THE OLD COUPLE

At 2.30 a.m. in the morning, Mommy got a call. She switched on the lights, and sat with her head downcast for a few minutes. Tears were streaming down from her eyes. Then she frantically started moving around the room, arranging stuff, making more calls to daddy.

I woke up in this commotion to realise that Grandpa is no more.

***********

My Grandpa was 90+. He was the tallest in the family: 6 feet, and not a single child from his seven children could grow up to that stature. He was twice the height of Grandma, the domination visible even before we could take a sneak peek into their lives.

Grandpa had been sick since a few months but recently he was making rounds in various hospitals. My parents and his other children were taking turns regularly to be with him. Towards the end, he was at the ICU and the day before he left us, he was already on the ventilator.

The last time I had met Grandpa was a couple of days ago. I remember going to him with Daddy and Nishi. It was pitch dark outside when we reached our uncle’s home. Grandma hugged us tightly.

“Both of you’ve grown up! Nickie, you’re getting darker and thinner. You don’t take care of yourself. Look what have you done to your skin. Nishi seems all right, all sweet and cute like she was since she was a child.”

The three of us held each other and cried. Grandpa was there on the bed, barely able to move; his tummy was swollen and he had a catheter attached. He wasn’t eating anything, and had a bad pain in his lower back.

“See your grand daughters have come. Have a look! Nickie and Nishi have come to meet you!” Grandma said, all excited.

My grandpa was moaning. He took my hands and  made me touch his forehead. Grandma said that he was giving his blessings. He then signalled me to press his back, the pain was getting unbearable.

He asked where my mother was, and why hadn’t she come that day. He ordered daddy to bring her the next time we come to meet him. He was missing everyone and wanted to see his children. I was shocked to see a man like him, lying like that on the bed, desperate and helpless.

Auntie was trying her best to make him eat something, but he won’t budge.

You’d have been shocked as well if you’d have seen him in that condition: Grandpa was thin, yet strong. He could still walk for long distances and could stitch clothes with ease. He was a very active person, always doing something or the other. He had a sharp brain, and remembered everything. In short, he was a self made man who made his own decisions and listened to no one.

Grandpa used to come home when I was a kid, and he used to tell me lots of stories from The Mahabharata, The Ramayana and The Bhagavad Gita. He always told me to pray and believe in God. I could listen to him for hours, the daydreamer I am, and when he used to ask me for a pen I’d hand him over an entire packet.

Grandma used to say me that she had once married man when she was 20 years old, not rich like her family but well to do. Some days later, there was a robbery in her household and that left them with just fields enough to survive, not live and they became poor. Grandpa was living with his parents and siblings and their spouses and children, plus his wife and children, plus the livestock, the pond and the agricultural fields.

It was not enough to sustain such a huge family.

So grandpa worked in the fields and ran small shops to finance his children’s education. He always saw to it. Whenever he used to go out or come back into his mud house, he would spank his children. “Are you studying or sleeping?”

So it had to be like that. I am keeping daddy’s deeds for another day, today’s it about our old folks. There was always a financial crunch back at home and daddy was preparing to become a Chartered Accountant in Howrah, but he always sent him money, however little in amount. He wanted Daddy to become rich and successful, even though it meant sacrificing his own comforts for it.

***********

How do we all remember our grandmothers? Loose skinned, white haired, old ladies who don’t understand a thing that we say, don’t know that you don’t need to put turmeric while preparing Maggi. Pray to God the whole day for our happiness, prosperity and longevity. Don’t know a thing about phones. If they’d know, won’t they learn to make calls themselves? Don’t understand English and yet are proud that we can speak in a tongue not so native, not so close to their hearts and that its taking us apart.

We think that we’re too smart, don’t we?

My grandma must have been beautiful during her youth. She’s got probably more hair on her scalp now then I’d be having in my entire life.

Grandma claims to have seen the Britishers before India’s independence in 1947. I really don’t support the story, but it is funny and interesting to listen to her: her stories of ghosts, ghouls, souls, spirits, werewolves, Gods and Goddesses and what not. She can keep any child captivated with her enthralling style of storytelling. She even says about the big orchards bursting with fruits they had, the large ponds filled with fishes to the brim, their rice fields covering hectares of land and the large vegetable gardens. No matter how hard I try, I can never be as good as her.

