly snacks followed one after the other. The warm weather and steady rotation of the ceiling fan lulled me into a doze.
The sound of the car motor had me rushing outside the house. A man of average height dressed in a crisp white shirt and black pants stepped out of the car. He was not very tall but his confident gait and direct gaze made him appear taller. His black-rimmed spectacles glinted in an imposing manner.
“Thatha!”, I exclaimed joyfully as I greeted him. The unique scent of coffee and Eau de cologne was my grandfather.
Once at home, he changed into a spotless white dhoni but left his shirt on. We sat at the dining table as my grandmother served hot crisp dosas.
“Get ready soon. We are going out.” I wolfed down the dosas and capered to the front seat of the car. Thatha relished his tiffin and his steaming tumbler of coffee before he joined me.
Victoria Edward Hall was our first stop. We stepped into a dingy room full of tall shelves, revolving stands and countless books. The scent of old paper wafted across the room. I was transfixed. Thatha and I just stood there together. It was the beginning of a new wonderful bond of sorts.
“Look around and pick any book that you want to read.” He said and walked away to browse. I had always liked reading books but this was the first time I got to choose among multiple options. There were so many titles, many of which I could barely comprehend, but the idea of a room full of books that I could one day read them all just fascinated me. I was still hovering over a selection of books when Thatha handed me a book.
“Elizabeth Bennet is an admirable woman who is bold and clever. I think you will enjoy this.”
It was the abridged version of Pride and Prejudice.
For my grandfather, no book was too silly and no book too scholarly. He liked to read them all and to be fair, did not necessarily enjoy them all. But he never judged a book by its cover. He was a bibliophile. I like to think that I inherited this trait from him.
Over the years we shared and recommended books to each other, discussed plots, jokes, and dissected characters. Today as an aspiring writer, he is always the one to whom I dedicate all my work.
We continued our outing to the centre of the city. Amongst four tall towers with exquisite carvings, stood one of the world’s oldest and grandest palaces – the Meenakshi temple. The sheer grandeur of the temple awed me. Dark corridors, intricate sculptures, the gentle glow of lamps and a relative silence added a mystical aura. As we wound through the alleyways of the temple, Thatha shared little snippets and verses about some sculpture or deity that we passed. I saw many idols, pillars and carvings yet somehow I didn’t see enough. Thatha’s devotion to the warrior princess perhaps defined his character too. He was protective of his family but a touch formidable.
That summer was a revelation to me. My grandfather was no longer just Thatha. Thatha was a knowledgeable man who always wore neat cotton outfits, who valued punctuality and read a lot of books. He became a companion to me who shared my love for books and paved a path for my writing.
My grandfather was a man of simple yet classic tastes. In a rather ironic way, his simplicity reflected his regal countenance. To me, Thatha was Madurai – not busy or bustling, but old yet relevant, respected and majestic, and most of all heartwarming.
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