In the loving memory of my grandmother.

by shayoni 3. May 2010 13:46

In the loving memory of my grandmother…

* From left to right: Ma, Sunil, Me and Nani, my father and my aunt in 2006.


A very significant part of my life came to an end this afternoon with the passing of my grandmother. As my mother (her daughter) broke the news to me on the telephone (one of the nuances of being 2000 km away) thousands of childhood memories flooded my mind, each vying for a significant place. As I wiped the involuntary tear that had rolled down my cheek, I lit an incense stick in front of our favourite Ganesha, praying for her soul to rest in peace and thanking him for finally relieving her of her pain. With the smell of the incense, I was instantly taken back to the huge house in Calcutta which had a separate puja room in which my grandparents prayed ritualistically every morning and evening – an affair that had been carried down for generations and was painstakingly maintained under any and all circumstances. Funny, for I lit the incense everyday, but did not think of this! The house does not exist anymore; nor does that room. And while I lost my last surviving grandparent this afternoon, her little nook where she kept all her gods and goddesses in the new, smaller place she had shifted to after she lost her husband, is still there…

Nani had been critically ill for the past four years. She was diagnosed with multiple myeloma (bone marrow cancer) in January 2006. She fought the several transfusions and operations as bravely as she could. While she knew she had a serious condition that had to do with her blood count falling on a regular basis, none of us had the heart to mention the ‘C’ word to the then 78 year old lady. That was a disease she always dreaded and the family figured, telling her would be like killing her before her time. So we tried to be as truthful as possible without using the ‘term’! It seemed to do the trick as she would happily hop onto her wheelchair (her mobility was rather restricted) and head for the get-togethers and parties she had been invited to!

I will always remember my grandmother as a hyperactive lady. There were times she would just take off somewhere and give us a call later to let us know she was safe and we should not worry! Well into her seventies, she was not cell phone savvy and did not like it one bit when we insisted she start using one, so we could be in touch with her easily!

I have been one of those very few lucky individuals who had the privilege of growing up surrounded by three loving grandparents. And being a single child, my childhood memories revolve a lot around them. I would spend many of my holidays with my maternal grandparents at their house, as there weren’t too many kids of my age in our area. That is probably why I started picking up a lot of adult hobbies and habits at a very young age! I was more meticulous at ten than most people three times my age, I liked everything to be in order, I loved embroidering and knitting and was rather good at it already(!!!) I would stand behind her in the kitchen and watch her cook and pick up the recipes, some of which I replicate today.

Unfortunately, by the age of 12, I ‘outgrew’ my grandparents and like most other pre-teens, I began to create a world of my own where friends became more significant. But while I stopped obsessing over house-hold chores and embroidery, I still paid them a visit every other day and actually enjoyed doing so. Needless to say, the little things I had picked up along the way always stuck with me and I practice them today with my own family.

A fortnight before my 21st birthday, I lost my grandfather to multiple organ failure. It was significantly harder to accept this as I had never met my paternal grandfather (he had passed at the age of 33 when my father was just four years old.) Nani remained in that huge house by herself for a year after that, as it was my grandfather’s and she wanted to complete the yearly rituals there before moving.

By some amazing stroke of luck, while we were looking for a place close to our home, an apartment in our building became available just two storeys below! Thus began the adult bonding between the grandmother and granddaughter all over again. On every holiday, especially on Saturdays sharp at 11 in the morning, she would finish her work and come upstairs for our chatting sessions over steaming cups of coffee! And the three generations (my grandmother, mother and I) would laugh and talk and shout and argue (in jest) like strappy teenagers about every topic from sex to centipedes!!

Time passed and I finished my formal education and took up a job. In the midst of it all, I had lost my paternal grandmother who would live with us most of the time. Our Saturday sessions continued and it was a very comforting feeling to be able to pop in and out of her house whenever I wanted to and to have her do the same. When my aunt visited from the destination that her husband’s transferable job took her to, the two houses turned into a carnival ground with even my father merrily joining in!

Nani was happy she was able to attend my wedding; though on her wheelchair by then, she was glad she could be present for all the ceremonies and functions. Her only worry was how she would make herself be understood in front on her ‘non-Bengali’ speaking grand son-in-law! But needless to say, they managed just fine… As it is commonly said, actions often speak louder than words, especially if they are loving enough.

Over the past year my grandmother had been reduced to a near vegetative state with both her kidneys and other major organs failing or malfunctioning. Though her mind was active, her body was too weak to bear the strain of a peritoneal dialysis though they tried.   While I shall miss her terribly, I’m glad her suffering is over and she is finally at peace. My only regrets will be, my work has kept me away from my hometown for one and a half years and I did not get to meet her before she passed away; and my children will never know their great grandmother who swam in the lakes, cycled down walls, slapped the tardy boys in her lane, cooked delicious meals out of nothing and did every other thing that her generation (specially in India) could never dream of!

Nani – you shall always be remembered with a lot of love… may your soul rest forever in peace.

Shayoni Mitra


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