Saturday, March 15, 2014

Remembering thatha

It has been 20 days since thatha has passed away, and I still can't believe that he's gone.
Thatha was husband-ji's paternal grandfather, and they were very close, as husband-ji was the eldest son's eldest son, and his personal favorite. Husband-ji grew up in a joint family and he was very close to his grandfather. They looked so much alike too....I always used to joke with husband-ji that he'd be the spitting image of thatha in his old age.

Having lost both my grandparents, I considered thatha to be like a grandfather to me. He was gentle, kind, thoughtful and sweet....all the qualities that the best grandparent would have. Much like with husband-ji, I felt connected to thatha from the first moment I met him. There was something about him that felt familiar to me, maybe he was my grandparent in a past life or something.

The first time I met thatha was on my first trip to India (in 2006). I was extremely nervous, feeling the pressure from not only being in a foreign country, but meeting the family of the man who I intended to marry. I wanted to make a good impression, and I wanted them to know how much I loved Madhavan.
The day after we arrived, I was told that thatha would be coming over for his weekly breakfast, prepared by my MIL. Thatha - who was in his late 70s at the time, refused to travel in the car, against his family's wishes - and preferred to walk or take the bus. Eager to make a good impression, I put on a pink Salwar Kameez set. Coming through the door, was a short, skinny, bald man with no hair, a few teeth, wearing a white dhoti and a button-down blouse...and an incredible toothless smile. "MADHAVAAA!!" He said and hugged him, so excited to see his grandson. In fact, every time he saw husband-ji, he had the biggest smile on his face. It was the most public display of affection that I had ever seen in India, and it melted my heart.

Then Madhavan introduced us, and I (not knowing the Indian family protocol) made the typical foreign faux-pas of reaching out to shake his hand. Thatha awkwardly received my hand, probably wondering what the heck I was doing. After, he sat down to have his breakfast of idly, dosa, and chutney (he was a picky eater, due to his lack of teeth) After, he whispered to my SIL, "She's the fairest Indian I've ever seen!" ...and I knew we would be instant friends.

Every time we went to visit him, he would bring us into his room and show us the new drawings that he had done. Every day, thatha would do a drawing with colored pencils or markers of a story from Hindu mythology. He would title and date each work, and put the story written below it. The house was covered in these beautiful little drawings. His artwork was even featured in the newspaper. As husband-ji and I are both artists, I felt we understood each other on a deeper level.

After we left, I decided to write him letters. I used to write him long letters about our life and how Madhavan was doing. Big letters addressed to "Mr. N. G. K. Chary" with the longest address that filled up the whole front of the envelope. I would always tape some money and coins into the letters because he said he wanted to see what Canadian coins looked like.

(thatha and Madhavan)

On our second trip to India, thatha was unwell and was in the hospital when we arrived, due to his anemia. We went and visited him on our first day. Even though 4 years had passed since my first trip, he said to me, "It feels like just yesterday you were here, you look exactly the same". Luckily, he got out of the hospital, and recovered by the date of my SIL's baby naming ceremony. This time, I wanted to greet him the right way. I decided to greet him with pranama (feet-touching) to show him how much I cared about him.

I was a little nervous. I had never done pranama before, not even on my inlaws. I walked into the function hall, and as soon as we arrived, everybody was staring at me - being the tattooed foreign girlfriend that Madhavan intended to marry. All eyes were on me. I slowly walked up to thatha first and he gave me a big smile and held out his hand. I bent over and touched his feet and took his blessing three times. He was taken aback, but so happy. Everybody in the hall had literally turned their entire bodies around to see the foreign girl in the red saree, performing pranama, like a true Indian at heart. All I could think about was, I hoped I did it right... 
Thatha was so happy and proud.

(After doing pranama)

Pranama - in Indian culture - is the equivalent of giving an elder flowers. To touch an elder's feet expresses affection and devotion. Every time I saw him after then, I did pranama to greet him. Even if we were just coming and going in the house.

(At our wedding reception)

(Thoughtfully explaining the pooja)

Our third trip to India was post-wedding, for our honeymoon and Hyderabad wedding reception. After we arrived, thatha wanted to perform a Satyanarayana pooja for our marriage. It was a three hour pooja, in which thatha thoughtfully explained every detail to me. This gesture made me feel included and welcomed into the family, not to mention - I learned so much. It was a beautiful pooja that honored Lord Vishnu and each of the nine planets. It was a very spiritual experience.

(thatha performing Satyanarayana pooja)

That was the last time I saw him. We intended to go to India by the end of this year, specifically so that Maya could meet him - her kolluthatha. But he didn't make it. In my mind, it is like he is still there waiting for us, and her...but he's not. I can picture him in his room right now, penciling in one of his drawings.

My biggest regret is that Maya never got to meet isn't fair, really...and now the heavy task is on us, to tell her about him and show him her pictures. Although sometimes certain things about her remind me of him, daily. It's like she is an extension of him too...

