Mama: My Father's Mother

Tonight, after almost four months of losing her, I am finally grieving for my grandmother, my father's mother, who I and my brother called mama. Mama was 78 when she passed away last September, a few day short of my 27th birthday. She passed away after struggling with an undiagnosed medical condition for 15 days. She had lost her husband of 63 years in March last year (That has to be the bitterest blow I have ever received from God, losing one set of grandparents in a space of six months.) As a kid, I had loved the 4 ft 5 inch woman who hid me behind her every time my parents got upset with me, who had taken me,on my first visit there, to our village when I was three to live with her for four months, who fed me from her plate even before she ate. In the late 80s, when I was a kid, I stayed with her for four months in our village. One evening, I was irritable after she woke me up for dinner but I went to the kitchen, nevertheless. She and I used to eat there every evening. Ours was a four-room, thatched-roof, mud hut with the kitchen being the smallest space in the dwelling. These were days when India had not seen the economic growth that it is seeing now and we were, by no means, well-off. Everything about our lives was frugal, not out of choice but because there was no other life to have. That evening, she had served rice and some vegetables in a worn aluminium plate that somehow as a child I had associated with poverty. I shouted at her, told her that I was not poor like her and sulked. She smiled sadly and pulled me to her lap and said, "I will serve the food on another plate." I told her that I will not touch anything that had been served in the aluminum plate. My old mama, she lit her firewood burner and cooked again because she had served the last of the food she had cooked earlier for the both of us on that plate! As i grew older, I understood the complicated lives of adults. I saw Mama's flaws, her blind doting of her kids (my father and his two brothers and his sister) even when they were wrong. I slowly understood the bitter and tense relationship she and my mother shared. I gradually got distant from her, physically at first, when I moved out of my home town to study and later work. I saw very little of her over the last decade. Then, I became emotionally distant (with almost all of my family) as I got immersed in my work and life in Delhi. But she had kept tabs on every little detail of my life and my brother's. My brother told me that once, after he had started smoking, she had come to his house and had asked him to come visit her sometime. Though she disapproved of smoking in general, she told him that he could go and smoke on the roof (by that time, she had had a concrete house built in our village). That was her bribe to get him to visit! My brother had smiled and told her that he would visit even if she didn't let him. She had smiled sadly in return. Every time we visited her and my grandfather we wouldn't stay for more than a couple of hours as we had "lives" to get back to. She would make the most of these hours, cooking for us, making jokes and filling us in with gossip about our relatives which she thought would interest us. When it was time she would cry quietly as she prayed for a safe trip. Those were probably the only times I would see how lonely she was, how lonely both my grandparents were. But she had stuck it through taking care of my ailing grandfather. Always a strong woman, she would do most of the chores herself even though she always had help. Fiercely independent and proud, she would hide her material needs even from her own children, never asking for more than they gave her out of love.I remember once as a kid i was lazing on her bed with all her pillows. She had come into the room and seen me hogging all the pillows and had quietly gone to my grandfather's room where she spread a mat and lay on the floor using a stack of old magazines as a pillow while she read a newspaper through those thick bifocals of hers. I had carried a pillow to her, prompted by my mother, and insisted that she use it. She had kissed my forehead and told me that I was growing up. I hadn't understood her then but I do understand now. I didn't cry when my father called me to say she had passed away. I was almost 800 miles away being driven to my house from my office. I had slept off tired and then methodically planned a leave for her funeral rites (they had cremated her that evening but the Hindu last rites usually go on for 10 days). i had gone to our ancestral village and seen a few of her things being collected and kept aside by her daughters-in-law. I had gone through the motions of bereaved family in a detached manner. I came back. Four months later, memories of her are flooding me. I am choking back tears to write this. I want her to hold that aluminium plate with the humble rice and vegetables and say, "Let's eat, son" one more time. I want to put my arm under her head so that she may sleep restfully, tired as she was always from all the work she did. I want to bring her something nice and see her smile like she has been given the wealth of the world. She had always wanted to meet my girlfriend (I had shown pictures of her to Mama once). I wish she were around to see me marry her in September this year.
RaySrthk RaySrthk
26-30, M
Jan 15, 2013