Forgetting to fly

I visit my grandfather after several years, and he looks just like he did in that photograph on our wall. Even before I say Hello to him and ask after his health, I want to know how his hair is still black. “Have you been dyeing it?” He smiles the smile I always imagined him possessing, the one that might have found its own place in my grandmother’s heart when she was a young bride. “At our wedding reception, all my friends told me how lucky I was,” she never tires of telling us. “He was so tall, so handsome.” He is. So tall, so handsome, debonair almost, and we wonder how none of the boys took after him.

I know almost everything there is to know about him: how he only eats rasam made in a lead pot over a slow flame, his music records and his love for Boney M, his books on the Second World War. I tell him I have read those books, but then I worry he may catch me in a lie. I reveal to him I just read the captions below the pictures, and not much else. “I try to avoid thinking about all of that,” I tell him. “Why did you go to the Holocaust museum then?” I am not sure how he knows about that.

I am in a hurry to make up for lost time, so I try to give him capsules of information. Ten minutes for every decade he missed; this way, we shall be up to date in less than an hour. Now he knows all the cities we lived in, the schools I went to, the people I loved. I tell him I spend much of my time reading and watching movies, and how my mother remembers his love for both, though she wishes I spent more time talking to people at home. He wants to know what happened to his beloved pistachio-green Ambassador, once the pride of the house and maybe even the street. “Maybe they sold it?” I offer.

Unmindful of how tired he must be, I ask him to whistle a song to me. I cannot recognize the tune. I really shouldn’t expect to, for he exists in our collective imagination, and in that one black-and-white photograph we all have copies of. He didn’t get a chance to watch his children grow up, or to meet his grandchildren, when the aircraft he was sitting in refused to fly and disintegrated into flames. He is stardust.

As inspiration for this short essay, I tried to imagine a conversation with a family member I’d never met.

Crowd Favourite and Editor’s Pick this week! Thank you for reading this essay and leaving such thoughtful feedback.

This is what Stacie had to say:

It’s not just the little moments that make this piece, although they’re there: “I try to avoid thinking about all of that,” I tell him. “Why did you go to the Holocaust museum then?” I am not sure how he knows about that. For me, it’s the sense of immediacy that really pulls this essay together. Anusha has expertly juxtaposed far-off events with the present tense, adding just enough hints that the conversation is imaginary to keep the reader engrossed in her dreamy narrative. It’s a tender piece about the persistence of collective memory, about a yearning for contact. At its heart, it’s a very human piece that turns out (like its subject) to have been made of stardust after all.


24 thoughts on “Forgetting to fly

  1. Wonderfully written. I enjoyed this piece a lot. I liked a lot of detailing from the pistachio-colored Ambassador to lines like, “Ten minutes for every decade he missed; this way, we shall be up to date in less than an hour. ”

    The finale was marvelously done too. Kudos!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This was such a beautiful piece. Initially it made me think of my grandfather, the one who built the house I grew up in, and the ending made me feel for the grandfather I have not met, as he passed away before I was born.
    I was really engrossed, and while reading others blogs, one talked about grandparents with dementia, I thought this would echo it. It was a heart-stirring surprise.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. What a lovely piece. Sometimes I think what if I get another chance to talk to family members who are no more. To sit with them and tell them how my life changed after they left. Your post is just beautiful and so perfectly written.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. This is brilliant Anusha! It did not feel like and imaginary conversation all through, you carried the secret like a master! Your pieces on the grid get better every week and I look forward to reading you every Wednesday! ‘Ten minutes for each decade’ is just marvelous!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you!! 🙂 I was hoping to be secretive but also give a few clues: like the photograph, him knowing something unexpected about me, the fact that we weren’t angry about his disappearance.


  5. What an exquisite piece. It was like walking down memory lane that was poignant yet so hopeful.
    Lovely ode to your grandad. I’m sure he smiles and shines his light upon you from the heavens above.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Maybe you read more carefully? 🙂 After I wrote this, I was thinking about how we only hang pictures of the dead in our house. There are no framed pictures of the living. Maybe this is an extra cultural perspective that you (and I) had..? I find that people in the US have pictures of their (living) family members and themselves everywhere.

      The writing class is coming along. Might write about it someday. 😛 The biggest takeaway for me is the feedback I receive when someone critiques my writing (in front of me). It makes me embarrassed and awkward and leaves me feeling a bit low, but I can see how it will help me improve.


  6. Well I do have pictures of living family members including yours truly and I know some people who’d not leave a single room without a formal family pic. But I see what you are saying. It is relatively rarer in Hindu households,


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