Tuesday, September 02, 2008

A Tribute to my Grandmother

My grandmother was born sometime in the beginning of the 20th century. Like most of her generation, she did not know of her exact date of birth.

From my earliest memories of her, till the time she passed away, I remember her as a short very frail woman, not more than 5 ft tall, and very thin. The outward appearance was however deceptive. For I have not known many people at least amongst my own family, who had a personality close to hers.

My grandmother had studied up to Class X, an accomplishment of sorts in her day and age.

The formal education however was a small indicator of her level of literacy and general awareness. She read the daily English newspaper from the front page to the last, and updated herself on the latest happenings around the World. She had an excellent grasp of all current affairs, politics, India’s relations with her neighbours, friendly and otherwise and so on. This, she managed mostly by reading on her own, and very rarely, she sought help and clarification from my parents, on some issue unresolved in her mind.

I remember clearly, numerous occasions, when she would very intelligently debate and discuss India’s relations with China, the daily happenings and progress during the India – Pakistan wars and other events, not only with my parents, but with many of my father’s friends and colleagues who would visit our house. This was a matter of great pride for me, as a child, because I did not see any other grandmother around in the neighbourhood appear to be so well read.

My grandmother’s written communication skills were exemplary. Not so much in content, but in form. Her hand writing in both languages was nothing short of a calligraphers work. Some samples mainly in the form of old letters are still preserved by my cousins, and every now and then, when we look at those, we cannot help but marvel at her handwriting skills.

Our ancestral home was in Dehra Dun, which belonged to her. But for most of the time she stayed with us in Delhi to look after my younger brother and me. With my mother working full time, it was my Dadi who took her place at home during the day. And for some time she would visit my Uncle and stay with them.

One such trip to Doon seemed to be unusually long. My father then took us to Doon to show to us what was going on. My grandmother had decided to have the old ancestral house demolished and construct a modern larger house in its place. Instead of handing down this project and the responsibility to her sons, she chose to manage it herself. One memory permanently etched in my mind is that of my grandmother perched on top of a step ladder which she had climbed to supervise and approve the quality of construction on the roof top. She was around 70 years old then.

Like all elderly people my grandmother spent a major part of her mornings offering her prayers to God. For this, she had a beautifully decorated ‘Mandir’ in one corner of her room. Every day, after we left for school and my parents for work, she would sit in front of her ‘mandir’ and complete her daily routine of prayers which lasted about two hours or more.

My grandmother’s mission in life was to make sure all her grandchildren study and perform well, and finally chalk out a successful career path. For this she started working on me (and one of my elder cousins) very early. She ensured that most of my time at home was spent in studying. And if enough of the school curriculum was covered, it would be hours and many, many pages of handwriting practise. The rigorous work schedule was too much for me, and I remember usually ending up crying in utter frustration. But that did not deter her. It was largely due to her efforts that I managed to secure among the top three positions in every class in school.

Similarly, she seemed to be after my cousin’s blood, but from the day he cleared the entrance examination for admission in an engineering college, she switched off completely, now comfortable with the belief that his career was secure.

When I was in class 10 she was more nervous and worried about the board exam than anyone else, least of all me. The ICSE exams came and went. My grandmother was not satisfied as usual, and was convinced that I would make third division.

My grandmother had a chronic bronchitis condition for many years. This worsened one particular year. She knew she did not have very long to live. But one of the worldly aspirations she had to fulfil was to see her granddaughter getting married. Despite her failing health and a very weak constitution, she made sure she attended all functions, customs and rituals before and up to the marriage. This took a further toll on her health.

One afternoon, in March 1977, she passed away at our home. Quietly, and without a fuss. This was ten days before the ICSE results were declared. She didn’t live to see that my marks were far better than she said I’d score. I am sure in her heart she knew I’d do well..

A shade over 30 years have flown by. Writing about her is my way of paying my tributes to the one person who brought us up cared for us and inculcated in us, the right value systems at a young age. For this, I shall forever be indebted to her.

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