When the lady from the neighbourhood came to our home to formally invite us for her son’s wedding, my grandmother was very gracious as a host. At her late sixties then, she had been quite popular in the housing unit – of close to five hundred houses – by being a friendly, helpful, wise old being. On that occasion though, she surprised the lady who believed my grandma was her best friend, by declining to attend the event citing a reason that was too difficult for her to digest. “At this age, I have decided to attend only important events. The other issue is, you see, the weekly water supply occurs at the time of the wedding”. It was embarrassing for me since the lady’s second son was my play mate.
I never had to read any other book to learn the art of saying No.
My grandma always chose to speak her mind even at the risk of appearing rude. Once, being tired of listening to a young mother lamenting about the fact that her child wouldn’t eat properly, she quipped “Don’t worry. The child will start eating more as you start preparing tasty food everyday”.
She did have a peculiar sense of humour. For instance, when I proudly announced to her about my first car, her sarcasm left me stumped.
But she had a tough life. She was the last child in a rich family of jewellers in Ernakulam and when she married my grandfather – who ran a restaurant – she was just a teenager. She faced one of her first challenges when the restaurant had to be closed down and they had to migrate to Coimbatore, in the adjacent state of Tamil Nadu. Reduced to a lower-middle-class life and faced with new language, culture and people, she dealt with life very well. She raised her four children instilling values of discipline, hard work and mental toughness. My grandfather gave her good company, until he passed away due to heart ailment and she was still in her fifties. And we the thirteen grandchildren filled up the space.
And, about my car, she had this to say: “I’m happy for you. But even if you tell me you bought an aeroplane, I won’t be excited. I have seen it all”.
Cricket and Cinema
My primary school was situated just a few yards from the local cinema. There have been many days when my sister and I would return home to see her getting ready for the evening show. The next thing we knew, we were ushered into the movie hall, left to watch a boring family feud unfold for three hours. She was clever to attract us with a bait of the triangle-shaped vegetable samosa, served before and during the film interval.
And boy, did she love cricket! She would happily collude with me in bunking school to watch a game of cricket in our black-and-white TV. Whenever the commentary was in Hindi – a language she wouldn’t understand – she would quickly mute the TV, switch on the local radio to match the visuals with the narration in Tamil. Together we have watched Sunil Gavaskar retire, Sachin get his first hundred and Dhoni lift the world cup. And every single India-Pakistan match.
I always picture her when I reel under uncertainty or the fear of the unknown. When she was close to seventy, she suddenly decided to visit her niece in Bombay – 1200 Kms away and did not wait for my father who offered to apply leave and take her on the two day long train journey. She was happy to join my cousin who happened to travel around the same time. She then made a 2000 km train trip across the country to the east, to meet her cousin in Calcutta – all by herself and with no clue of the lingua franca. When she eventually returned home she had completed a big triangle, but she was unfazed.
She travelled a lot more. And while I could not join her in those trips, I feel blessed to have been a part of her journey.
Couple of weeks ago, my grandmother aged 91, passed away peacefully in her bed, having lived a complete life. All through, she kept it simple: spoke her mind, never skipped a meal, washed her clothes by hand, walked to the temple in the mornings, watched a movie/TV for a few hours and befriended tons of people.
She was born rich, lost it all, got most of it back, maybe more – but never felt poor.