The wall clock ticked with the constant unwavering pace it had picked up at its inception, sixty years ago. It had the proud distinction of never having missed a minute, either in haste or in slack. Its owner, retired postmaster Ranganath had purchased it with his first salary. Since then he had ensured that the clock kept its time, rain or shine, hell or high-water.
When the clock entered his life, it was the only one in the house. It was highly sought after by all members of the huge joint family. If the clock could have gone on Facebook, it would most definitely have garnered at least 20 to 30 likes every day. Unfortunately the clock was a little too early, or you could say, Facebook was a little too late. Today with clocks in every room and possibly, every pocket and every table, the darling clock still had only one trusted friend, Ranganath himself. It had struck the right cord with its master’s time- conscious mind and had become the trusted time keeper of his life. This relationship had indeed endured the test of time. He rarely failed to wind it up every day.
Ranganath was staring at this very dear face now, counting the minutes, as the hands made their majestic march towards 11 A.M. He knew its every move, even the tiny point between 9 and 10, where the minute hand invariably seemed to stumble for a second. He winced at the aberration, but waited, knowing that the clock would recover. He mentally blocked his ears to prevent Alice’s irritated high pitch voice from reaching his conscious.
“Sir, take your medicine. How many times do I tell you that you don’t have to wait until 11 A.M sharp to take them? Five, ten minutes before eleven is fine! Madam will scold me if I don’t finish dusting the entire house today. I need to go!” Alice was practically shouting, tottering between persuasion and disrespect.
Ranganath had heard this talk too many times to be affected by the anger or irritation in her voice. Alice was the nurse, maid and cook who had been appointed by his daughter–in–law, ever since he had a stroke 4 years back. The stroke had left him partially paralysed. He had been mostly confined to the bed since then. Alice was not unkind, just impatient. Ranganath did not grudge her. She took good care of him. But, he would not and could not let her interfere with one of the key pleasures of his current, passive life-the pleasure of waiting for the right time, to proceed with his daily processes.
6 A.M was waking time, 7 A.M -clock winding time, and 11 A.M was medicine time and so on. And finally 9 P.M was sleep time. Ranganath, kept to his schedule, rarely wavering from it. Even if he did wake at 5:30, he would wait until 6 A.M to get up and sit in the bed.
“What is the hurry, Alice? I can wait for 10 minutes. Otherwise, my clock will be angry,” Ranganath remarked mildly.
Alice waited in exasperation, muttering under her breath about eccentric old people. Thankfully, Shradha, his 16 year old granddaughter entered the room at that time. Alice heaved a sigh of relief and told the girl, “Baby, can you please ensure that your thatha eats his medicine at 11. Stay with him till then and inform me. I need to run. Your mother will scold me if I don’t finish the work. ”
Shradha nodded her head absently and turned to Ranganath with her agenda,” Thatha, I need to tear at least 200 blank pages from all my old books. We have a book binding contest in school tomorrow. You need to cut them in the same size, perfectly. Can you please do it for me? I really don’t have time.” She deposited 6 notebooks with half filled pages on his cot.
Ranganath was always pleased to see her. He was especially pleased that she had brought a task for him. His face lit up like a bulb and he momentarily forgot his preoccupation with time.
“Of course. Of course. I do everything perfectly. Perfection is most important in life, followed by perseverance and prayers. The three Ps. Remember, I used to tell you a story about that?” he looked at her expectantly, waiting for her acknowledgement of his story telling skills. He had entertained many children including Shradha with his famous stories. She nodded absently and looked at him blankly. Her job being done, her teenage mind had already been taken over by other more pressing matters. She turned to leave, having forgotten about Alice’s request.
Unfazed by her response, Ranganath continued, “When I was the assistant post master, my boss used to tell everyone, that if anyone has to learn perfection, it would have to be…”
Shradha interrupted him and continued, imitating his voice, “ from Ranganath.” Smiling, she said, “I know. You have told me that a million times. I really need to go and complete my Bio record, Thatha”
Ranganath stopped a little, but quickly picked up. His kin rarely found reason to converse with him nowadays. He did not want to let go of this opportunity. He said in mock anger, “I will not do your job, unless you listen to me. Listen, there is one story, I haven’t told anyone. And that is because, it involves your grandmother,” his weathered face broke into a bashful smile at her mention. “One day she was making jamoons in the kitchen…”
Shradha cut his again, this time with more annoyance, “Thatha, I really got to go.” Then putting on a scared expression, she pleaded, “Please finish this for me thatha. I have promised my friends that I will do it. They will murder me if I don’t.” She enacted a mock throat-slit action, gave him a quick hug and walked out, oblivious to the change in her grandfather’s expression.
