“But Gramma, I want to go to the lake today, you promised!” I wailed disconsolately, tears pouring from my 6 year old eyes like a terribly rusty old pipe. Gramma was not perturbed. After a full 10 minutes of my brawling had passed by, she looked up from her Mahabharata , “Anil, you have a fever. I cannot let you play today. Stop crying please, come here now.” My crying stopped almost immediately. Gramma commanded respect, even as her voice had started quivering just a little over the past few months. I pulled myself up and sat next to her, looking away. She wrapped an arm around me, pulling me closer. A strong aroma of jasmine and coconut oil enveloped me as she wiped away my tears. “Let’s have a deal. Next week, I’ll make you some fresh mango ice-cream and let you play in the pool. Just don’t tell your father. Okay?” I nodded yes amidst gasps for breath. She gave me a wet kiss on my cheek.
She used to play with me whenever I visited and take me to the lakeside at least once a month where we fed the fishes. At night, she sang lullabies for me even though she mixes up the words very often. Gramma always knew what I loved.
Another day, about 4 years later, I was peering into an old album filled with faded black-and-white photographs from Gramma’s youth. She noticed me from afar. “Have I told you about your grandfather?” she asked as she swiftly hung the clothes to dry. I had not really known Grampa much. He had passed away before I was born. Gramma sat next to me on the ledge near the mossy back-wall of the bungalow and opened the mid-page of the album. “Your Grampa first met me when I was returning from school, long long ago. I was just six or seven years elder to you at that time. You should have seen the things he did to try and woo me. A flower every day, offers to give me a ride to school, dresses… But I was very stubborn, you know. And then, all of a sudden, he went straight to my father to ask his permission to marry me. The guts of the man!” I looked intently at my Gramma who was lost in her own world. “We got married a year later. He was a wonderful man, very kind, never raised his voice. Unlike me.” she said with a wide smile. “We used to spend a lot of time at the lake feeding the fishes, it’s a very beautiful spot isn’t it Anil?” I nodded hastily. “He was an army doctor, your Grampa. I think when your mother was about 20 he got a call from the General to report to the war site up north. Usually these stints were short so…” She was interrupted by Lakshmi auntie’s call from the other side of the wall. Gramma got up on the ledge in a flash and they started talking animatedly about someone running away from home. I got up with the album and went into the house.
I went back home the next day and I would return to my Gramma’s every weekend for the next 8 years.
My Gramma, just like most others I’ve read or heard of, was amazing in the kitchen. I’ve always believed that she made the best chicken ever, and she used to make it best for her eldest grandchild, me. I was at her place on my 14th birthday and was readying myself for a sumptuous birthday feast. My younger sisters were rooted in front the TV, engrossed in some new age cartoon. Cartoons were much poorer than what it used to be 5 years ago, but they just don’t understand that.
“Come on kids, lunch is ready.” a shrill voice boomed from inside, “I’m preparing your plate Anil, 5 minutes!” She came in holding a large clay pot, her limp more pronounced than usual; all of us were gathered around the table, salivating over the smell of hot biryani. What happened next happened rather too fast. As she approached us, her legs buckled, her eyes closed; the biryani pot with Gramma crashed onto the stone floor. Panic.
A few days passed. They said it was just a result of low blood sugar, which was natural at 76 years of age. Gramma lived with us from then on. But I noticed that she was becoming more complacent after coming back. For one thing, she drastically reduced the amount of time spent in the kitchen, which meant less scrumptious food. It annoyed me mightily. She was sleeping more than before, and began losing her temper in short bursts for trivial reasons. “Anil, why is this newspaper not at the centre of the table? How many times should I tell you child?” she shouted one hot afternoon, as she went about straightening and cleaning the house. Every day when I come back from college, the newspaper would be set perfectly on the coffee table, an act that had become an everyday ritual. Arguments between Gramma and me increased a lot in the next 3 years, along with the number of times she had lost consciousness.
“Anil…” she used to call me, her voice almost a whisper, “Anil, can you tell your grandfather to trim the hedges please? Look at him, always sleeping on the sofa there!”. There was no hedge nor any grandfather. The doctors called it dementia and she soon started losing control over her body. I was tasked with taking care of her after college hours and frankly it was very exasperating beyond a point. It did not help that she kept criticizing each thing I did for her, from the pressure with which I applied the bath towels to blaming her gas release on the bed she lied down to my inability to make ‘Grampa’ trim the hedges. But she was still my Gramma.
One day when I came back after a long day, I noticed the newspaper was not on the table. The air felt heavy. My mom came in and held my hand.
Gramma passed away.
I couldn’t sleep that night. I tossed about for hours on end. I shut my eyes and I could see my kid self wandering around in Gramma’s home aimlessly looking for something I couldn’t find. Gradually my image was replaced by Gramma’s. A postman arrived and gave a letter to Gramma. It was news that Grampa was killed at war. The surroundings blurred around as Gramma walked into the house. She was crying, trying to suppress all the memories entombed in that house. His shirt which still emanated his musk, his postcard from the day before still unopened. She walked towards the bookshelf and picked up an old picture of theirs at the lake, hugging it tight.
Many many years had passed by. I was woken up by my granddaughter considerably early in the morning. “Aditi, where’s your grandmother dear?” I asked her, stretching those 60 year old tired joints. “Said she’s going to the market Granpa. Come let’s go to feed the park birds!” she shrilled, pulling me from the bed. She had gone off to chemo without waking me up, the kind soul. Aditi was our life and we adored her weekend visits. We made her wooden toys all by ourselves and she loved playing with them over the glitzy Barbies. She was a naughty young girl though and unfortunately for her, I was too stubborn to give in.
While on a call with Gopal who was filling me in with all the community news, I saw Aditi slinking towards an open muddy pothole. “Aditi! No, you will not play in the puddles. It’s dirty water. Stop crying please and come..”, I stopped short. Memories of Gramma’s warnings came flooding over me. I chuckled as I realised I was nothing but an echo of her soul. An undying echo living in me. I am her immortality.
A few months later my wife succumbed to her cancerous tortures. Aditi took her passing quite hard. ”Granpa, where did she go? Tell her to come please?” she said, her voice wheezy in between sobs. We sat down on the same ledge my Gramma and I used to sit all those years back and she looked straight into my eyes. “Aditi, when my Grampa went to heaven, Gramma did not eat for many days, she was extremely sad. Days later, while dusting, behind an old picture of my Gramma and Grampa, she found a note left for her by him. You want to know what it said?” She nodded slowly, a couple of tears falling from her cheeks.
Promise me, you’ll not dwell on sadness once life’s over,
For ours is a unique life; short yet endless, terrible yet joyous.
And no one comes out of it alive. So remember dearest,
In this very moment, we’re infinite and will remain so.
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