Saturday 21 July 2012

Keeping up with Junior

Sampat had married young; so did his two sons. He became a grandfather at 50. Three more grandchildren arrived in five years. Kanuj, the eldest, lived with Sampat and his wife Gajri.
Their first-born, Chand, was posted to New Zealand when Kanuj was barely months old. It was a painful decision, but to take up the offer was the only way up the career ladder for Chand. Gajri said she was willing to look after Kanuj if his parents thought it better to leave him with them.
Gajri was a busy woman. She freelanced with a research firm and was involved with community welfare services. Sampat was not sure she would have enough time for her grandson, but he backed her nevertheless.
Chand and his wife asked for some time to check out what lay in store for them in New Zealand. In a week it was agreed that Kanuj was to stay back in India, and the family would try to be together as often as possible. The grandparents were delighted.
Sampat had led a hectic life in corporate corridors, but was now consultant to a small clutch of companies. He took up one, at the most two projects at a time so he could indulge his passion for reading and visit the gym regularly. Gajri made a neat sum from her research projects.
Sampat and his grandson at the laptop.
Digital sketch: Harjeet
Their younger son was an army doctor, and had two daughters. The family lived in military quarters, moving from one station to another.
With Kanuj now in their charge, the grandparents had to make quite a few changes in their lifestyle. No late-night outings any more. Sampat’s books began gathering dust. Gajri cut down on her research work. 
They took turns at changing diapers and feeding the little boy, taking him out in the stroller and so on. Before they knew it, he was going to school. They got accustomed to the mad morning scramble for the tiffin, dropping him to school and fetching him, and taking him out to the park or sports complex every evening.
They were lucky to get Kanuj into a nearby school that did not believe in home work. So when it was clear the child had an ear for music, there was enough time for him to learn the guitar from a home tutor.
They did go on with their own lives, but juggled work so that Kanuj was always attended to. Sampat made it a point to be in the loop on all that Kanuj did in school. They were the only grey-haired participants at parent weekends, but the teachers had got used to them as well. In fact, they had made quite a few good friends there, sweet young couples who would share tips on holiday projects, birthday ideas and much more.
Sampat and Gajri had met at a badminton tournament and gone on to make a match of it. Their grandson, however, was a table tennis buff. To give him out-of-school practice as well, Sampat decided to give up his gym and set up a table at home instead. Kanuj and he played regularly, with Gajri watching. Sometimes they fondly referred to him as “Junior”, for they had begun dreaming he would one day compete in the junior championships.
It was a cosy companionship. Kanuj grew up believing he would always live with his grandparents. He now had a little sister. The family visited India for a month or so every winter, when his uncle would also bring his children over.
Kanuj had been to New Zealand, too, sometimes with one or the other grandparent, at times all three of them together. But he liked India best. He was so young, but was already clear that if his parents wanted them to be reunited, he was not the one who would be moving house.
He liked it that he had become a brother, but for now he did not particularly miss his sister. Sampat and Gajri encouraged him to make lots of friends at school and in the neighbourhood so that their age did not stunt his emotional growth.
Sampat worked on an old-fashioned computer. He had a years-old Internet account which he used to keep in touch with his clients. However, he had drawn a line at learning this new-fangled stuff that his children kept talking about, the new virtual world of Skype, Picasa, Facebook, the world of smartphones and mobile apps.
They had bought a small computer for Kanuj for his sixth birthday, but he quickly outgrew it and had been pestering them for a new one. Otherwise an easygoing child, ahead of his tenth birthday he surprised with grandparents with a shrill demand: a powerful, modern computer or nothing.
Sampat and Gajri sat him down and tried to find out what had triggered this outburst. Next morning, they called up Chand. They told him how Kanuj was now beginning to miss having family. His friends went to the movies or shopped with their parents and siblings, shared jokes and things, took pictures and so on.
Kanuj wanted a computer with a broadband connection, so that he could be on Internet and talk to his parents live, see his sister, talk to her, exchange photographs and videos, be able to talk about them to his friends. Broadband, Kanuj had emphasized, so that connectivity was strong and downloading was fast. His friends had told him that.
It had been difficult for the grandfather to take in all this. He used an old-fashioned dial-up connection. Now 60, he had thought that was sufficient for his needs, but clearly he would have to do more for keeping up with Junior.
Chand promised to fund the gift of a computer to his son, and asked his father to scout around for a reliable broadband connection. He also assured them he understood that it was time Kanuj joined his parents and sister.
Gajri was worried. Kanuj clearly did not want to leave India … or was he too attached to them? Was she being selfish? For ten years their lives had revolved around Junior. The child needed his parents, but what of his grandparents? Anyway, she would go along with whatever was ultimately agreed upon, she thought.
Sampat set about organizing his grandson’s birthday. Chand mailed to his father the specifications of the laptop he had selected for Kanuj, and electronically transferred the money as well. Sampat located the model and bought it right away. A broadband connection was the easier part. The tougher part was learning all those things Kanuj wanted to do on Internet. Junior could not be left to his own devices at such a young age, but then Sampat must update himself.
Reservations were swept aside, and when Kanuj was away to school, Sampat called over a college-going neighbour to show him the ropes. It took several sessions before he got the hang of it.
It was a proud grandfather who logged into Skype and greeted Chand on his son’s birthday. Surrounded by chattering friends, an excited Kanuj peeped into the webcam to thank his father, and guess what he heard?
“We are coming back. In less than a year we shall all be living together,” Chand told him.
Kanuj leapt into Sampat’s arms, then into his grandmother’s. 
It’s the best birthday gift I ever got!” he exclaimed. 
The grandparents beamed at each other. “He could say the same for us,” Gajri whispered into her husbands ear. 

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