Ranganath was now concerned. Why would they kill someone over a book-making competition? Was she hiding something?
In panic, he picked up his cell phone and slowly and carefully punched out his son’s number. As always, he felt relieved if the phone did ring, as if it were magic. His mind had not transverses the era when telephone was like royalty, given to its whims and fancies. It would connect the call if it felt like, if not…
“Yes, appa…,” his son’s curt low voice came through, proclaiming in every syllable the paucity of time at his end. “Are you ok? Anything wrong?”
Ranganath, quite oblivious to the tone went on,” Krishna, Shradha was telling me that she would be killed, if she did not participate in the book making contest. I am very worried. Can you call the school and find out what the problem is?”
Ranganath heard a muffled “Excuse me” from his son on the line and a silence for some time as he heard his son walking, probably out of the room. Ranganath felt a little relieved that his son was taking action.
Krishna barked in a low voice, “Appa, I am busy in an important meeting. Please stop troubling me over such matters. Jayanthi will take care of it. Haven’t I told you to call me in office only for urgent matters?”
Ranganath was shocked and livid,” What kind of a father are you? What is the use of your time, if you can’t spend it on your daughter? And should your father call you only if he is dying?”
Krishna was now shouting too,” Appa, please mind your own business and let me do my work. I have a hundred things to do every day, other than listen to your nonsense! I know how to take care of my child.”
There was a pause. Then Krishna’s voice came on in a more normal voice, “Don’t worry appa. We will take care of it. You are getting agitated about small matters nowadays. Look, I am in the middle of a meeting. I will call you back,” and he cut the phone.
Ranganath was so upset that he forgot his 11 A.M medicine. It took a moment for him to register the sound of the ringing phone. It was his granddaughter, Nitya from Singapore, bright and cheerful as always, “Hello Thatha, Did you have your 11 A.M medicine?” Nitya was his daughter’s daughter and his all time favourite child.
“Nitya kanna, I am very worried about this Shradha. She talks about dying and all. I told Krishna and he tells me to mind my business. Tell me Nitya, isn’t my family my business?” he told her.
There was a pause. “Just a minute thatha, Baby just woke up. Please hold.” He could hear her cooing to her year old son as she tried to pacify her child. After what seemed like an eternity, she was back on the phone, “Sorry. This kid is so difficult. Thatha, stop worrying now. All your children are grown up and can look after themselves. I called you because I made your favourite brinjal curry, just like grandma’s.”
He was feeling a little better. Talking to his darling granddaughter always had this effect on him. Maybe all he needed now was a good talk with her. He relaxed little bit and started, “I wish I could come there to eat. Whatever this Alice makes tastes the same.”
Brightening, he said, “Nitya, Jayanthi had put your childhood photos on the ipad so that I can watch. There was one….”
He was interrupted by the loud cry of the infant, followed by his granddaughter’s sharp shout. “What happened Nitya?” he asked concerned.
“Nothing thatha, Baby fell down. I have to go. I will talk to you later,” came the quick reply.
“Wait, Baby fell down and you say nothing happened? Check the pulse. Put some Vibhuthi on his forehead..,” he said worried, trying to remember all the things his wife would have said.
“Bye, I will talk to you later.” The call was over. Instead of being pacified, he felt more disturbed now.
Defeated by time again, Ranganath turned back to his trusted friend, his clock. Today had been like every other day, but his mind was not the same. “What a puzzle, dear friend,” he told his clock. “You run the same way every day, at the same speed, giving the same time to me and my children. Yet I have so much of it and they have so little? All I have is time and all they lack is time?”
He completed the work entrusted to him neatly, piling the sheets and lay back. He had nothing more to do other than wait for his next timed activity, which was lunch.
Jayanthi his daughter in law came in at 8 P.M to check on him as she always did. She was a stickler for time and perfection, like him. She was probably the only one around him who could even begin to understand his love for time. She was a Human Resources manager at a leading IT firm, a successful professional juggling her home and work with equal passion.
She sat down on his bed and lightly patted him and said with a smile, “I heard you created some commotion today.”
Ranganath lifted his hands in resignation, “I guess I am a foolish old man with nothing to do, except troubling people. What do I do with my time, Jayanthi? I have no work other than attending my personal needs. I can’t even do that properly nowadays. I had never lived for myself in my life. I always thought of my family first. Now I cannot do anything useful.”
