My grandfather locked my mother inside the bathroom a few weeks ago. There was no one else at home when this happened. After a while she stopped banging on the door from inside and sat down to wait it out. He opened the door, looked at her sitting helplessly in a corner and then shut her inside again.

I was yelling with rage on the phone when my brother called to tell me about this incident. I raised my voice in the safety of my home and on behalf of my mother. Mom is always trying to keep the peace and has no clue how to express her pain. She is no good at asking for help. Maybe she hasn’t had a good experience with asking for help.

My grandfather is 92 years old. He isn’t well any more. The psychiatrist informs us that it is age-related dementia. Parts of his brain that served to inhibit socially inappropriate behaviour are getting eroded. He is acting out his frustration and his fears with no empathy towards the one he attacks.

When he was 84 years old, Dadaji complained of pain in his knees for the first time. I went to an orthopaedic specialist with him.

“He needs exercise," the doctor said, addressing me. “You need to walk a little every day," he turned to my grandfather, raising his voice on the assumption that the old man must be hard of hearing.

“I go for a walk twice a day," said Dadaji.

“How long do you walk for?" asked the doctor.

“I walk 6km in the morning and 6 in the evening," he said.

The doctor sat up, paying attention for the first time. “No, no, that is too much. You need to walk less," he said to my grandfather. He almost laughed from the shock.

Dadaji chose to go for surgery to alleviate the pain in his knees. He recovered well and resumed his walks for another five years.

Dadaji is not the same any more. He is angry. He gets violent and hurls abuses at my mother and the women who work in the house, serving him diligently. The psychiatrist has advised us to confront him as one would confront a child throwing a tantrum.

By the time I reach him after one of these episodes, my frantic anger against Dadaji for abusing my mother has usually subsided. I see him lying curled up on his bed, surrounded by his transistor, his watch and the newspaper. I am perhaps the only woman he has been tender and loving towards. I can be tender towards him. My daughters troop in one by one, greeting him with a “Namaste, Dadaji."

I found out recently that he has a collection of photographs in his suitcase. Dadaji has never been sentimental. I asked him to show them to me. He walked up slowly to his almirah, pulled out a suitcase with his trembling hands and showed me the photographs. Childhood pictures of my brothers and me. Black and white photos of his peers and him.

“Who are these people, Dadaji?"

He named all the men in the photo. I pointed to my grandmother and asked him who that is.

“Vidya," he said, like a child learning to speak a new word. Vidyawati, my grandmother, died 36 years ago.

My mother needs us to surround her with support rather than push her father-in-law away.

In a roundabout way, Dadaji has brought the family together. My father’s youngest brother came to Delhi to take Dadaji home with him. My parents are physically and emotionally exhausted from being his sole caregivers and need this break. They need to restore themselves.

Papa spoke to his brother for hours. Papa spoke about his childhood and early youth. He narrated incidents, letting out his pent-up feelings.

One afternoon, Mom and I sat on her bed and began to name every single relative who has been a sexual abuser or has violated boundaries. My mother spoke! She let me speak. We were two women sharing experiences. We supported each other openly. We began the afternoon talking about violation of trust and bodily integrity and it became an afternoon of solidarity between a mother and her grown-up daughter.

Inhibitions fell away. My mother accepted my love. In the aftermath of having been hurt and abused, she bonded with me openly.

My brother and I chat on WhatsApp. He is in another country, winding up his day’s work as I begin to start mine. We talk about Dadaji’s backstory. Our father’s difficult years as a son. We compare our impressions of the family in which we were children. He apologizes for something he still feels guilty about. We are two of three siblings. Both of us are parents of three children each.

“My three children are just like we used to be," he types in his phone.

“So are mine," I reply.

“My daughter is just like you were. She loves me. My heart melts for her."

“My oldest is just like you, Bhai. Strong and silent."

“Don’t let her be strong and silent. Teach her to be expressive like you," he says.

Tears roll down my cheeks. My emotionally wound-up, inhibited brother is talking to me. I send a screenshot to our third sibling. He sends me a thumbs-up sign.

Dadaji is in Jalandhar for a while. He will be back home soon.

Natasha Badhwar is a film-maker, media trainer and mother of three. She writes a fortnightly column on family and relationships.

Read Natasha Badhwar’s previous Lounge columns here.

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