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A woman remembers her dear grandmother, whom she knew as brave and strict, but who was also vulnerable and complex in ways that were hard to understand back then.
Someone recently asked me about who in the family inspired me when I was a child. And I instantly thought of you. But I just let the thought pass.
While listening to a story about you, my kids, your great grandchildren, ask me about you. Their curious little young minds want to know anything and everything about everything and everyone. Was I like that too? I hope I was. Coming back to the story, the image of their Kollu Paati who dealt with a snake fearlessly surely catches their fancy every time. They know you as brave, I tell myself, I heave a sigh of something, I don’t know what, and I show them your picture and move on to the next story.
At other times, I also have another story about you in which you are strict and stern with Appa for the most part and melt with love towards the end – the elephant one. I am sure you saw these incidents as just life and never imagined that they will become stories that your great grandchildren would excitedly listen to. I used to love it when Appa told me stories (and still do) and now it’s the next gen’s turn. For them, I think it’s also the joy in seeing everyone from the family much younger in your stories, especially their Thatha (my Appa).
Brave and Strict. Just two dimensions to you that they know about, I had started questioning myself. And today, I felt this immense urge to write to you.
An image of a hand gently adjusting and closing the floral curtains on the tall French windows, flying as the strong and cool winter breeze blows, comes to me. What will happen if the curtains are opened up entirely, I ask? What if the wind wraps up the entire house I wonder?
I wish I could have had the opportunity to really speak my heart out to you instead of having to only write this letter with a gentle hope that the message reaches at least the ‘you’ in me.
I grew up hearing that I am a lot like you Paati, and I am embarrassed to admit that I wasn’t too thrilled to hear this comparison, especially when I was in my early adolescent years. You were proud of the fact that we both shared the same star sign – Magam Nakshatra. I know you loved me, loved me dearly. I loved you, but I felt anger towards you, often.
The Brahminical madi acharam (rules followed for accomplishing a pure state), the silence and decorum you desired, rules around the television, rules around friends, rules around food, even sleep…. And I think I was most affected when I saw Amma so troubled managing everything and everybody under these rules, her freedom curtailed and her body and mind tired of the adjustments she had to make.
Angry. Confused. Sad. Pangs of guilt at the moments when I loved you and also at moments when I felt bitter towards you. Now I understand better as life has taught me to appreciate beauty in the greys, in the various colours and shades. We are all imperfect and are changing each moment. The value of the overall feeling that one is left with in a relationship, matters more to me now. I am trying to judge less, accept more. And I wish I had this maturity back then. I would have been able to see you in the various shades you were made of and more clearly. I wish I was told a lot more about you than what I saw, heard, felt and experienced. In their really busy and stretched lives, Amma and Appa always made time to talk and listen. And I am grateful to them for that. But I wish I knew more about you when I was growing up, in not the exact depths that a grown up person would understand, but still nevertheless knowing about your life in its entirety would have been so wonderful.
I can never forget how you would forgo your afternoon naps to serve me hot and tasty lunch when I returned from school. How you would apply vibhudhi on my forehead when I felt sick. I can’t forget your occasional loud laughter. I wish I could hear it again. I loved to touch your soft skin and you would rave about the magic of turmeric. We were there around you, but were we really with you? I wish you were less lonely. How I wish we had spoken more openly with you! Maybe you would have understood. Maybe we would have understood.
As I reached my late teens, when you were sick too often, I heard so many more stories from your life from Amma. (Amma had slightly more time than she did before, with us all grown up and the relationship had changed too with more openness.) I started knowing you as Sivakami. Sivakami who was doted upon by her parents and brothers. How destiny brought Thatha to your village when you were 18 and so Tollywoodishly he fell in love with you the moment he saw you and asked for your hand in marriage and you sheepishly nodded in agreement.
You lived a wonderful life with Thatha in the 11 years you were together, until the time that Thatha passed away. Appa would tell me about how it was to lose a father. But I never once thought of how it must have been for you. You were 29 when you lost him. How heart breaking it must have been. To lose the love of your life and be left with 8 children to raise, with the youngest Chitappa who was barely two weeks old. You rose up to be a protective and fierce matriarch of the family who brought the entire clan under one hood, your hood. You stood tall and strong. You were tender then and transformed now.
“Magam jagathe aalum” (People born with this star sign were considered to rule the world. Ahem) ….they say. And some others said, it is so true for you. You lost your entire world in a moment and you rebuilt it and it wasn’t easy. You were perhaps not trying to rule us, you were trying to bring us together. Your strict demeanour was only to not lose us, your world again. You were afraid and we were unavailable to see your vulnerable side. And maybe when I was born with your star sign, you hoped for a different life for me – a fearless happy life. I lost you when I was 23. When I got married at 24, I missed you so terribly and I miss you oh-so-so-dearly when I know my children will never have the chance to meet you. I remember when I turned 29, I tried to imagine and feel the pain that you felt, and it hurt, a lot. I remember I cried for you, again. Also, strangely, I felt grateful for how life was very different for me, at 29, grateful for your wishes for me.
Many a moment in life now, when I think of how I value order and cleanliness, I smile and think of you. I think of so many values you instilled in us. You taught us through your life that it’s not what’s predicted or foretold but strength and resilience that builds our life. And you had the responsibility of raising us and you took it so seriously Paati. So vested in our lives and our futures. I am grateful to you for so much. I take pride if I see a glimpse of you in me Paati. I am sorry Paati. I love you I really do. And I know now, I heave a sigh of pained but yet joyful relief as I accept you with all my heart. I wish I had earlier. Please forgive me. And I must tell you, all of us, in your hood have a lot of love for you too.
A message I have for myself and everyone around me, the moment to say what you want to your people around is now. Know your people, know them now, through all their stories, in all their glory. And love with an open heart, open to colours and shades, blacks and greys.
I open the curtains up and let the breeze blow and engulf me. I love you Paati.
Love, Yours, Ramya
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Ramya is exploring the strength of stories, with a belief that stories help us learn
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