My grandmother died at the age of 94 or 95. Nobody can really say at what exact age she passed away because her birth was never officially recorded. And she never went to school. But she ruled everybody’s heart till she breathed her last.
She was the star attraction of all our summer holidays as we always looked forward to visit my mom’s ancestral place. Her pickles were something to die for. The more one ate, the more one longed for it. Like most Indian grannies, she always carried a basket of stories with her. On hot summer nights, we all slept under the star lit sky and she mesmerized us with her stories. In between stories, she would break into a song and her magical voice would be like manna from heaven.
She lived in a joint family with her sons, daughter-in- laws and grand-children. But whenever I used to visit granny, one thing always intrigued me. My granny was a tad different from my friends’ grandparents. When my aunts scolded my erring cousins, she never spoke a word. But I always saw my friends’ grandparents coming to their rescue whenever they got a scolding from their parents. I loved my granny but this quality of hers really bothered me as a child. I just couldn’t understand why she was not coming to the rescue of my cousins. One fine day out of desperation, I asked her why she behaved like that. She told me, “They are not my children. It’s a matter between the parents and the children. I should let them deal things on their own.” When you are nine-year-old, it’s difficult to understand all this.
But then as the years passed by, my frequent visits to my granny’s house became infrequent. And then followed hostel life, limited days of holidays and pressures of studies and all that. My childhood years stayed with me like a beautiful memory. From Luyten’s Delhi, granny’s house really looked quite far. It was not possible for her to attend my marriage as she couldn’t travel much that time. But I wanted my husband to meet her (and my husband right from the beginning was over-enthusiastic to meet my clan and extended clan and further extended clan) and he jumped at the idea.
So on a slightly cold November morning of 1998, we went to meet my grandmother. She was a little shy as my husband touched her feet as a mark of respect. Then with a cup of tea in my hand, I sat down to have a chat with granny. The first question she asked me “Where’s he from?” I told her “Kerala.” Then she asked my how many days it would take me if I take a train from Orissa to Kerala. When she heard that it would be almost two days, she gave me one of those ‘where have you landed, my kid’ look and told, “Couldn’t you find somebody from Calcutta?” I broke into laughter and felt happy that granny had not lost her sense of humour.
But she just could not believe her ears when she came to know that my husband is a vegan. Forget about fish or chicken, he doesn’t even touch any milk products. That was too much for granny to digest. So as expected, she came up with a googly, “First you marry somebody from a far land. Then he doesn’t even eat fish. What kind of a son-in-law is he?” But I just couldn’t control my laughter when she took me to one corner of the room and then she came up with this sixer, “But tell me is he a kanjoos (miser) who wants to save money by not spending on chicken/fish/milk?”
Not withstanding my husband’s aversion for animal products, she took an instant liking for him and every time he went to the river to take a bath, she sent somebody to keep an eye on his safety. Even as she supervised my husband’s special vegan lunches, she told me, “Don’t force him to change his eating habits. That’s his way of life. And you also don’t change your eating habits and continue to enjoy the food you have grown up eating.” And then she added, “Problems in a marriage start when you expect the partner to change them for you.” That was my first lesson in giving space in a relationship and at the same time retaining your individuality.
And after years I could actually understand why she never interfered when my aunts/uncles scolded my cousins. I have always followed her golden words so far as my husband’s vegan diets are concerned. After 16 years of my married life with a vegan, I still love my share of mutton biryani and at the same time I simply enjoy cooking rajma chawal for hubby on Sundays. And now years after her death, sometimes I think, granny could have been a good marriage counsellor and probably earned a lot of money too.