Sun, 23 Mar 2003

The Legacy

Chandrika Radha Krishnan

Our beloved grandfather passed away one fine summer morning and our day clouded over, as we loved him very much. He was in his nineties, yet we could not digest the fact that he wouldn't be there among us anymore.

All of us journeyed to his hometown -- all his sons and daughters, all his sons- and daughters-in-law, and all of us grandchildren from all over the world -- for it was a sign of respect to the departed.

Ours is a large family, and our grandfather was survived by four sons, five daughters and twenty grandchildren, all grieving for our dear, beloved departed.

Tears flowed from our eyes; we wrung our hands. We felt that the others' grief must be greater, for all of us loved him so much. We conducted the last rites for his earthly remains; we performed various prayers and gave offerings so that his soul would rest in peace. We fed the poor.

We did all we could so that his journey to the next realm would be smooth, for we loved him. Though we knew death was inevitable, we could not help but notice the emptiness left by our grandpa's death.

We talked of his younger days, and of his heyday. We spoke of his achievements and his generosity. We spoke of his relationships with others and of his greatness, for this was our favorite topic.

We took a stroll around his mansion and could not help recalling all the times we had visited him. Of course, the visits of recent days were of short duration, but still we managed to look in on him whenever we had the time.

Our grandfather was a man who had an eye for beautiful artifacts. He had the means and the opportunity to visit places around the globe. He had a rare collection of beautiful objects which he had stored and displayed artistically in his home.

Each of us wanted a memento -- his gilt-edged photo frame, his ivory chess set, his famous painting collection, his antique chair, his coin collection. Each of us coveted his material belongings, for we wanted to remember our beloved grandpa in the years to come.

We did not want to be present when his will was read, for we missed him so much. Yet each and every one of us was present when the lawyer came, for we didn't want our dear old man to feel abandoned. We steeled ourselves to listen to his will, for our affection for him was so great that we placed his feelings before ours.

The lawyer began in his usual ponderous tone. Our grandfather was a great philanthropist, and it was no wonder that he had donated something to every single charity, from nursing homes, to orphanages, even to animal shelters!

Not to worry, the old man could quite afford to satisfy his charitable whims and still have plenty left.

He was a major shareholder in many companies and in his own thriving family's affairs. My own father and two of my uncles were directors of the family business, while grandfather was the chairman-cum-managing director. He had great business acumen -- although he started out with nothing, he was able to build a multimillion-dollar company.

None of us knew how much he was really worth, but he had a strong vision and was a man of unwavering principles. We were sure that we all would be remembered in some small way. It was not that we wanted or coveted his material things, but we wanted them only as a remembrance of him.

We all looked at each other, wondering who would be the luckier. We counted all the times we had visited the darling, and how many small tokens of our affection we had given him over the years. We weighed how much our grandfather would have loved us in return for all our affection and the time we devoted to him.

Finally, the will was read -- a rude shock. He had disposed of all the major stocks in the other companies except his own. He had created an educational trust with the proceeds of the sale. To add insult to injury, the entire mansion and its surrounding property was willed to that urchin of a boy, who had received the whole chunk of the old fart's property to do as he deemed fit.

How could our grandfather do this to us when we had taken such good care of him? What did that senile man think he was doing? How could he cut off the family when we were so good to him? We never forgot him, even when we were so busy trying to make a success of our lives. True, our parents could not personally take care of him, but was it not enough that we kept visiting him?

We remembered the grimy-faced boy who had come to our grandpa's house one summer, saying that he had no home to go and begging for shelter. He was willing to slave away just for one square meal a day and a roof over his head. He told us he had run away from his home village, where he had just begun his schooling when the riots started and his parents were killed.

My grandfather, with his tender heart, had taken this boy under his wing in spite of the vociferous protests of his children. He even went to the extent of giving the boy a proper education. My grandfather had always mentioned how well the boy was doing in his studies.

But what did he do, except cook for the old man and feed him thrice a day? Perhaps he had written letters on the old man's behalf and read to him for the last five years, as grandpa's eyesight started to fail. Oh! He must have also helped him with his bath and dressed him, particularly after grandpa suffered a stroke two years back. We then remembered vaguely that he was offered a position at a company, but gave it up as our grandfather had suffered a stroke just two days before he was to begin his new job.

Of course, he must have given the old man company, taken him for his medical check-ups, administered his medicine and all this under the pretext of gaining his confidence -- and here we are, who cared for him so much and loved him so!

There was a commotion and we asked our lawyer if there was a legal recourse. We inquired if our grandpa was in full control of his senses when he made the will.

The lawyer assured us that he was consulted, informed us in no uncertain terms that the will was strictly legal, and that the young man was unaware of the contents of the will as requested by our grandfather.

This family lawyer, who was also a close friend of our grandfather, seemed upset with our occasional formal visits to our grandfather. He also told us that the will was drawn up as soon as our grandfather had recovered slightly from his stroke. He even told us of the arguments our grandfather had with the young man -- our grandfather had tried to push him to take the job offer, and for once, the young man had been adamant and stood up against the old man's ire, for he felt that the old man needed his personal care.

We went in search of the scoundrel who managed to steal the old man's affection, the orphan boy who had been looking after our grandfather during the last of his years.

The lean young man was taken aback when we all confronted him belligerently; but his red-rimmed eyes spoke volumes.

He said he meant to keep tending to the old man's rose garden, because, he said, "My Master loved them so much!"

And he burst into tears.