“Eight at Heart, Eighty Otherwise” by journalism student Abeer Khan

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Source: Abeer Khan

Every time for the last ten years that he had been climbing the marbled scarlet stairs to our house, he would announce his arrival like the incoming of enemy troops. Mumma always said he would make a great courtier. He had indeed been our Court Jester for over a decade. 

Miyan,” he yelled from the deep-seated strength of his diaphragm. His epiglottis adding a dense punctuation, marking the end of his course shriek. He always called out to miyan but Abba was not the only one who had been summoned. We were all meant to be alerted and prepared to make him endless cups of chai or listen to his never-ending stories. Most often, he preferred both. In fact, anyone who knew him understood that with an endless supply of tea and a constant audience for his stories, Dada was invincible. If it were not for his need to bum a smoke or chew tobacco almost every hour, he could have gone on forever.  

Dada translates to grandfather and my calling him that had often invited confusion. Many listeners mistook him for my grandfather, which he is not. 

He is more like my octogenarian best friend. 

Upon clarification, they would settle on, “So he is your driver, no?”

And almost every time, I would have to settle on, “Yes, but he is more like family.” 

To someone who did not know him like my family did, he was crass and troublesome. 

Indeed, he was those things. But to us, he was more. 

***

We did not need a chauffeur in 2010, when Dada swore to call Abba at least ten times a day. He called and he called and he called, until Abba had to hire him. It can be difficult to say no to some people, but Dada knew how to make it impossible. To find him annoying, was not an uncommon phenomenon. To fall for his annoying shenanigans was commoner still. 

Dada became a part of our lives as a ten-calls-a-day induced impulse, but he stayed because we could not let him go. He went from being a chauffeur to being a retired old man who circumnavigated the neighborhood on his motorcycle, seeking more tea and audience for his storytelling sessions. The wind would divide his white beard into two streams, resting on his ever-permanent paunch. When he came indoors, his photochromatic glasses took as long to turn from brown to colorless as it took dada to down a cup of chai

He had been a driver all his life. Exactly how, I fail to understand since he only drove when he felt like it. To sustain a living on whim sounded difficult to me, but Dada had managed. Perhaps, he had not always been as whimsical. But to imagine a less whimsical Dada was also a mammoth task for me. 

“Only two things are truly ours in life,” he had often announced on our drives. 

“Okay, Dada,” I had learned it was better to agree with him at the beginning of his sentences. 

“Ask me what those are?”

“What are they, Dada?”

“Only two things are truly ours,” he repeated. “What we have eaten and what we have worn.”

“Nothing else,” he would add as if he had handed me the most profound morsel of wisdom to ever grace any ear in mortal history. Between him and I, his sage advice reflected more on his love for food than any elderly insight. 

Everything was easy with Dada because of his absolute imperfections. None of us would ever seek perfection in him. To that effect, at least, Dada always delivered.