My maternal grandfather loved the bottle. His room, which was always neat and clean would be whiskey-scented all day. After I was born, he drank only in the evening before dinner, and as he sipped on his glass, my brother and I would be on his bed playing cards, with a pleasurable sense of blasphemy even at the age of 6 or 7. He would sometimes strum on the guitar and we’d listen to him sing. At that point, Paieit (as I would call him) had a job and he’d surprise me with dolls; things my own parents could not afford frequently. My brother and I were his world and that remained so.
Soon, Paieit lost his job and with that, crept in the loss of identity and respect from everyone around him, especially his own family. But Paieit would somehow weave his consciousness into everyday things like sewing, cooking, dropping my brother and I to school, painting rusted household items, ironing clothes for everyone and the like. In fact, I shamelessly admit that he would iron my shirt until I was in the 11th standard and even polish my freaking shoes. In my defence, he wanted to do all of this. I would never see him “wasting his time” like many people would claim. To the world, he was simply a man who had injured the dignity of his manhood by not having a job. Now i realise Paieit’s contribution to the family, society, national economy and the world was through these little important things confined to the domestic sphere, to the zone of informal and unprofessional labour- the zone which keeps households, individuals and the world running. But to everyone, he was an old alcoholic wasted piece of life.
My grandfather would sometimes go out to drink in places unknown to us and when he’d come home, he never failed to come down to our house to say “Goodnight darlings” no matter how late. One day when I was ten, I could hear his footsteps as he walked to my room. A distant uncle was with me and after having greeted him, that uncle expressed with great disgust how he abhorred “that drunken old man.” As a child and as a bystander, I would watch and feel hurt but I did nothing. I painfully remember an image from one winter, where Paieit sat in a dilapidated store room disjointed from the main house next to a fire which he had created for himself. Alone, he warmed his hands in the glowing charcoal, wrapped in a thick red Naga shawl and a torn woollen cap fixed on his head; there he sat in silence fearing to ask for fire from his children, and choosing to limit his existence to sequestered and unfrequented corners of the house; he wanted to reduce his being and his life to spaces which did not see him as an annoying disturbance to the comfortable Khasi middle class social order, that which revels in the image of an economically productive and morally-sound happy family.
I was 17 and selfishly absorbed in exam preparation in the year 2006. At 5 am in the morning, while I was disgustingly engaged in the oppressive activity of studying, the activity which I thought and which I was told would help me sustain a good material life ahead, I heard Paieit coughing uncontrollably in his room in the next house. It occurred to me that he had been sick but because I was and am a terrible human being who was obsessed with books, I hadn’t gone to see him. I told myself I would after breakfast that day.
At 7 am I heard my brother calling my father frantically saying that Paieit was not waking up. I rushed to the other house myself and saw him lying on his bed. I touched him and felt a warmth and sighed with relief. My brother and I kept calling him out, but he remained unresponsive and still. I anxiously looked for his pulse, moving my desperate hands all over his arms and neck. There was nothing. There was nothing but medicines, blankets pushed to the side and my dead grandfather- silent, just like the world wanted him, nonexistent, the way 21st century market economy of families want him and the likes of him to be.
Paieit’s lonely life, shaped by a discourse of capitalist economic value, ended in a lonely morning when I was busy chasing material dreams promised by a soulless education system, teaching us the worth of marks more than humanity.
Would he ever forgive me?