THE AGONY OF CLIPPING NAILS
General Sundar Singh was old now; old enough to need help in most of his day to day activities. He felt that nails grow faster in old days or was it so because he found it unwieldy to clip his nails. He was not sure. The fact remained that he needed someone’s help to clip his nails, particularly the toe nails.
He also needed someone to operate a lift for him. He got confused over the numerous buttons on the panel of a multi-storeyed building. He would often press wrong buttons and get panicky when the lift stopped at unintended floors. It embarrassed him when the other passengers in the lift stared at him. Back in his room after the ordeal was over, he would often mumble within himself justifying his own actions.
Not my fault; the bloody ‘techies’ tend to make life complicated. And then he would grin inanely. But the fact was that on all such occasions he wished some help arrived to bail him out.
The old General had a granddaughter, Nandini. By way of pleading, beseeching; sometimes happily and at times grudgingly young Nandini would listen to him. And for that he placated her with chocolates, snack packets, ice creams or small money at times. In fact, he was now quite adept in getting his requests materialize. He fulfilled his side of deals in advance ensuring that Nandini remained in good humour. However, it was very true that the General loved his granddaughter dearly.
Old age showed on the General. Not many people are left now to talk of the charming persona of his young age. But there are several pictures in his album, which show him: tall, fair, lithe and handsome and his long flowing curls affirmed, he must have been popular among the ladies. In fact, he was an adroit dancer always favourite amongst the ladies as dancing partner.
Dancing was Nandini’s hobby and she had joined a Western Dance school. She was tall, slim, very agile and energetic and favourite of her dance teacher. Nandini was deeply involved in her hobby and in fact, wanted to take it up as her career. Her parents were not very happy over her choice for she was a bright student and both her parents wanted her to go for higher studies. Moreover, the family had limited income. Her mother was a housewife and her father because of his physical disability could not excel in his life. He was an accountant in a private firm. The family was dependent mostly on the fiscal support from the General. Nandini’s mother wanted her to go for a career in medicine or become a civil servant. It was General Singh who persuaded her parents not to press the child against her wishes.
“In any case it is too early. She has still four years of regular schooling left. Let her continue with her hobby so long as it does not affect her academic performance and decide at the right moment,” the old patron was able to make Nandini’s parents relent but with demur. Nandini knew it was because of her grandfather that she was able to pursue her hobby and the fact that the old guard had agreed to pay the fee for the dance classes too.
After nearly six months of joining the dancing classes, the dance school wanted to make a ballet presentation before a national dance celebrity and wanted to give a lead role to Nandini. Her choreographer considered her to be the best bet. But there was a catch. The costume had to be provided by the parents and in this case it cost a fortune. Nandini was reluctant to talk to her parents because she was sure that her parents will never agree to bear the expense and she was diffident to talk to her grandfather. The General could see his granddaughter in a pensive mood and cajoled her to share her problem with him.
Nandini opened her heart to her grandfather. That it was a very important event, a rare opportunity, which can be a breakthrough in her dancing career. The General thought over for a few seconds and then asked Nandini.
“How much is the cost of the costume.”
Nandini was diffident to mention it. She paused as the General looked in to her eyes.
“Grandfather! It is fifteen thousand.”
General Singh didn’t take much time in responding.
“I will pay it. Collect the cheque from me tomorrow before going to the dance school.”
Nandini thanked the old man with a warm hug.
The programme was grand success. Lot of praise by the media and approbation by the dance critiques. Nandini was the toast of her friends and the dance school.
General Singh was very happy for his granddaughter. Nandini but gave credit to her hard work for her success. Soon event became a matter of past.
One evening General Singh had to go to his regimental mess for a formal function. He had been the Colonel Commandant of his regiment- a rare honour for any senior officer. The General was very upset with one of his toe nails. It had protruded awkwardly making it painful to wear his shoes.
He called Nandini for help.
“Grandpa, please don’t disturb me. I am awfully busy. I have to get ready for a birthday party.”
“Please spare a minute. Just clip one of my toe nails. It is causing me too much of trouble. Can’t put on my shoes and you know I have to go for an official function.”
“No way today; I have to collect my new dress from the tailor. I am already very late.”
Nandini sauntered away.
General Singh sat motionless on his sofa with the nail clipper in his hand. His hands were shaky whenever he tried to clip his nails but more problematic was to reach the toe nails, which had become inaccessible after the paunch he had developed in his old age.
General Sundar Singh was hurt. He remembered his childhood days. How they respected and revered their elders. He fell in to a reverie.
Sundar Singh was born in a poor family but he was always proud of his lineage for his grandfather was a renowned scholar who had served for a decade in the court of the Nawab of Rampur. The old wizard was respected by the Nawab and the courtiers for his knowledge and wisdom though he was known to be whimsical and opium addict.
Young Sundar had spent most of his childhood in the company of his grandfather. Sundar remembered his grandfather was a chronic arthritis patient. At times his pain was unbearable and he would scream. Sundar Singh was always there on such moments; giving him hot water fomentation, turmeric laced hot milk, making his hookah of opium fill and massaging his aching bones for hours together.
Sundar never thought of asking anything in return. On the contrary, his grandfather had become senile and developed an acerbic tongue. More often than not, he would curse Sundar for being lax.
“You are the lousiest bum I have ever come across,” he would whine. Sundar would simply smile and continue with his work.
When the old man knew that the end was nearing, he called all his folks around him.
“I leave no wealth or property for you other than an invaluable jewel in Sundar. He will take care of the family. He served me with exemplary dedication. God will reward him and you all will be rewarded through him.”
Sundar came over to Delhi for his schooling. He was a bright student and at the end of his schooling, he qualified the entrance examination of the National Defence Academy, Poona. He was a conscientious cadet who worked hard and passed out of the Academy with honours. After a year’s training in the Indian Military Academy, Dehradun, he was commissioned in the Armoured Corps as Second Lieutenant. A couple of years later Captain Sundar married a beautiful girl; the daughter of his General Officer Commanding.
The unfortunate turn in his life came when a son with spinal deformity was born to them. The doctors were unsure if it was advisable to go for a second child. Sundar and his wife also decided not to go for a second child.
Years rolled on.
Sundar Singh rose to be a Lieutenant General and retired with battle honours and commendations galore.
He felt nostalgic as he remembered his days with his grandfather. The contrast between the bonding he had with his grandfather and Nandini, his granddaughter Nandini dawned on him. He recalled number of occasions when his grandfather would send him on an errand asking to run to the place and he would obey the old man meticulously. And yet, at the end the day, the old man would call him clumsy. Still, notwithstanding the admonishment from his grandfather, young Sundar would be ever ready to do anything his grandfather.
General Singh came out of the reverie. He was saddened by the behaviour of his granddaughter. He just wanted a minute of her.
He threw the nail clipper away. The soldier in him would not let him dither from his responsibilities.
“What the hell. Pain or no pain, I am going ahead; can’t let down my regiment,” he grimaced as he put on his shoes.