Memoir : My Grandfather

~Rigzin Dekhang~

My grandfather is a lively character, full of life but still carries his hatred of the Chinese. On the first night of Losar, he was seen singing and dancing with the younger folks around a bonfire.

A month before my departure to the States, my parents wanted me to pay a visit to my grandfather in the village. My father said , “Son, you are going to the US next month, so I think you should visit your grandfather. A month is still left. Enough time, I suppose.

In his last letter, he wanted to know when you were leaving for the US. He had to give up the idea of coming to Kathmandu to bid you farewell at the last minute because you know of his problem. Arthritis of the knee! So, I think it would immensely please him if you could call on him. You never know this may be the last time you would be seeing your grandfather.”

carpet-weaving

My grandfather had been living in Phul, a village in the upper terrain of Nepal since 1959, the year when my father was a boy of eight. The old man and his family had fled Tibet after the invasion of the Chinese troops.

I was born at Phul in 1980 but I was barely one when my parents moved over to Kathmandu in search of a better life.

In the first few years, as refugees in an alien land, my parents, as much as other Tibetans, had to cope with countless challenges. The greatest challenge was to gain the trust of the native people.

It was obvious that the natives looked upon the Tibetans with suspicious eyes. Jobs of any sort were very hard to find, even for the natives. There weren’t many jobs around. So, the refugees had to ready themselves for another bitter struggle.

The determined, strong willed, dedicated Tibetans, however, didn’t lose hope, for even one moment. They had abiding faith in His Holiness The Dalai Lama. Today, there are quite a number of big communities of Tibetans in Kathmandu, leading comfortable life.

The art of weaving handed down by the Swiss played a key role in the improvement of the life standards of the Tibetans. In its initial stage, carpet weaving was a very small venture and the money earned by selling the carpets wasn’t enough to sustain a living.

But gradually, the business expanded to the West. The Europeans showed a great deal of interest in the hand-knotted Tibetan carpets. Today, Tibetans own most of the carpet factories in Kathmandu.

You can often find Tibetan businessmen, involved in heated argument over mobile phone with the cargo man over delayed delivery of their carpets to the US, driving luxurious cars on the roads of Kathmandu. No doubt, after almost two decades, the Tibetans have come a long way.

The small plane I was boarded could hold at the most 17 people but due to the recent violent activities by the Maoists in different villages, only half a dozen people were on board with me to Phalung.

From Phalung, `for strong and agile legs like yours, my son, it is just half an hour’s climb up a steep hill to grandfather’s village,’ father had told me.

The plane landed on a pathetic airstrip at about two in the afternoon; I saw two people chase a flock of sheep from the airfield as the plane landed, dust swirled in the air and covered the window obstructing my view of the bazaar.

I had with me just a rucksack strapped at the back of my shoulder containing a pair of trousers for change, a jacket, few packets of noodles to eat on the way, a warm woolen sweater and a tin of milk powder for my grandfather. So, I was in the bazaar ahead of the other people on plane.

The bazaar was almost empty except for few toddlers pulling the tail of a stray dog. On the porch of a teashop, four men with white powder flecked on their noses, weary shopkeepers having not sold anything for the day, were playing carrom.

The last time I had been here was when was ten. Then I was escorted by my parents to grandfather. For the first time I as all by myself here. I dreaded the prospect of walking alone.

So, I decided to wait for others, sitting on a stool next to the group of people cheering up the carom board players. Half an hour passed by but to my dismay, I didn’t see even one of them come to the market.

So I moved.

“Dhai, can I help you?” a small girl carrying a basket full of green grass on her back and a sickle attached to her waistband asked me as I stood in front of a hut confused by the two steep, rugged roads leaving at the end of the bazaar.

“Oh.sorry to have stood like this in front of your house.” I said to her. The small girl just smiled as she put down the basket.

Running my hands over her black glossy hair, I asked her, “Can you tell me which road here would take me to Phul?” She showed me the road to my left and after buying her a lollipop, I hurriedly climbed the steep road, trailing clouds of dust for it was already half past three.

Grandfather, a worried look on his face, was standing in front of a tower with an antenna on top of it, waiting. It was here that he was supposed to pick me up.

I spotted him from a distance and waved both my hands towards him. I was very excited to see my grandfather after a long gap. The last time I saw my grandfather was three years ago at our home during Losar, the Tibetan New Year.

He is a lively character, full of life but still carries his hatred of the Chinese. On the first night of Losar, he was seen singing and dancing with the younger folks around a bonfire.

When he was not reading from religious scriptures, he played the Tibetan lute. He was good at it. He showed keen interest in soccer though he was watching it for the first time on TV.

“Soccer, you see is a very simple game. There are two teams and a round leather ball. Each team battles to put the ball into the opponent’s net. No hands allowed. Just the legs.”

