Friday, July 17, 2009

The Flying Lesson

I could visualise him. Neel. My little wide-eyed, wanting-to-know-everything-about-everything grandson. All of six, he was the driving force of my sixty years. I could picture him right now, nose pressed against the glass pane of the window, waiting for me. Waiting for that evening at the aero-modelling club. While here I was at the Board meeting called unexpectedly, but unavoidably, on a Sunday.

I sighed inwardly. At sixty, I had retired from work. But not from life. I had always looked forward to a quality retired life. With my work having taken me far and wide, and reluctantly away from the family, when my own children were growing up, I had decided that spending time with the family would be a priority.

But work did not let me go so easily. As a member of the Board of Directors of three companies, retirement just meant that I didn’t have that corner office anymore. Meetings, seminars, conferences, award functions, still took up my time. Especially when all I wanted was time with the family. Especially the new generation.

Sometimes I wondered, was it because I was too busy when my own children were growing up? Did I lose out? Were they deprived? Then I realised that grandparents and grandchildren shared a special bond, and here I was experiencing one of those blessed relationships in life. I wasn’t going to think too deeply about it. I was just going to make the most of it.

Somewhere at the back of my mind, an article I had read began to ring true. It talked about how ‘Dads’ influenced children and their behaviour right up to adulthood. So what if his Dad was busy. I was a notch up: as a ‘grand’ Dad! I could still do my grandfatherly bit.

That’s how the ‘Grampa Sundays’ came to be. Every Sunday, Neel and I would plan a little ‘misshun’ on our own. It could be a visit to the museum, an hour at a distant park, the aquarium or simply a walk on the beach. It was just our special time together. Neel and me.

No bribes of ice-creams, special rewards of chocolates or promises of gifts from his parents could take Neel away from our little Sunday outings. On my part, I tried my best to plan something new every time.

A shuffling in the chairs brought me back to the meeting. It was decided to call the meeting to a close. As I got into the car to drive back home, I casually glanced at my watch. And gasped in dismay. It was past six in the evening. Neel would have had given up on me. It was too late now to take him to the open ground where they flew the model airplanes. Neel had been looking forward to it all week. And now I had let him down. My heart sank. How was I to face those big, brown reproachful eyes? How was I going to make up for the loss of a Grampa Sunday?

Then an idea struck me. I swung my car around, walked into the nearest department store. Within minutes I was on my way home. The temperature at home could have sent the hermits of the Himalayas into deeper penance. Gingerly I opened the door to Neel’s room. He sat on one corner of the bed, and gave me a reproachful sideways glance. Inwardly I thanked myself for my last-minute thinking. I would never have survived that look.

I went over and sat next to him. I knew this was not the time for an explanation. I simply said, “Sorry, Neel. You know the time we spend together is very important to me”. It was like the floodgates were waiting to open. He burst into tears. “But you promised to take me there… show me those model planes fly! I wanted to see those aeroplanes fly!”

My eyes welled up too. I quickly gave him the package, saying, ”You know what? There’s something better you and I can do today. Look what I have got for you. ”
Somewhat tentatively Neel opened the long rectangular gift-wrapped box, glancing at me in between, trying to gauge what was inside. When he opened he gasped. It was an aero-modelling kit of balsa wood, complete with a small motor. Quickly wiping his wet nose with his sleeve, Neel looked up at me and asked, “Can we make this… now?”
“Of course, we can”, I said, “it’s still Sunday, remember?”

We worked late into the night on our model. It was that of a World War II fighter-bomber. And as it took shape, even my heart raced with excitement. Neel was handing me little bits to glue together, running around with excitement from time to time, his hands spread wide like the wings of an airplane.

Neel agreed to go to sleep only after I made a secret promise to him. The next morning, we both rose early and went up to the terrace. There Neel took out his first model aircraft. Handing him the remote control I placed the little wooden plane at a distance. At the flick of the switch the motor whirred and the plane took off, tugging at the string that held it to the ground.

Looking at Neel’s face in the gentle light of the morning, my heartstrings got an even bigger tug. I may not have been much of a father, but by trying to be a conscientious grandfather, I had rediscovered my boyhood. Finally, I was flying as a grandparent.

No comments:

Post a Comment