By Kankana Basu

My earliest memories of my paternal grandfather, the late writer Saradindu Bandopadhyay, are predominantly olfactory in nature. A gentle giant of a man dressed perennially in soft white muslin and emanating a smell which my seven-year old nose deconstructed as being an amalgam of snuff, old age and unconditional love.
My siblings argue that unconditional love does not have any specific aroma, but to this day I firmly maintain that the elderly give off a special scent that arises from a vast reservoir of selfless love.
 While my grandparents resided mostly in their dream house in Poona (naming it Mithila), they spent a sizable chunk of their twilight years coming down to visit the sprawling Bombay home shared by their three sons (my father being the youngest). Across the road of my suburban home was my school- a stylishly Westernized Parsi institution with the class-room windows directly facing our bedrooms. I recall my brothers (five in all) perpetually gazing at the older school-girls as they went about their business and the inquisitive school-girls perpetually staring into our bedrooms. An embarrassing Scout moment that I suffered lies sharply etched in my memory when the school prefect came up to me and enquired who the dhoti-clad gentleman was, who gazed out of the window unseeingly and muttered to himself. All of nine, I mumbled something unintelligible, novelists (especially Bengali ones) being as rare, weird and misunderstood a species as extraterrestials in a city obsessed with Hindi films and glamour, even then. Later, as I saw my grandfather through the admiring eyes of others, bits and pieces of his persona unraveled themselves to me and Atticus Finch like, he grew in stature till he eclipsed every other person, known and unknown, to take complete possession of my heart and mind. The trademark swadeshi attire of pristine white kurta-pyjama was indicative of a deep patriotic streak and those soft mutterings, I learned later, went on to translate into iconic works of fiction. Decades later, I would recognize that muttering-to-oneself trait rather well- the yearning of every author to hear the sound of his sentences strung together, a need almost as strong as to see them in print. 
There are writers who write phenomenally well but are flat as pancakes in character. In my grandfather’s case, we got to know and love the man much before we got acquainted with his written words. A stickler for women’s rights, my mother tells me that when a death in the family had the entire household following a vegetarian diet, my grandfather stood over my mother and made sure she had her daily quota of poached eggs. ‘A lactating mother needs her proteins’ was his firm stand, one that no one dared oppose. A liberal father-in-law, he insisted that my mother and aunts write to him in any language of their choice as long as the letter was punctuated by jokes and anecdotes! Most Saradindu admirers are well versed with the milestones of the author’s personal life — how he was a practicing lawyer before he turned to writing novels, how he came to Bombay to write for films and was associated with Bombay Talkies for a while, how he penned his first short story at seventeen (Dadar Kirti), how fame eluded him in the early years and then came knocking rather late in his writing career and more than made up for lost time… However, not too many people know that the author in his young days was a terror on the football field, using his six feet-two inches frame to ruthless advantage, getting into fisticuffs with opponents and using the choicest of cuss words when confronted with a foul!
He was a wonderful raconteur, specializing in the paranormal and using every possible special effect to terrify his grandchildren during the bed-time story hour. Most of his stories revolved around the ancestral house in Monghyr. Every night at a particular hour, whispered Dadu, footsteps sounded on the stairs leading to the terrace and the scratching sounds of a mat being laid and yet, investigations by intrepid family members revealed nothing but an empty moonlit terrace. We shivered and clung to each other, a tangled mass of young limbs and bodies. Dadu claimed that a dismembered fair-skinned arm (of a dead British memsahib) was often seen begging for water in the dim dank water-room lined with huge earthen pots. This story always ended with a deep booming laugh!
One of the author’s favourite stories was set in the period following the 1934 earthquake that devastated Patna. Most of Monghyr was razed to the ground. My grandfather’s best friend’s body could not be located. The story runs that as the author sat reading in the afternoon many months later, he heard a soft ticking sound which he took to be that of a wall lizard. The sound persisted over days, sounding increasingly urgent and occurring only when he was alone. My grandfather then sat down to do the inevitable. He set up a planchet session and summoned the spirit of his dead friend. The friend is said to have communicated that he lay buried under a printing machine in the press he worked in, half alive and in great pain for ten hours before death claimed him. A prompt investigation in the following days, revealed the body of the buried friend in exactly the same spot. There was no booming laugh that followed this story, only a great sadness in the author’s voice.
My father talks very admiringly of his paternal grandmother, a lady who was said to have been scholarly and well–read in History, which probably explains her son’s love for historical romances. Whenever Dadu ran into doubts about the accuracy of historical dates or other issues, he turned to his mother for help and she had the reputation of unfailingly providing him with a patient hearing and meticulous guidance. 
The Bandopadhyays were destined to be a predominantly male family with no girl being born for three generations. Family lore has it that when I came along and news reached my grandfather that a bawling brat of a baby girl weighing an incredible nine pounds had been born to his youngest son, he did a wild jig of delight! Needless to say, I was destined to be the apple of his eye and the despair and the devil incarnate for my five brothers! 
Disconnected things about the author flit around in my memory. I remember my grandfather being a firm advocate for all-season no-reason hugs and as children, we were gathered into his arms about a dozen times a day. We invariably got snuff up our noses and started with violent sneezing fits and this seemed to amuse him hugely! Since he didn’t have a sister and craved for one, he insisted that I proxy for a sister and give him bhai-phonta. Only too happy to oblige, I found myself settling effortlessly into the dual roles of granddaughter-cum-sister. In retrospect, the author’s wonderful equation with kids probably explains why his Sadashib series and other books continue to be so popular with young readers. I lost him when I was very young and it was only many decades later, when I decided to turn author myself that I started grieving (rather selfishly) over the lacuna left behind by the author rather than that by a fond grandparent. The author’s writing table floats before my eyes with crystal-clear clarity. Positioned under a window to overlook the rose garden of his Poona house (the pride of my gardener grandmother), the Burma teak table was almost always in a bit of a mess indicating that the author’s creative juices were flowing thick and fast (that was the time when he was at his most productive). While a pencil stand on the left of the table held a huge bunch of canary yellow pencils sharpened to wicked points and stacks of white writing paper, the right corner had a glass jar full of coloured candy. These were reserved for sucking while writing and to be doled to his rowdy grand children for maintaining silence. I had no interest in the boiled sweets as far as I remember, my eyes fixed hungrily on the stash of stationary. Seeing the greedy gleam in his grandaughter’s eyes, the author almost always gifted me a couple of pencils, generously allowing me to doodle on the margins of his manuscripts. I didn’t know it then but the smell of virgin white paper begging for the touch of ink and the sight of my grandfather writing and looking up to gaze at the roses was what pushed me towards a career in writing in later years.

—The author is a Mumbai based illustrator and writer of Vinegar Sunday and Cappuccino Dusk and two soon-to-be-released novels, The Messiah and Spice Corridors.

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