Part of the ritual when coming back from school on Saturday was popping into the ‘Comics & Comics’ library, a reputable landmark of my childhood, to say ‘Hi’ to Thatha and picking up whatever books he had set aside for us for the weekend. I walked in and saw him sitting on the desk with his oversized glasses, writing on a single ruled, full scape paper, the kind we wrote our exams in with a blue ball point pen, in his neat handwriting. He always wore a white dhoti and a shirt except on rare occassions when he went out in a police jeep, he would wear pants. The library was like his office. My love for books and libraries definitely dates back to my early memories of him.
I didn’t know what he did then, I just knew he wrote a lot and since I wasn’t the type to ask a lot of questions, I didn’t, I observed. Many people came to see him, mostly in the mornings before we left for school, he listened to them, took notes sometimes and went back to writing. He used to be a police officer, I had seen pictures. But since I’d known him, he had been a writer of some sort. Policemen in uniform still came to visit him sometimes. He occassionally picked us up from school in a police jeep. I’d sit in the front seat between Thatha and the policeman driving and feel important. He was good at that, Thatha, at making us feel important. We got to read all the new books that came to the library first, he made sure we had snacks to take on all our school picnics and we were always treated to a neverending supply of sweets and chocolates in his shirt pockets. He cared for us alright, he showed it in so many ways. I learnt later that he used to build and transcribe case histories and cases for people who couldn’t afford a good lawyer. He sometimes got paid in mangoes, pickles and bottles of jam.
He always seemed lonely to me, like nobody understood him and he didn’t talk much, it was easy to not pay attention to him in the corner of the house, writing in his full scape sheets. I was always drawn to him, there was a warmth about him and a kindness that is harder and harder to find these days. I realise now that Thatha and Amma (we called our Pati, Amma, like our parents) had a special relationship, they understood, loved and cared for each other, quietly. They felt each other’s pain, sometimes quite literally and were affectionate with each other in their own ways. That relationship for me, as an adult represents a rare kind of symbiosis. They were an eco-system together.