Monday, March 26, 2007


Pratap Singh Bhandari a.k.a Tata is a man I've known ever since I can remember. He's not a cook, he's not a cleaner, he's not a sweeper..He's like my surrogate father. He's a part of the family. Has been for the last 35 odd years. As far as I can remember, I've known him as long as I've known the rest of my family. He washed my bottom when I was a baby, he stuffed food into my mouth with his big rough fingers, he sent vanya and me to bed when our parents were out for dinner by massaging our heads. He called it "champi", and till this day, if someone plays with my hair, I eventually fall into a deep comfortable sleep.

When my sister and I were growing up, Tata wasn't just tata. He was superman. He could do anything. He could make us eat stuff we wouldn't normally even go 10 feet near, he could stop us from crying by cracking a joke or doing something funny, he would sing in the kitchen while concocting the most delicious innovations you could ever think of, he named our dogs Nimboo and Imli, "Johnny" and "Julie" respectively, regardless of the fact that both are female!!

When people ask who he is, I say he's a part of the family. He cooks delicious food. That's his passion. And if someone dares to retort, "Oh he's a servant?", they're pretty much written off my book. He's a member of the family. I love him as much as anyone else in the family. And he has a right to be a part of it. He's been a part of all it's joys and sorrows.

His son, Monu a.k.a Madhav Singh, was like a brother to me. Vanya and I tied rakhi to him for years and years, and he was our playmate till him and i both hit adoloscence and became too shy to play. But we remained somewhat close. He was a shy and goodlooking boy. And we didn't talk much since we both hit our teens, but we had huge memories in our pasts, to acknowledge the bond. I was with him, through his Leukaemia when he was 19, taking him to and from hospitals, talking to him, comforting him, researching on the disease. When he died, I cried bitterly. I wept even more when his mother looked at me, sitting beside his cold, dead body, "Monu was so proud that you are going to China and Japan to dance. He told me he's very proud of you."

Tata has not quite been the same since Monu's death. I remember hugging him while he wept for his only son. We shared something there. A common grief that transcends class or culture or region. That's one of the reasons why I think such distinctions are so futile. We all feel the same things - the same emotions, the same hysteria and calm, elation and devastation. So why create boundaries?Over time, of course, Tata came back to his normal self. Well, as normal as he could be, after such a catastrophic nine months of watching his son decay away, completely enslaved by this disease he didn't understand. But he slowly began to smile again, and then one day, I heard him singing again in the kitchen, and I cried. Despite his efforts to be normal, however, I can still look deep into his eyes, and sense a sadness and a feeling of loss emanating from deep within his gut.

When I was leaving for Liverpool after the Christmas break in India, my heart clogged up with tears to see that Tata was crying. He was crying while saying goodbye to me from outside the car. It was amongst the saddest I've felt in a long time. I called him from the car and asked him if he was ok. He was still sniffling a bit, but said he was going to be ok.

Since then, I've spoken to him many times on the phone and he seems like his normal, mad, cheerful self. Vanya tells me he misses me a lot. I spoke to him a few days ago and he said "bahut yaad aati hai bhai...ghar kabhi kabhi khaali khaali lagta hai" (I remember you a lot. The house seems empty sometimes without you).

Tata is a very important part of my life. My childhood would've been incomplete and too normal and mundane without him and his jokes, his pranks, his singing, his food.
And I'd imagine, so would the lives of all the people he's come into contact with! They all love him! It's difficult not to.

You'd know if you met him.


Blogger duende said...

and they don't make them like you anymore.

March 26, 2007 at 1:52:00 PM GMT+5:30  
Blogger Sine Qua Non said...

:) i love you and your mad family cuddloo.

March 27, 2007 at 3:37:00 PM GMT+5:30  
Anonymous Robin said...

reminds me of my nani :)

March 27, 2007 at 7:55:00 PM GMT+5:30  
Blogger Hari Potter said...

I've met him, I've met him and I'm definitely the richer for it. :)Hurrah for Tata.

March 28, 2007 at 4:28:00 PM GMT+5:30  
Anonymous SPV said...

very touching indeed.. I had a similar story aswell..

March 31, 2007 at 1:29:00 PM GMT+5:30  
Blogger vichchoobhai said...

u r a wonderful human being sylvan goddess, to have feelings for the family retainer and to sing eulogies about him. May your tribe increase.

April 18, 2007 at 9:10:00 PM GMT+5:30  

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