Growing up, I always saw my Thatha as my hero. He was a tall man with a dynamic personality. He could crack up any room with a simple wordplay. You could hear him guffaw along with the rest of the audience who’d be in splits.
Thatha, in his bachelor days, was a part of a real-fancy, popular drama troupe. On some boring summer afternoons, he’d tell us stories about the characters he’s played, the awards they’ve won and the famous people they’ve met. These were always his favourite stories to tell us.
It probably reminded him of all the things he had to leave behind to marry my Paati. Now, don’t get me wrong.They were not forced to marry each other and were wonderfully happy together. But leaving his dreams of becoming an actor was a prerequisite to marrying my Paati.
You see, back then, actors led lives of their choice. There were always stories, news is more like it, about actors marrying their 3rd wife or having extra marital affairs and how the wives were simply okay with it. Were they forced to be okay with it? One would never know.
My Paati’s family was very sure that they didn’t want that for their baby girl; and rightly so. Thatha’s family agreed to make this happen and a few months later, Thatha and Paati got married. Even though he had let a significant part of his life go, he continued to be the same charming, baritone-voiced, funny guy.
As a shy, skinny kid, who didn’t always fit in, I used to watch in fascination how he’d get an entire room to listen to him with undivided attention. Not a single head turned away from his radiant face. He was trying really hard to control his laughter from his own joke. I’d be right there putting my head against his big belly waiting for the laughter to begin. I found comfort in that sound. I would always see an endless train of compliments for my Thatha frompeople we know, people who’d just met him, people who thought he looked like someone famous, and people everywhere. I’d always wonder, “How did my Paati get so lucky?”.
I was raised by my Thatha and Paati because both my parents had to work a little extra to support the family. I also had my uncle and aunt, who then were young and in college., They used to tell us bedtime stories, feed us even if we’re throwing the most ridiculous tantrums, buy us the hottest new wind-up toy out in the market or simply mollycoddle us to no end.
I never once felt like I missed out on anything. My siblings and I continued to stay back with Thatha and Paati even after my uncle and aunt got married and moved out. Thatha was the coolest. He used to sing, write his own songs, he practiced Homeopathy, knew everything about mystical arts and literally everything I cover here is a severe under representation of all the things that he was into. He was always good at anything he picked. But like every other good thing, this too came to end.
I spent most of my Thatha’s later years in different hospitals trying to decipher what new thing each doctor used to say. I was quite happy even in the hospital. I had seen this happen before — he always gets better and comes back home with something new to laugh about. He always gets better. He didn’t.
I never spent much time with Paati when Thatha was around. So, I never knew how to comfort her when he wasn’t. She always seemed like the silent type. On any given point in time, you can find her in the kitchen, making us our nth cup of coffee for the day or picking flowers that will later be used to make a garland.
You could easily miss her in a room with Thatha. He’d been stealing all the focus while she smiles silently near the sidelines. My siblings and I continued to stay with Paati. It took us a few months to realize that she’s far from silent. She can speak about the star patterns, she knows about the moon’s waxing and waning periods and she can discuss the philosophy behind Mahabharata. She remembers birthdays, wedding anniversaries, first-day-of-work days and pretty much any detail even if it goes beyond a few decades. She continued the tradition of telling us bedtime stories. Her favourites were things from her younger years—her siblings, her friends, her first job, her last job and everything in between. Paati is very smart. You cannot fool her. This wasn’t a quality that thrilled me in my teen years but now, I’ve grown to admire it. Even adore it. Paati is curious about the tiniest of things. She’ll ask you a lot of questions. She’s not shy to admit that she doesn’t know something. She understands politics and comes up with her own conspiracy theories. People would always confide in her so she’s always the one who people run to for help. I never saw until now how dependent my Thatha was on my Paati. He knew he couldn’t be everything he was without her. My siblings have started lives of their own. Now, it’s just me and Paati in the same house that my siblings and I hosted our first water-gun fight. Paati and I discuss cooking, recipes, and other things. I’ve caught her singing while she cooks. I’ve caught her laughing at her phone as she scrolls through memes. I’ve seen her read books faster than I ever could. We have movie nights and have pop-corn together. We laugh out loud together. She knows all of my friends by their names and even knows their little quirks. She knows what they like and force feeds them every time they’re home. They don’t complain.
Growing up, I always saw Thatha as my hero. But, I realise now just how much of a hero Paati has always been.