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The author recalls her grandmother who wasn’t related to her by blood – her father’s stepmother – but who was an extraordinary and loving woman.
We grew up reading fairy tales wherein we are told how siblings Hansel and Gretel are abandoned by their wicked stepmother and Cinderella is mistreated by hers. Most infamously, Snow White’s stepmother tries to poison her.
Such things do happen in our real world also. We have so many glaring examples. Fortunately in my family’s history, things turned out differently.
To begin at the beginning, when my grandma passed away my father was eight and my uncle was three. Two years later, my grandfather married again. He was forty two while the bride, Hema, was eighteen. Her family was poor. She was coerced into marrying the widower as he was a government officer and financially well placed. So the teenager married a man old enough to be her father and entered a new phase of life saddled with two pre-teen boys.
Over the next ten years or so, the mismatched couple led a fairly peaceful existence and had three daughters. Then tragedy struck. Grandpa died all of a sudden leaving behind a youthful widow and three daughters.
At this juncture, Hema’s family members and relatives appeared on the scene to help the distraught woman. They persuaded her to move back to her parental home with the girls lest the stepsons mistreat her. Surprisingly Hema refused, asserting that it would be sinful to desert ‘her fatherless sons’. She said that the boys had been good to her.
Her folks were stunned, and thence began a new chapter in the family’s history.
For a while, the family of six managed with grandpa’s terminal benefits. Subsequently my father, the eldest son, graduated and secured a bank job. Things began to look up. My uncle too got settled pretty quickly. The three of them ran the household smoothly. The girls were given decent education and married off in due course according to the times.
Over the years the wives of the sons came in; later we children were born. But the bond between the trio remained steadfast, unwavering.
Throughout her life Hema always consulted her sons over various decisions. When my dad got transferred from Kolkata, she stayed behind with my uncle, his wife, and her three daughters. When she came visiting or we met at our ancestral home, she was an embodiment of affection, always encouraging and inspiring me to forge ahead in life. Hema was a master chef who loved treating people to her delicious dishes. She was so deeply attached to her sons’ kids that she could not stay anywhere else for long.
After my uncle’s wife died untimely, she took his girls under her wing and literally mothered them till they were married and settled. When one of these siblings fell in love with a young man, my uncle did not like it. However, my grandma approved of the relationship and ultimately helped them to elope!
Her sojourns in her married daughters’ homes were short lived. My aunts’ children never had an opportunity to get close to her. She was caring and affectionate but there always remained a distance between them. My aunts were not too happy about it, especially the oldest one among them; she was openly disgruntled and jealous.
On one occasion when daadi was staying with the aunt in question, I went to visit her and stayed for lunch. After lunch while we lay basking in the sun, daadi and I dozed off in each other’s arms. My aunt saw this. She didn’t like it. Forthwith she rang up my father, complaining how her own mother was being partial to me though we were not blood relations. “Maa never displayed such affection for my kids… never,” she ranted. Dad was dumbstruck! Fancy heaping insinuations on one’s own parent!!
When the backlog of her arrears was released, the dear old lady bought useful and thoughtful gifts (evenly priced) for everyone in the family without differentiating between her real or step children. This is what you call generosity!
I fondly recall when my six month old daughter was put in her arms, she was overjoyed. Thus she lived… filing the lives of everyone she touched with warmth. When she finally departed from this world at the ripe age of eighty, I lost a trusted companion, confidante, and friend!
Image source: a still from Kehta Hai Dil… Ji Le Zaraa
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