Thursday, August 20, 2015

Keeping time as people leave

If she were alive, she would be 102.

She died 35 years ago.  

"I cannot believe it has been 35 years already" mother said.  "Time goes by really fast" mother added.

"As has been the practice for many years now, I gave money to the temple" father chipped in.  "I spend a few minutes in the morning remembering her, and say a few prayers."

In our own ways, the three of us recalled her; she was:  
My grandmother;
My father's mother;
My mother's mother-in-law.  

The cosmos handed her an extremely raw deal.  Misfortunes upon misfortunes.  The eldest child in the typically large family of those days, she was the beloved sister to her siblings and practically the mother for the two youngest sisters.  A pretty girl she was when she was married.  A girl--not a young woman--as was the custom for centuries until recently.  She was only fifteen when she had her first child, and barely seventeen when the second--my father--was born.

So, there she was all of seventeen, a mother of two boys of whom one was only forty days old, when her husband died.  He died far away from her village, in the big city of Madras where he had gone to participate in political meetings and make his contribution to India's independence movement that was gaining strength.  She never even got to see her husband's dead body.

She was now a seventeen-year old widow, with a two-year old son and a forty-day old infant.

The unexpected death of the son was traumatic to the husband's parents.  Within a year, the mother died.  And then the father also died.  

She was now about twenty, with two young boys, without the father-in-law and the mother-in-law.  A couple of years later, her mother also died and her father became senile.

Meanwhile, society compelled her to shave her hair, and wear the plain beige saris that marked women as widows.  That is the how even my father remembers her.  Father has no idea how his mother looked as a woman with hair and wearing regular saris and clad in jewels as young women would typically look.

And there were more mishaps, big and small.  As I recall grandmother and her life, I am all the more impressed that she was, by and large, an optimistic and fun-loving woman--despite all these setbacks.  Maybe that's what we literally saw in her--an enlarged heart.  Yes, a heart that was enlarged.  It started slowing down.  Nearly forty years ago, India didn't have any treatment for her enlarged heart.

One day, she seemed to be more than a tad short of breath and even the oxygen at home was not helping her.  Mother and I rushed her to the hospital.  I was in the front with the driver and mother was in the back with grandmother.  We were not even halfway to the hospital when my mother said that grandmother had died.

That was in 1980.  Thirty-five years ago.

The street in Pattamadai, where our ancestral home (sold a few years ago) is located

3 comments:

  1. Despite her being one person, she was so many different personas to those who knew her - mother, mother-in-law, grandmother, sister, neighbor. Only when, or if, all those stories are collected could a complete image of her emerge. Even your father and his brother may have different views of her, as older and younger siblings often do.

    It sounds like she lived bravely and with joy. I am sure she was well-loved and is greatly missed. It is good to celebrate her for every one of those 35 years and for the next 24 years.

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  2. This is unfortunately the story of so many women of that generation in India. They led such tough lives.

    We ought to remember them for a century and beyond. For, it is because of their toughness sacrifice and resolution, that we have the sort of life we can have today. They are the true heroines of our culture.

    For our tomorrow, they gave their today - with apologies to John Maxwell Edmonds

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  3. My father and mother also read it, thanks to my sister showing them the post. When I talked with my father, he said "you had written straight from the heart. It made me emotional."

    Yes, we owe our "successes" to all those who went before us ... to forget them and their work is perhaps one of the greatest sins we could commit.

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