12.27 deep dark secret!

so we're on the houseboat for 24 hours.

what began as delight has now become doldrum. kerala is lovely but there are only so many rice fields to look at, only so many backwaters churches and ashrams to take in, only so many times to guest-drive the boat. let's face it. skipper and gilligan had it right - all you need is a three-hour tour. ok, and a professor.

as night falls, i start to hate houseboats. boat crews work most of the year away from their families. for a half-decent living they toil away in the burning sun, cooking, cleaning and lugging our crap around, so we can lounge out on a boat? if i had to repeat this, i'd choose a zippy motorboat, thank you very much.

sun descends and the crew brings us the most scrumptious dinner crowned with kerala fish. we ask them to join us but they decide to eat in the kitchen. for 15 minutes, the captain joins us for chai, telling us about his wife and teenage kids at home. i admit, you can't get this on a motorboat.

afterwards, as we dock the boat for the night, my father says: do you know your great-grandfather was murdered?


suddenly i'm grateful for being shipwrecked with my parents! i guess it took being stuck with him for a couple of weeks for my father to finally talk about his family. tonight i get to hear some deep dark secrets! it's no wonder he's been hush. my grandfather would never tell him who poisoned my great-grandfather... or why. back then it was usually one of two things: greed or revenge. a good story, in any case!

my great-grandfather was from gujarat. a general in the british army, he left his family in india and served in africa for 10 years. 10 years is a long time. it was only natural that my grandfather (an only child) suspected he had some half-siblings in africa. after her husband's death (murder), my great-grandmother left her home and farm, took whatever she had and traveled to africa with her son, who in turn spent his life building businesses, gambling like a fiend, marrying and divorcing, and... scouring the continent for his siblings.

he lived an amzaing life. in africa, he was a risk-taker. he bid on a road-building contract, which he won with no experience and not enough capital to start. he was a networker, though. he somehow found a fleet of trucks, supplies and staff within five days and started building his first business. after the road-building, he kept his fleet of trucks and had a transportation company. he opened up stores in east african cities, giving them over to locals with the understanding he'd need to collect some profits and use their guest homes every once in a while. he was also a religious man. he never missed going to the mosque in the evenings. despite that, he loved gambling and took his driver around with him everywhere, including clubs with member only access. he'd get away with anything. people knew him as "chacha panda", which means "uncle panda" [panda is a city in east africa...]. my grandmother left him and their three sons, when my father was only two years old. my great-grandmother - the sailor - ended up raising the boys. eventually they each went to boarding schools, colleges and even joined the army themselves. by the time my father got married and moved to toronto, my grandfather was loan-sharking. he kept my father updated on his banking accounts and businesses in case anything happened to him. but my father began to fear he'd get murdered too, and he and his brothers convinced him and his wife to move to toronto. my grandfather lived a more sedate life in canada, but a good life...

at 68, my grandfather was diagnosed with cancer and given 6 months to live. he bought himself and his wife a world ticket and took off. while out gambling one night in london, he met a top oncologist from mumbai. on hearing that my grandfather had cancer with only a few months to live, the oncologist invited him to visit. so my grandfather went to mumbai. he was treated by the oncologist and lived for another 8 years. he got a flat in a complex inside hassanabad, where his friends lived in mumbai, where he stayed with his wife and enjoyed his time there thoroughly. after he died, he gave his wife a truckload of cash and built her a very nice house his old gujarati village. her brother, a very nasty, evil, crooked, and notorious man, began stealing and controlling her money and moved his family into her village and into her house. eventually she died and her brother took over her wealth and property.

a couple of years ago, my uncle went to india to meet the family. he was confronted with hostility - the man-in-the-house thought my uncle had come to claim the property. see, the deed was in my grandfather's name, so the property could very realistically be claimed by his son now that his wife had passed away. the man-in-the-house did everything to hide the fact that he stole the house from my grandfather's wife. he had a fake deed issued and caused a scene outside the house, trying to chase my uncle away with it. in fact, he reported my uncle to the local police and tried to get him arrested on false charges of abuse. luckily, he is notorious in the village and so my uncle was tipped off by a sympathetic cop. my uncle fled before being arrested. [this is why my father used a fake name when we went there...]

but there's more. what nobody knew was that before he died, my grandfather planned on adopting the man in the house's son to provide his wife with a 'family' after he was gone. my grandfather didn't like the idea of her brother raising the boy. the boy would be safer and raised properly with her. the-man-in-the-house found out about the process and decided it was a good idea: his natural son would then inherit my grandfather's property, making it accessible to him. the adoption process stalled and papers are now missing. the man-in-the-house is looking for them, so he can get them "notorized" and find my dad or his brothers to demand financial support for his son, their "adopted brother"! i don't know if any of this is actually possible but it's what my dad is telling me. i wonder: if he got a fake deed, why couldn't he get fake adoption papers?

the story goes on... in the distance, i hear fireoworks popping. it's well after christmas and not yet new years, but indians are obsessed with fireworks. i decide to go lie down. i feel as though i've just watched an old movie. i'm happy that my father has decided to tell me some of his deep dark secrets.

i remember the last time i saw my grandfather. he was so thin and sick and i hugged him so hard. i suddenly miss him very much... i'd like to visit his grave in bombay before we fly home.

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