Superheroes need not always be men with amazing strength and the power to take on an army of enemies and come out victorious. Sometimes there are ordinary men who have qualities of greatness in them, which make them heroes in the eyes of their loved ones. This article is dedicated to one such wonderful man whom I have known and admired, not for his longevity, but for the sheer zest for living that made him a colourful actor on the stage of life!
My maternal grandfather, my Muthassan, was a tall good looking gentleman who got better and better with age. Age did not dare wither him, and he could have posed for the portrait of Moses or any such venerable figure in his seventies. Muthassan had a prodigious collection of books, most of which could be found verbatim within his prodigious mind. What I found fascinating in all his well-thumbed volumes was that almost every page found comments written in his crabbed but legible hand, comments that could make me pause, ponder, understand, and many a time, burst into giggles! For he had an impish streak that made him rise above the author’s mind and add on his own pithy humour. When I was eight I knew poems like Tennyson’s ‘Lady Clare’ and Longfellow’s ‘Psalm of Life’ by heart, and maybe it was his sonorous rendering of the lines that made me opt for Literature, much to the dismay of my professors. Muthassan was not a pedantic scholar... he made use of Literature to illustrate mundane examples. He could quote profusely from the Bhagwad Gita, the Bible, the classics, and what was amazing was that he was actually a metallurgist by profession!
As Muthassan got on in years, he became more and more lovable. With his erect bearing and his silver mop of hair, he would stride along the streets, walking stick in hand, smiling genially at passers-by, till he reached the Thrissur Round. There he would make a beeline to Johnsons, his favourite store, and buy a bottle of ink, a ream of paper or envelopes... that was not important. Then he would unfailingly ask for toffees “for my grandchildren, you know!” The next moment he would walk off, having forgotten to pay for the lot. The shopkeeper would ring up my frantic grandmother and inform her that all was well, and the driver would promptly be sent with the money. By which time Muthassan would have reached home, beaming all over his face, holding out the toffees, the only item that had not escaped his mind!
Often, at the stroke of midnight, when the whole world was asleep, we would awake to the sound of all the clocks chiming, even those that had been in hibernation so far, and we would hurry downstairs, only to find a lungi-clad figure, repairing “all these clocks that refuse to work”. On other occasions, the pounding of a typewriter would resound in the silence of the night, and Muthassan would be huddled over his ancient typewriter, trying to put down “that brilliant idea!” that had just struck him. Funnily all the brilliant ideas had a habit of coming to him just when the rest of the family was trying to get some sleep.
Another pastime of his was lugging stones. He would lift the heaviest stones and carry them to the other end of the garden. Once he had positioned them all, he would carry them back to their original spot. But what took the cake was the sight of him standing under a gigantic tree, sawing off a branch right over his head. It took our combined pleas to make him lay off “that disgusting branch”. My poor grandmother was always on her toes, wondering what he would be up to next.
Once in a blue moon, the green eyed monster would take a tiny nibble at Muthassan, mainly when another eighty year ‘young’ gentleman would come a-visiting! Muthassan was never thrilled about the attention that the family would lavish on this gentleman, and would content himself with making sly digs that luckily went over the latter’s head. But these were never malicious for Muthassan didn’t have a single mean bone in his body.
Unfortunately it was a clock that was finally his undoing. One day he was atop a stool, winding one of his beloved clocks when he overbalanced and toppled down. He never fully recovered from the fall, and was bedridden for quite a while. It was heartrending to see him lying down, but he seemed reconciled to the idea for he was the most tractable patient possible. When the end came, it was like the passing of an era for each one of us, for not only had we lost a loved one, but a friend as well! The void was never filled as no one could ever take his place!
Published in the City Journal, Thrissur