To the fond memory of my Grandmother.
Most children will tell you that one place they are always likely to find solace and comfort, is at their grandmothers lap. I certainly would have said that when I was a child. I would have continued to say that for another twenty four years, till my maternal grandmother finally passed away.
Thanks to the demands of work, my parents chose to settle down in Trivandrum, where my maternal grandparents lived. My mother, like other women in her home, was educated and worked at a Government Office. This would have meant that that as a child, I would be left at home to be cared for by a servant, as was the case with most children in similar circumstances. My maternal grandmother however, would have none of it, and therefore luckily for me, I was deposited with my grandma everyday in the morning. I had a few cousins who also had the same luck, and we were therefore ended up as a brood of happy infants, who were brought up by her.
She was an unusual woman for her times. She and her cousin were the first women to attend college in the royalty of Travancore. While she discontinued her studies after her mother's death, to look after her siblings, her cousin, Ms Eeswari Amma completed her graduation and carried on and become the first Principal of the M.G. College, at Trivandrum. Something she was always proud of.. Her cousin was her best friend and she idolized her. Consequently, the women in our home were always encouraged to study and nearly all of them graduated, with my sibling topping the University in English Literature on graduation.
From stories told, I also learned that she was an accomplished tennis player! While she certainly never played tennis with us, there was one incident from my toddler years, which told me that she could wield a racquet with good effect. As we were playing in the courtyard, a burly man came walking in and entered the verandah. My elder cousins told him loudly that there was no in the house and that he should come later.He had an odd look on his face as he ignored us and continued walking into the house. I was the smallest and he smiled wickedly at me. I remember distinctly a sense of fear which was almost close to terror. I ran inside to call my grandma from the kitchen. She heard me and without batting an eyelid, took out a piece of firewood which was still burning, from the kitchen “adupu” (tandoor/oven) and walked out to the front. She saw the man and shouted “chee erangada”,which roughly meant “get out”, and even as she lunged forward, swung the firewood piece as if she was serving for the Wimbledon finals with the man’s head for the tennis ball. The guy leaped out and fled!! We children also shouted “erangada” and threw a few stones for good measure at the fleeing scoundrel. After all, a chance to do that to an adult was a rare treat we would certainly not forego!!
My grandma was in her mid-fifties then and all of 5 feet when that incident happened!! None of that deterred her from taking on a well built scoundrel, who clearly meant harm. She was focused on protecting us and that gave her strength, guts and stature. There was no room for fear and she never thought of her safety at that instance!! To me it was a lesson in life. There are times when you do not have choices. You need to do what you have to do and do it well. Consequences and results may not be in your control. You have to deal with them as and when they occur. And yes, there are times when attack is the best form of defense and very often, the enemy is not as powerful as we may think they are!
She was also clear that boys should not be cry babies. “Give it back as good as you get”, was the mantra. “Never bow your head to insolent might” she always used to tell me. Probably one reason why I never allowed myself to be ragged or bullied, come what may. “You will have the strength of ten, if your heart is pure”, she used to quote from her favorite "Knights of the Round Table" and "Camelot". Our homilies were a mix of tales from the Mahabharata, Ramayana, Hindu scriptures and Western Literature. She was an ardent lover of Victorian ideals and Camelot was her favourite theme. Chivalry, honor, honesty and valor were high on her list of values. She was also clear that we should not be bullies. “Never hurt even the meanest thing that feels” she used to repeat. When I broke that law in the many squabbles I had with my little sister, she used to admonish me “parakramam stree kalodallave vendathu”.,which meant that a Kshatriya / warrior / knight would never raise his hand against a lady. It should also be mentioned that she never discriminated against girls and both sexes were given equal affection and opportunities. In fact, it was drilled into us that it was our responsibility to protect the women in the house and safeguard their honour.
I was her favourite grandson and she was my favourite person. I was never as close with my paternal grandparents because they were based in Cochin and I visited them only once or twice a year. I now believe that with all relationships, it is proximity and frequency of interactions that builds intimacy and affection. In this case, my wavelength also happened to match hers. We both had a passion for literature and “Gone with the wind” was my favourite for a long time, as it was with her. I had a lot of insightful conversations with her on the relative merits of Ashley Wilkes, Scarlett O Hara, Rhett Butler and Melanie Wilkes. I think she drew a lot of parallels between the transition in the Southern States and the passing of an era in Travancore. She was quite conservative in her views. She was also fond of movies like me. In later years, we saw “Shankarabharanam” with her and she was quite taken up with that movie and impressed by the character of the Carnatic Music Vidwan. Whenever I hear the Ragam Shankarabharanam, or the piece “Samaja Varagamana” (Raag Hindolam?), I remember her liking for these particular compositions.
My mother tells me that most parents never get to enjoy their children, having to balance work and home. She says she always regretted having had to drop us off and go to work. She says grand children offer people a chance to correct that and to genuinely enjoy having children in the house. I realize that this is not merely a mother exerting pressure on a bachelor son to start a family, but a genuine grievance. With my niece now, my mother is doing exactly that and for my niece her maternal grandmother is the world as it was for me!( Edited and Added on 2nd April 2013)
Below my flat, there is a Gujarati family and a young toddler there is growing up with her grandparents. I sometimes see them from my window and sometimes near the pool at the Club House next to our flats. The child looks healthy, distinctly happy and well adjusted, as compared to many other children. I am always greeted with a yelp and a “hello uncle” from the little one, whenever she passes by with her grandma, which I find myself reciprocating, in spite of my rather aloof demeanor that I have cultivated for the world at large. I also make it a point to wish the elderly lady a “Hari Om” and add a respectful “Khemcho”
And as they pass, I fondly remember my grandmother…
Dr Ajit Kumar Parthasarathy and my eldest cousin add this as his comment:
Great writing! So true to life with grandparents!
I also often recall the unforgettable, irreplaceable, and unsubstitutable affectionate care that I had received from my grandmother. As I was the eldest among her grandchildren, I had the fortune of being the first one to receive the affection and for the longest duration in life! In that respect, I feel that I am the luckiest one on earth among all my brothers and sisters (her grandchildren)!
I was not there by her side during her departure from this world..But, since I was quite religious in nature, which was inculcated in me by her from my childhood days, by making me sit with her during Naamam Japam [chanting of Lord's Names during Sandhya (dusk time)], she had taken care to leave for me, as her parting gift for ever to me, a brand new set of brass utensils, which are normally used for doing pooja (traditional worship of the Lord) in south India, safely kept covered in a Neriyathu Mundu (a traditional dhoti worn during pooja)! I indeed used them when I started my family life, and are still in my possession...