Harkishan Singh Surjeet was different things to different people. But I will always remember him as a Gandalf-like figure from scattered childhood memories, a gruff but amiable grandpa-type who visited us a few times. My paternal grandfather was a true grassroots Commie, perpetually berating us for being spoilt capitalist brats, to which I responded by haranguing him about all those ‘fake’ Communists with their lavish lifestyles. I did this to piss him off and, usually, ‘Comrade Surjeet’ was his ace defence against my sometimes wild insinuations. Wherever the truth may lie, there are two incidents that stick in my memory. The first was narrated by my dad, and the second I was witness to. Years ago, my father travelled with him to Kolkata by rail and he never tires of narrating to us how ‘Surjeet Uncle’ stepped out at different stations to buy him goodies, and then waited with him to get a taxi for well over an hour in the sweltering heat, even though he could have asked for a party car.
Another time, while he was visiting us in Bareilly, my grandfather had to leave for the farmhouse, leaving my mother in-charge of making our guest his (obscenely) early morning tea. She woke up, horrified at having missed the alarm, and rushed into the kitchen only to find him, on his knees, rummaging through the rations for tea and sugar. He further humbled my deeply apologetic mom by insisting on making her a cup as well.
I have really been missing my grandfather, who passed away this March, especially to rib him about the mayhem in the Left’s ranks, to which I am sure he would have replied: “These are not Communists, these are opportunists!” I now get the feeling that he is just waiting up there to pounce on his trusty old friend for some answers of his own. May their souls rest in peace.