My parents were always busy. Father with his work and Ma in the kitchen. In my childhood, I barely saw them on a normal day, other than during evening meals which the whole family had together.
Fortunately, we had a joint family, and my dadaji lived with us. Grandma had passed away one year after my birth, but that meant that dadaji was able to devote all his time and energy to me and my elder brother. Despite his old age, the way he looked at the world was fresh, modern.
It was dadaji who welcomed us home from school every day. Ma had prepared food for us, but she didn’t sit with us as she had to do the laundry, run errands, and whatnot. Dadaji sat down with us while we ate. He never asked us: “How was school?” unlike other adults did. He asked us other questions, questions that mattered much more. “What was the most boring moment in school today, beta?”, “If you were the teacher, what would you have done?”, “Next to whom did you sit today?” he asked. And he remembered everything we had told him before. He remembered the names of our classmates, our favorite games, the teachers we disliked.
The last thing dadaji asked us during our dinner was: “Now you ask me something!” My brother and I asked then about his day in return, what he had done while we were away, about the news he had heard on the radio, about his thoughts on life. In those days, it felt like a game, but later I have realized that dadaji was teaching us an art, the art of conversation, small talk, politeness.
When we were done eating and chitchatting, dadaji stood up and suggested some game for us three to play. He taught us to make planes out of paper and fly them. He made slingshots for us and we believed him when he said we could use it amongst the three of us but were not allowed to shoot the neighbors or their house. When the activity was too exhausting for him, such as a game of cricket, he would still sit beside us and comment our playing. Ma would occasionally stop by us and wonder aloud what the use of all of it was; dadaji always insisted play was children’s work and this was how things were supposed to be.
Our playtime was interrupted only when our father came home and asked us if we had done our homework. We had to rush to our room to finish it quickly off before the evening meal. After we were done eating, ma put my brother and me to bed. Then too, dadaji came to us and wished us good night.
A few years ago, my dadaji passed away. But his legacy lives on. Today, I am father to two young children. And I try to give them time every day, as my dadaji had done with me and my brother. Not only time, but something more: friendship.