x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Teen life: Grandpa's death brings memories of wisdom and fun

Perceiving beauty in simplicity and a tendency to question everything owe much to the influence of a beloved grandfather with an incisive mind.

It is a common enough belief that we are all products of our pasts and our circumstances. The death of my grandfather last week has made me see how some of my interests today were shaped by my experiences pottering around with him, whether it be questioning everything, a love for adventure or seeing the beauty in simplicity.

His charitable medical clinic was a fascinating place for a child, a haven of strange bottles and mysterious powders. There were rows and rows of colourful pills with exotic names like "Ibuprofen" and "Norflox", which to my five-year-old ears sounded like words stolen from the musical language of an enchanted land far, far away. Best of all, though, was the tiny clear jar hidden right on the top shelf of a peeling wooden cabinet, labelled "GLUCOSE".

It was intended for malnourished patients, but if we - my cousins and I - were good enough, we'd be invited to stand by that peeling cabinet, in a neat queue, with our mouths wide open, and grandpa would spoon in a minuscule dollop of glucose. It was the best thing I'd ever tasted. You see, if you put the ordinary kind of crystallised sugar on your tongue, it sits there, hard and unyielding, until you suck it. Grandpa's kind was a fine white dust that immediately dissolved in your mouth, and a delicious, tingling, ice-cold sweetness spread across your taste buds. Perhaps this was because all your senses seem heightened in childhood memories; I'm too scared to eat any now, just in case it doesn't live up to the loveliness I remember.

Grandpa succumbed to a haemorrhage that had kept him imprisoned in a coma for the past few months. The grandfather I remember, though, was brimming with life and ideas. It was the holidays, and I was clambering over the oddly shaped block of wood in the garden, which had been roughly hewn into a flailing figure with wings. "That," he said seriously, "is Icarus."

"Who?" I picked at a scab on my knee. And Grandpa told me the story of the man who built himself some wings out of wax and feathers and tried to fly. He was doing fine until he got too close to the sun, at which point the wax in his wings melted and Icarus hurtled towards the earth and landed in our garden, resembling nothing now but a mass of burnt twigs. Having recently caught Mum smuggling in presents that the tooth fairy was meant to magic under the pillow, I was a sceptical kid. "It looks more like a bird than a man," I said.

To prove his point, Grandpa fished out his Pears Cyclopaedia, and there was Icarus, with a bit describing how he flew too close to the sun.

There was also a bit that said that this was Greek mythology, but then I didn't know what mythology meant. And if grandpa had been right about him flying too close to the sun, of course he was right about Icarus landing in our garden. The PearsCyclopaedia was supreme in his house; its word was law, so Icarus it was.

Grandpa liked his crosswords, too. Well, that's an understatement. He and Grandma subscribed to two copies of five different newspapers, so they could compete with each other, and every morning, before breakfast, several crosswords would be completed at a feverish pace. The cryptic ones, that is. It was mesmerising to watch.

He also had a way of turning little things into fantastic, wildly exciting discoveries. The big red flower seemed much more wonderful when described by its botanical name, Hibiscus rosa-sinensis, and used to explain binary nomenclature. I went into transports of delight when presented with a bowl filled with "Aqua pura-ice juice", and sipped the water as eagerly as if it had been the finest cordial. The plastic radio I had once picked up in a mall as part of Dubai Summer Surprises and had broken was extraordinarily fun to listen to after grandpa fixed it up.

There might not be any more building "igloos" with blankets, and his LP player, which tinkled out Mozart melodies as well as 1960s Hindi music, is long gone. But the funny-shaped block of wood in the garden will always be Icarus to me, and the powdered glucose will never lose its splendour.

 

Lavanya Malhotra is a 16-year-old student in Dubai

 

artslife@thenational.ae

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