The grandmother I never knew

Stumbled upon a post that said it was grandparents day and it reminded me of two photographs. The first one was a picture of my grandmother, mother, me and the firstborn in a frame, 4 generations of women connected by blood and the second was this one, of my maternal grandmother on a swing. It was taken during one Onam season. She must be in her late 90s here.

She lived to be a 105 and I met her all of 5 times in my life. There was no bond or connection since I never grew up around her. She was just this wizened old woman who spoke in a language that was soaked in a hillside accent. My cousins, who grew up around her, had a different relationship though. She told them stories, they embellished it in their retellings. I never quite completely understood all that she would say. She would talk to herself too and lived to a tune she alone heard. Maybe we aren’t so different in that respect. After all, we are bits and bobs of countless foremothers.

We called her veliammachi. It’s funny how grandparents are simply aaji, ammachi, granny etc. Their names don’t quite come into play for grandkids. I have fragments of images in my mind’s eye rather than memories. Her sweeping the courtyard, roasting cashews over a fire and shelling it for us kids, her pendulous breasts that seemed way too large to be real, the old people smell in her room, her crinkly eyes that seemed sleepy. I remember her vetiver mattress and the way she’d fall asleep at evening prayer. She didn’t have teeth but would eat everything quite heartily. Her room was dimly lit and she had her favourites among the 4 dozen odd grandkids who helped her with some tasks. She had 9 kids that survived into adulthood.

My paternal grandmother died before I was born. As for grandfathers, the paternal one was gone when my father was very young and the maternal one was blind. He passed away at 92 and I met him twice. We kids grew out of the country and by the time, India happened, the rift was too wide. We rarely did the ‘native place’ summer vacations and the ones we went on could be trying. The urban-rural divide was a tough one to bridge.

My firstborn was practically raised by her grandmother, Amma to her and me too. For the first time, I saw what a lovely bond that could be. From food and feeding to medicine and stories, Amma scooped her into a cocoon. A quarter of a century later, that bond is still strong. They fight too but the affection is unmistakable. I can close my eyes and see the firstborn hoisted on a saree clad waist, being fed rasam-rice. Both of them smelled of tamarind and curd and ghee. Both of them would stare into a loud Tamil serial which would be endearing and annoying (those shows could be very loud). Amma would take Big K to the temple and have a blast dolling my girl. I think she always wanted a girl. In fact she lost two daughters at a very young age and so having a little girl to lavish all her love was precious. I see it now, in retrospect. Back then, I was mildly resentful.

I don’t know if I will ever be a grandmother and if I do end up becoming one, how would that role play out? Our world is in a strange transition and I wonder what shape social ties will take in a few decades.

A turning

One’s life is a turning. The pace could be varied, slow at times, dizzying at others but essentially it is a revolving from one year to another. We grow older, say hello to familiar seasons that evoke nostalgia for times gone by and march to a future that is more or less defined by factors way out of our control. I read somewhere that midway through this century, we would be about 10 Bn strong on this planet. Maybe, some ticker will ping when that number is hit and it will make headlines the world over. If I live that long, I might remember a Saturday when a cat lay sleeping next to me and I sat looking at a blue sky with great big puffy clouds.

It’s been a few turnings since I last posted here and many things have changed. Picked up some new work skills, got more steeped into studentship and sharing tree love. Except for a routine with being a student, time spent on work and other interests is rather unpredictable. So, everyday is an adventure, I never quite know what it will bring. It doesn’t seem like a very adult way to function but it is a good life, never a dull moment. Somedays, the hours are long and intense while many days are at a pace that is unhurried.

I suppose uncertainty is a familiar space. I’ve inhabited that world for a long time now. It’s a bit like swimming in the sea. Sometimes the waves are gentle, caressing almost while at others, it tosses you around. The pandemic was a good reminder to maintain the ability to remain buoyant, working with rather than against things outside one’s control.

Now that the rains are on the wane (it does feel like there will be one big goodbye spell though), the season is beginning to rumble, beginning with the current festivities of the elephant God. Soon, it will be time for the Devi’s arrival and by the time the light is ready to slip into autumn mode, Diwali will have made its crackling presence. But, I’m getting way ahead of myself. As of now, it is still the lush green of monsoon. It is also fungi season, reminding us of the incredible cycles of life, growth, decay and death in their rhythmic dance all around us. How transient, this life!

In other news, I’ve found myself some new friends, all under 10. It is fun to be part of their secret gang and listen to their stories. One of their biggest questions was how to distinguish between a male cat and a female one. I did struggle with answering that one. It took a little time finding something age appropriate. As you can see, they mean business.

As with the other blog, this post too was thanks to a nudge from a reader. Perhaps, it may be another beginning here? Time will tell.