That part of explaining to him about the theme of the game, was easy. Then, he was curious to know the teams competing with each other. For simplicity, I didn’t bother to confuse him with club teams, so I told him it was played between countries.

“Ah! I see. Played between countries. Then why not have our national football team. We don’t stand a chance against these muscular white people. But we can beat the damned Chinese at the game.” The last words were said with great excitement but the enthusiasm died the moment I told him it wasn’t possible because we didn’t have a country to represent.

“Tibet is not a separate nation but a part of China.” The liveliness that was so vivid in my grandfather a moment before suddenly disappeared. The images of mass killings by the Chinese flashed across his eyes.

It was a five-minute walk across a long suspension bridge over a frenzied river from the telegraph office to the cottage.

As I stepped on the bridge, the whole frame started shaking. It seemed to me that the bridge might collapse anytime.

Holding on tightly to my grandfather, I made it to the other side.

Grandfather teasingly said to me-“Look. You have got to be bold, if you are going to win freedom for Tibet. You can’t fight the ruthless Chinese if you remain chicken-hearted.”

My grandfather lived in a dilapidated cottage roofed with wooden shingles and big stones stacked upon one another serving as the wall. There were four other thatched houses with straw roof in the neighbourhood. But I didn’t see any people around.

The whole place resounded with the thunder of the waterfall as it cascaded and hit the hard rock below.. It didn’t seem an ideal place for an old man in need of a peaceful atmosphere.

The land that stretched beyond us was bare. No colourful flowers as I expected! It was ironic. Phul means flower in Nepalese language. In the backdrop, the sun was slowly plunging into the nearby mountains.

Few crows flew past us cawing and landed on the branches of a lonely old apple tree nearby. Darkness was slowly engulfing the village of Phul.

My grandfather had not changed since the last time I saw him three years ago. The same tired greasy face with a hidden smile, long gray hair braided, fingers adorned with crafted rings and a rosary around his wrist.

During my childhood, I saw other Tibetan children living close to my house being looked after by their grandparents with great care and affection while their parents went to work. So, I had always craved for their love and affection.

But, it wasn’t to be. My grandfather decided not to live with us in the city. My grandmother passed away when my father was small. Perhaps, he thought my parents wanted him just as a baby sitter while they went to work.

But if he reasoned that way, then he was mistaken. My mother has always been a competent housewife. She looked after me and my two sisters who came after me single-handedly. My father, dignified in conduct, could never make his father do household work.

The only instant when I felt the warmth of my grandfather was during the New Year celebration which lasted just for a week. I wanted to ask him why he didn’t want to come and live with us in the city.

“Don’t you love your grandchildren?” I thought I would shout at him but I couldn’t. Now I know why he decided stay behind in the village.

An year back, the house next to ours, open for lease from a long time, was finally taken up on lease by a Tibetan couple, Tashi and Dolma and their four year old son.. Tashi’s aged parents too moved in.

Tashi’s younger sister, Lucy came to live with them. Every time I gazed at their house to have a peek at the beautiful Lucy, I saw the grandparents running after the little devil who refused to wear his shoes or eat his lunch.

One day, as I was strolling in our street, I saw the old woman holding a big gunny bag crammed with potatoes, spinaches and onions trudge towards the front gate of her house.

I ran to her help. I also thought I would get a chance to talk to Lucy. “Thank you very much. Young man like you, hard to find these days”, she said to me and then not knowing that I was her neighbour, she confided in me, “My own son treats me like a servant. He called us here from village to look after his son. But now every household work had to done by us. I was very happy back in the village.” I felt very sorry for the old couple.

“Grandparents love their grandchildren, don’t they?” I wanted to ask my grandfather who was busy preparing a pudding of Tsampa, which is a mixture of butter tea and tsampa (roasted barley flour).

But I kept quite. Loving and getting loved have always baffled me. Recently I got letters from Lucy who suddenly disappeared one day, confessing her love for me but at the same time expressing anger towards me for she thought I took no notice of her.

Now, I am afraid to reply to her saying that I have always loved her.

The cottage had just one room. Here the food was cooked and eaten. At the end of the day, collecting all the kitchen utensils in one corner of the room, enough space was made for two people to sleep comfortably.

But that night I couldn’t get a wink of sleep. I just lay on the mattress, gaping at a big hole in the roof. Through the hole I could see the stars twinkling.

I thought I would tell my grandfather tomorrow to mend the hole quickly because rainy season was just round the corner. That way, he would know I love him very much. Then, I started counting the stars in the sky. One, two, three,. twenty,… thirty-three…

August 16, 2013
This short story was first published in Meghdutam.com (between 1999 to 2002).

(Source : Learningandcreativity.com)

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