I remember Daddy telling us so many times about Grandma going to the bed with an empty stomach, lying to him just because there was no food for her child.

“Today’s my fast, I won’t be eating tonight.”

“But Ma, today’s not a Thursday.”

“You don’t know anything. Now finish off this rice gruel even before it gets more thinner.”

Grandma was working hard, supporting her husband, helping with the housework. She bore her last child while she was working in the rice granary, trying to separate rice grains from the chaff. Just in case, if you think that these old ladies are weak.

Grandpa was ten years older to Grandma; she dutifully abided to her husband till his death. She supported all his decisions, whether right or wrong, knowing that sometimes she’d be judged as a mother, an in law, a sister. But she never paid heed to her reputation, because she was a trustworthy housewife, taking blame for her husband’s faults, listening to the tantrums of her children and filtering them before presenting them in front of Grandpa, and loving her grandchildren unconditionally.

Grandma was with me for a few months when I was born. But when my parents had brought Nishi home, perhaps Grandma was the happiest amongst all of us, because she was entrusted with the responsibility of taking care of me and my sister while my parents were away on work for long hours. Those were the days my mother had just started her own venture, back in the 2000s, it wasn’t easy for a female entrepreneur, a mother, a daughter, a daughter in law. But Grandma is perhaps the sweetest mother in law I’ve ever seen in my life. She loves my mother unconditionally. She took care of the entire household, the cooking. Sometimes she would make my mother’s hair or would put her headache to rest. Or maybe made a cup of tea for her. All of this, while managing little Nishu. Nishi literally lived on her, breathed her, exhaled her, ate on her, spit on her. Grandma bore it all. If she loves my sister so much, I can’t imagine how much she’d have loved her own children throughout her life?

I remember while Daddy was leaving for Sikkim, my Grandma cried. She was very disturbed by the fact that her son was going to a state she had no idea about. She cried when he left for Libya, too. She was so confused about what was going on, why her son had got this need to go to a foreign country when he could work here. Poor grandma, how could she ever understand brain drain?

***********

By the time I’m writing this, it has been already 21 hours since grandpa left for God’s home. Grandma’s life whisked away within a second, just like that. Sixty years of togetherness gone within a whiff, just like that. “Till death do us apart”, they say. See, death is here, and has taken away the man of the house. No matter how strong the lady might be or how populous her family might be, no one can replace her husband, her companion for life.

Sometimes I think of death. I feel afraid. I know cowards die thousands of times before their time comes, I might be a coward; I might be imagining myself in a heroic scene being killed for the nation but the next moment I get up and think about what happens after death.

One day, we are all going to close our eyes and are never going to open them. I fear death. Death is like a shadow; it follows us throughout our life till it gets a chance to get inside us and take our souls away and leave behind a lifeless body, a body without its achievements, its history, its future. Just a concoction of  bones and muscles.

Death can be painful. It is painful for the ones who are spared by it. The person dying might undergo a lot of trauma, but the people surrounding him to get a hole in their hearts, that gets filled with time but there’s that mark that says that it has been operated upon. We don’t forget the past, the dead, we just become accustomed to the silence and loneliness associated with it. Because that’s what life teaches us: to accept and move on.

Red bangles and vermillion, her saris all snatched away from her, because it is the norm. What kind of norm is this? To let a widow die under her grief? To make her collapse under depression? To make her realise every minute, every second of her life that her life is over despite of the fact that her heart is still beating, she can count her heartbeat, she can feel her heart that bore seven children and many grandchildren, that heart that she gave to no one save her husband, that heart which was there with her, pumping blood and mixing adrenaline, estrogen and oxytocin in her veins.

Well, who am I to question the authenticity of these customs and rituals? They’re being done since generations, so they must be right, they say. These customs that literally suck the life out of a living human being, why to talk of a dead one?

How ironical is this. White is not the same for Christians and Hindus. One girl starts her life wearing white, while another keeps fasts to stay away from it, because she knows that the color looks good only on a bride’s face. One world and infinite differences.

I must stop here, I can’t go on anymore. I can’t imagine light colors on grandma. She must be looking beautiful in tragedy. She is beautiful.

This society can never be mine.

***********

 

 

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