It is a strange thing - to lose someone... You always think they're going to be there - and in a way, they are. They become part of you. After all, if I want to see him, I just pull on one of my memories and close my eyes and go back there and re-live the moment in my mind. There he is...he's still there...

And that is how they live on...they live on in our hearts. They live on in our memories. And every time we miss them, we pull on these memories to embrace us like a warm blanket in the dark.

There is a saying in the Bhagvad Gita that says, "Never is he (Soul) born, nor does he die at any time, he has never been brought into being, nor shall come hereafter; unborn, eternal, permanent and ancient (primeval). When the body is slain, he is not slain." (na jaayate' mriyate' vaa kadaachin naayam bhuthva bhavithaa na bhooyah: |ajo nithyah saasvato'yam puraano na hanyate' hanyamaane' sareere')

(Thatha`s 13th day pooja-funeral)

Rest in peace, are always with us...our guardian angel...



  1. Alex,

    Bless you for writing such a beautiful blog remembering Thatha. What a wonderful revelation of how you met and respected him. His loving spirit will be with you forever. Husband-ji does look just like Thatha. Wow, so many wonderful memories about him. What a smart and very talented man he was. Thank you for sharing your stories about him with us.

    Blessing to you and husband-ji and Maya,


    1. Thanks Melissa....he was so special. They do look so much alike!

  2. As people always says, our beloved ones that are not longer with us will live forever as long as we remember them. And you have beautiful stories with him that will perpetuate his memory.

    Thanks for sharing some memories about your grand father in law. My husband lost his grandfather also a month ago, and he didn't get to say goodbye neither. He was as well the first boy of the family and very close to him so I can relate to the difficult times your husband is going through.

    Sadly, we travel just once to my husband's home country and the language was still a huge barrier so I shared very little with him. You were very fortunate by having the chance to even had received a blessing from him.

    It is beautiful that you got to make memories with him while he was still alive and that you will transmit all this to your daughter, so she will get to know her great grand father.

    1. So sorry for your loss, it is such a hard thing for the whole family :( It is extra hard when you live abroad, so far away from relatives...there just isn't enough daily interaction than if you were living in the same place. I was very fortunate that thatha spoke English well....I am not sure if he understood me as I am more soft-spoken, but I know I understood him!

  3. What a lovely post.


  4. what a important person to family guideline.

  5. @Alexandra

    Your feelings for Thatha are really heart warming. About the Satynarayan Pooja, it is the most sacred of hindu poojas and performed all over the country by the hindus. However, there is a difference in the prasad between north india and east india.

    In the the north, flour is fried with ghee and dry fruits to make the prasad which is dry called "Panjeeri". In east India, especially in the state of West Bengal, flour is mixed with milk, sugar, mashed bananas, coconut and dry fruits to make the prasad. It is called "Sinni" in Bengali. The pooja is more or less the same but the nature of the prasad is different. In north it is dry and in the east it is in liquid form. Moreover, you are not supposed to throw the prasad if you are not able to finish it. It is simply placed below a Tulsi plant. I don't know how the tamilians make the prasad, perhaps with more cocunut I suppose.

    1. @anonymous - thank you, he was such a special person.
      In our family the prasadam was served for 10 days, every day in the evening. Each day it was one of his favorite foods that were served - usually something sweet. So, for example, one of the nights, appam was offered. They made about 50, and then they offered 10 and the family ate the remaining 40. Another one that was offered was coconut barfi.

    2. @Alexandra

      You were planning to write a post of Hindu Death Rituals. I think Tamil Iyengar Brahmin death rituals would be most interesting to read

      BTW, you have never seen Rudra Abhishek(Shiv Pooja) in any Shiv temple. Here is a link to the elaborate pooja at the Mahakaleswar temple in the city of Ujjain in North India. The temple is the most ancient and sacred of all shiv temples.

      In south indian ganesh and shiv temples, shiv pooja is done. It goes for hours and the elaborate rituals are amazing. If you get a chance to see it while you are in India. But I guess you inlaws are Vishnu devotees as can made out by the straight line on you Thatha's forehead. The Shiv devotees have three horizontal line on their foreheads. The two groups treat each others as untouchables enemies. Strange.

    3. @anonymous
      Yes, I am drafting the post, I have to get all the info accumulated. It is very complicated and detailed, as you can imagine!
      Our family are Vishnu devotees, however my MIL was a Telugu Nyogi raised, so she was a Shiva devotee, but now after marriage she is Vishnu.
      We did a very special Durga pooja after my hubby had his accident many years ago, it was a moving experience. Did not have a chance to do a Shiva pooja yet.
      Lovely pooja in the link, so glad these things are on youtube so people all over the world can see!

    4. @Alexandra

      Here is what a foreign blogger had to say about hindu death rituals

      At the end what she said caught my attention she said "it takes a lot to remain a hindu". Come to think of it, yes it does. These rituals were perhaps made to keept the family engaged so that they get busy with the rituals and do not feel the grief for some time.


Respectful comments only, please! (That means you, anonymous.)

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