“Isn’t this normal for everyone in their old age, appa? Why fight it? Just enjoy your time,” she replied, subconsciously removing the creases from his bed sheet.
“Enjoy the time! I feel like, I have a time glut. A proverb says, Even food in overdose can be poison. I feel like, I am being fed an over dose of time and it is causing me indigestion!” he shouted.
“Appa, Relax. Krishna messaged me that he had located some rare M.S.Subbalakshmi songs for you. I will load them on your iPad in the weekend.” She got up to leave. “I have a call now. Please go to sleep. Krishna will be late. And by the way, he asked me to tell you that he is really sorry. He is caught up in a very complicated merger process and is up to his neck with work. It will be over in a week. He promised that he will spend some time with you then.”
She stopped at the door, sensing his disquiet, “Do you want anything else appa? I am sorry. I really have to attend this call.”
Ranganath did not look up,” Yes, can you trade some of your time for some of mine? Your time seems so much more precious than mine.”
She closed her eyes and let out an impatient sigh. “I meant something concrete appa, not your philosophy and poetry.”
“I need nothing else from you all,” he said quietly.
“You know we all care about you, just like you cared about your children. And it is not that we don’t spend time on you. We do everything to ensure that you are comfortable”, she said more softly.
“I know. But when a parent spends time on a child, they do it as an investment in their future. When children spend time on their parents, it is purely expenditure. Maybe that is why it has less value.”
Jayanthi opened her mouth to argue back, but then, deciding that the commitment to her job was a higher priority, she quickly stepped out saying, “I will talk to you tomorrow.”
Unfortunately his family did not get a chance to fulfil their ‘promise of time’ in time. In a few days, Ranganath and his clock both stopped ticking. Needless to say, his family was saddened and grieved, though they had been anticipating this occurrence for some time. The doctors had advised them that Ranganath had only a short time left. They all got together to mourn their beloved head of the family and again prepared to disperse as their life started placing its demand on their time.
What they did not expect was a written Will from him. Though he had some property and money, his children had upped their net worth much beyond his wildest dreams. They had never considered his property as anything substantial and were quite surprised at this information from the lawyer, who was a family friend. However, loyally they got together at the lawyer’s office to honour their loved one’s last commitment.
“Your father left a very peculiar will, Krishna. But it was done legally. It is very short and simple. But it is up to you to honour it. In my knowledge, the court does not have any jurisdiction over the property he has bequeathed you,” said the lawyer preparing to read the will.
“This is the LAST WILL and TESTAMENT executed at Bangalore on 1 June 2015 by me, Mr.K.R.Ranganath, son of Mr.K.S.Ramaswamy out of my own free will and in a full disposing state of mind without any coercion or undue influence from anybody. I further declare that I am the sole owner of the assets mentioned in the will.
Today, I have one commodity that all my heirs lack. That is time. As my age advanced, I had more and more of time while their time assets dwindled.
I give, devise and bequeath this prized possession, time, equally to all my children and grandchildren mentioned in this will.
I hope this reserve will help to augment their assets. I hope they will now find some time to waste, some to use, some to love and some time to talk to people like me who have excess of time. Not much, maybe 20 minutes a day to hear their sometimes meaningless and repetitive woes and memories. I want them to use the time I have given them, by making them free from my care, and invest it with others who will need them.
I reiterate that I have no misgivings or malice against them. I declare that they took care of me to the best of their ability, sometimes exceeding it. I am eternally grateful to them and bless them from my heart.
I appoint my daughter in law, Jayanthi Krishna to be the Executor and Trustee of this Will. I bequeath my clock to her to aid her in her role as the time keeper.
My heirs are free to dispose my other assets, not mentioned in this will as they deem fit. I have executed this Will as set out above out of my own free will and with a full disposing state of mind.”
The silence and the thoughts in Ranganath’s family, stretched on for a long time. They were not angry, or upset. They were just grieving the time they had lost with their dear one, when he lived. Time is a funny commodity. It is there for us as surely as night and day, free like the water and air around us. Yet it is so precious, that it cannot be bought, at any cost.
I, Nitya, wanted to share my grandfather’s timeless story with you all. My grandfather’s will forced us to think of time, the value we attach to it, the huge gush of life we want to squeeze into every moment and the love that sometimes gets waylaid on the high speed network.