The statue’s granddaughter

The statue’s granddaughter

Recently, Visakhapatnam (Vizag) was adjudged the third cleanest city in India. All that I had seen of Vizag was the railway station where the Howrah Mail would halt at lunch time. My father’s childhood friends would come with a large tiffin carrier to feed a bogey full of ravenous kids! So when a family wedding was fixed in Vizag, I was the most enthusiastic. Usually I’m the spoilsport saying, “Do we really have to attend?” So let me explain the Vizag link by turning back the pages of time.

The year I was born, my paternal grandfather died. It was almost as if our family wanted to maintain the population balance! So we had no opportunity or reason to visit Vizag. I have no memories of him; what little I know is through sepia-tinted photographs and my dad’s stories. People spoke very highly of my grandparents — they were as largehearted and hospitable as the four-acre plot they lived on when my grandfather became the first Indian Chairman of the Port Trust. They had provided refuge and shelter to many families during the freedom struggle.

The house had huge rooms and as a young boy my father had pushed his sister out of the window! But he was his mom’s favourite, and when his sister complained, she said “Oh, you must’ve done something wrong!” I had seen pictures of the house, and all my life I’ve known the address – 3, Harbour Park — but when I actually went there and walked through the rooms escorted by the present Chairman’s wife, I could almost hear my grandfather say, “What took you so long to come home?”

My dad used to tell us about chits being passed from room to room (as they were so far apart!) instead of face-to-face conversations. The bathrooms were as big as the bedrooms and even now there are two doors for the bathrooms; in those geyser-less days, the servant came in through the back door bringing buckets of hot water to bathe in. Back then, there were only trees in the compound with a winding path to the beach. Now, it has a beautifully landscaped garden with romantic sit outs, a mango orchard and vegetable patch.

From the house, we went to Saligramapuram (a locality named after my grandfather) and posed with his statue in front of the hospital. The chief medical officer introduced me as the “statue’s granddaughter” to the junior doctors. He explained that although everyone in the hospital walks past the statue, no one ever stops to look at it or asks why it is there. Because they are not aware of his contribution to society and his life and times. He lived through tough times and studied under streetlights. But his hardships did not embitter him. When I told them all this, the statue didn’t seem like a lifeless stone anymore. And there I was, his flesh and blood.

We went to the port to see his place of work. The actual operations I was not so keen on seeing, but the port officer insisted and said, “His soul will be happy that you have come.” Now, the pages of time have turned to the present. When I’m asked, “How was the wedding in Vizag?” I almost look blank, because for me it was all about paying my respects to my grandfather.