My grandfather is a staunch believer of the fact that if you spare the rod, you will definitely spoil the child. Hence, he didn’t back away from hitting my knuckles with a ruler and making me kneel on raw bricks when I was little and made a mistake in reciting the alphabets. The behavior didn’t change when I grew up and had to memorize the multiplication tables, and neither did it alter when I made mistakes in algebra. He was not a sadist, he was a teacher and he had molded the careers of many children like me. I would cry when the canes hit and when my loving mother would tend to my bruises later at night, but it was worth it. During my study hours, my grandfather was the devil incarnate, but at mid-night he would open his novels and read them aloud to me until I fell asleep. He would make sure that I understood the difficult words from ‘Lacchama’ and ‘Karubaki’, he read to me every single night for seven years. May be, his retirement made him think I was his new job. After that he stopped tutoring me and I started studying on my own. The transition wasn’t sudden, I didn’t even know when this regular nagging stopped. But come to think of it now, I miss it, his taunts and the slangs he would throw at me because three plus five was not nine.
My mother along with all my relatives would tell me how hard and incorrigible grandfather used to be. Apparently, he was a man who once made the students of the school of his village kneel on the road out in the burning sun, including his own son. He kept a watch on them until the thief among them blurted out his sin of stealing the headmaster’s French cap. He couldn’t withstand any sort of mockery of elders and he showed no remorse. Even no household raised a voice against him when their children including a few girls returned home with charred knees and red faces. Why? Because he was the most righteous person in the entire ‘zilla’ and a fellow teacher.
My uncle once asked, “How many pens do you have?”
I replied three, I remembered how my grandfather gave me a blue, black and a green one. Each sorted for different purpose.
My uncle broadened his eyes and looked above and told when he was little, he had to beg for a fountain pen for his board exams and grandfather made him maintain it until his graduation. He told me how much he used to adore pens more than notebooks, I knew about it though. If you ever enter grandfather’s old study back in the village (a very few people have, lucky me) you will see pitch black boards clinging to the walls with famous proverbs inscribed on them, some with lines from Shakespeare’s plays and Keat’s poems, a queer thing that you would see in a science enthusiast’s house, something that would make you believe that literature has not lost its place in a developing society. Grandfather had rested his arms on my shoulder and explained to me the board he had cut, engraved and hung on the wall himself when he had started college. ‘The pen is mightier in than the sword.’ It was anomalous and it took me a year to fully understand it, when my grandfather introduced me to the biannual book fair and just like him I reciprocated a similar affection for books and journals.
Over the years, his eyes have betrayed him and I have become the reader and he has become the one lying on the cot listening to the stories. Dora’s tale of struggling out of the tribal lands amidst dense forests of eastern side of the state and finding his love in the selfish city is his favorite. Fakir Mohan Senapati is his favorite author and Jagannath Das’s poems are always on his mouth. He has somehow become my study without me even knowing when.
When I say I am a rebel, I don’t mean that I have decided to be one. My opinion is highly disregarded in my family so there is no way that it will matter if I break a few customs. I am a rebel, not by choice. My grandfather is ambitious and it scares me how he plans out my entire life even before I start thinking about it. I disappoint him and his ideas and his dreams for me because I am not the person he wants me to become. I disappoint him and embarrass myself whenever he asks me what I want to be. Because I have no answer.
Out of the many things I hate about grandfather is the fact that he is so harsh and yet so correct about everything. I get nightmares of him and yet I know if someday he leaves me, I would be devastated. I see myself standing by him in the coming years, I know I should be. A man who has struggled all his life, trying to make futures out each hopeless child. A man who believes that God is unnecessary and the idea of him makes people incompetent. He is a judge of sorts, the one who takes things to his own hands when others are scared to move their feet. On our occasional visits to the village, I would see people bowing down to him, not because his father used to be a ‘Sahukar’, a landlord. They did so because he made life better for them in a society long gone to gutters. Even if he is a hard man and his ideals are outdated, he will always be ‘Sekhar’, the righteous.