The deepest parts of our beings cannot be described in words

Memories with a grandchild
Hundreds of Bangladeshis immigrate to USA and Canada every year for higher education and money-spinning jobs. But in the process they leave behind them many treasures back home: their parents, their easy lifestyle, and their close-knit family environment.

Unfortunately, many immigrants cannot always afford to keep in touch with their parents. The parents are however happy and content assuming that their kids have a brighter future in their newfound lands. But behind the cheerful exterior of their happiness and contentment lies an untold story. They have a tale to tell about their loneliness, about their uncertainty, and about their missed opportunities to play with their grandchildren.

When my precious grandson Raahil Khan was born in Toronto on 28 January 28, 2014, I was far away in Bangladesh. I heard the great news over telephone but missed the opportunity to see my grandson in his infancy. My wife and I have not seen him grow to be a toddler.

It was however in December last year, my son announced he along with his wife and their son (my only grandchild) was coming by car from Toronto in Canada to Maryland in USA, where in an apartment at Cockeysville town I along with my wife have been residing. What an event! I was going to see my grandson for the first time in my life!

Raahil Khan was all smiles when his grandfather took his picture

In the evening of December 28, as I took my grandson Raahil for the first time in my arms I couldn’t believe in the reality. I was almost giddy with joy. Seven tumultuous days that followed were the best time my wife and I have ever enjoyed in our life. Words are not sufficient to express those feelings of our living with our grandchild.

From day one, Raahil, always bursting with energy, was eager to get a start everyday in the morning. He buzzed with a whirlwind of activity. Raahil and I found many things that amused me and sent him into gales of laughter. He would play hide and seek with me, show me every stick he finds, and then look at me, beaming with pride. All along, I wanted to feel the world from inside his skin, to see what it looks like through his eyes.

I was delighted to see my grandson making good strides both physically and intellectually. Already a confident walker, he has mastered well the art of coordination while running or climbing. He would easily climb up on my bed, my desk or my chair but he would try to feel first the floor before releasing his grip to let go while descending from a height. The way he followed safety precautions reassured me that in his life ahead he would be watchful and unwilling to take an avoidable risk.

He would spend more of his eating time touching food than ingesting it. There were occasions, when things didn’t go his way, when he felt frustrated. He threw tantrums as he felt terrible emotional pain. Then he would calm himself down as his pain passed.

One of the fruits Raahil enjoys eating most is cantaloupe. I bought one for him. Cutting away the rind I peeled off only the thinner outer skin, leaving its harder inner layer intact, as I always do while peeling any fruit. I knew outer layers of fruits are rich in nutrients and vitamins. I scooped out the seeds and sliced the thinly peeled cantaloupe into tiny pieces. As I presented him the cut pieces on his designated tray he grabbed at those. But my grandson didn’t quite appreciate my skimping on the peels. He enjoyed chewing the juicier and softer flesh of the pieces but spitted off the harder layers right on my hand, reminding me to be more prudent next time when I would be peeling any fruit for him.

One of the most endearing objects Raahil discovered from inside our closet was his grandma’s quad stick. (His grandmother had to use the heavy walking stick as a crutch for a while after she had broken her leg.) Raahil, as I savoured from a distance, would place the self-standing stick on a vantage location and then hold his right eye very close to the butt-end of its horizontal grip-handle—like a professional photographer, who would put a camera on a tripod and then hold his right eye close to the eyepiece of his camera in order to compose and focus a picture. I was utterly intrigued by my grandson’s quirky playacting. I wondered where his inspiration for photography came from! Later, I came to learn that his maternal uncle, who is a gifted photographer, has encouraged it.

Raahil also loves to draw lines, if not pictures, with crayons and not just on a piece of paper. He finds white walls as vast canvases for his drawings. The wall in the hallway of our house still bears the testimony of some of his artworks in pink colour. There was something princely about the way he held a crayon pencil and drew over a sheet of paper. When he concentrated hard, his tongue would poke out of the left corner of his mouth.

My grandson is fabulous. At times, he would laugh uproariously. His occasional giggles warmed the cockles of my heart and his laughing voice, magical and mystical, touched my soul. I would like to say, paraphrasing Sylvia Alice Earle, that there’s no greater music than the sound of my grandchild laughing.

I won’t say Raahil Khan’s birth has put on my shoulder a new sense of responsibility, but it has brought a new kind of love into my life. His birth has given me the great gift of watching Raakeeb Khan, my own son, become a devoted father.

One day, I was feeling a little depressed after learning that my son could not concentrate much into his trading business due to some of his family pressures. As I sat on the sofa in our living room while talking to my son, all Raahil wanted to do was climb up on my lap. Once he snuggled himself up on my lap he felt content and happy. It was as though he sensed some pain in my face and wanted to be close to me.

Raahil found it worthwhile to try anything to make us happy. One night, I was surprised to see him trying out something that only a singer on a stage does. He got hold of a small piece of plastic and then climbed up on the dining table from a chair. Positioning himself right in the middle of the table he stood up with poise while holding the plastic piece near his mouth the way a singer would do holding a microphone. He tried to utter some sounds. He must have watched a singer in a television programme. He perhaps figured that if he could act like that singer he also could make the people around him happy.

I wanted to shoot some of my grandson’s photographs that I could treasure. But he refused to smile and often just turned his back to me. I read the user’s manual of my camera (Canon EOS Rebel SL1 Digital SLR with 18-55mm STM Lens) millions of times before the arrival of my grandson. I learned that timing is everything in photography and focusing is extremely critical. I would have only a split second to capture the moment.

So, I continually shadowed Raahil with my camera set at a large aperture, letting the camera to auto-choose an appropriate shutter speed. I wanted a shallow ‘depth of field’ to blur the background. But my toddler grandson was always on the move, and on the move fast. I was a little stumped on whether it was at all possible to get a sharp image of him.

One afternoon, I was lucky. I got quite close to him. He looked at me without much prodding. I laughed and then I shot the ‘aha’ moment as he giggled, displaying his broad and delightful smile at me. It is the best picture I have ever taken as an amateur photographer in my whole life. My eyes welled up with tears of joy and accomplishment.

Such is the experience of a grandparent. The longing to be together, to be understood, loved and taken care of by children, to be allowed to play with grandchildren-such is the heart’s longing in all of us. But in most of the cases, we are not understood because we cannot express our feelings, because our children often cannot read the language of our minds, because the deepest parts of our beings cannot be described in words.

Spending time with a grandchild is among the best things in life. In fact, it is priceless. I wish I could live longer to see my grandson grow adult. However, I earnestly hope my son and his wife will give my grandson both roots and wings: roots to make him feel safe and wings to make him feel free.

Missing feels like a painful spot in my heart. My grandson’s short stay with me in Maryland was like a comet briefly crossing the night sky with its fleeting brilliance. In the morning of January 03, 2016 when my grandson along with his parents left our house in Maryland for his home in Toronto I felt the pain of missing. I tried to grab at anything to take away the pain. I tried to convince myself that pain, like everything else, is transitional. At last, I consoled myself thinking my son along with my grandson would come back once again to brighten up my life—the way a stargazer believes that the comet would come back once again to light up the night.

The author, a retired banker, is a freelance writer.

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