Tuesday, April 14, 2009

My grandmother passed away four days ago. It was almost around the time I was boarding the flight back to Delhi, though my father didn't tell us about it then and I only found out on the way from the airport back home. It was possibly the most traumatic homecoming possible – I reached home at 3.30 in the morning, by 7.30 everyone was up getting ready for the cremation. My grandmom turned 85 in February and almost the whole family had come down for her birthday – the last photos of her are with a bouquet of eighty five yellow roses. When I spoke to her then she said she was waiting for me to come back and spend time at home over summer. Whenever I would come back to Delhi I would usually go straight from the airport to meet her and then go home...even as I was packing up before I flew I kept thinking, well I'll be reaching so late at night I'll only be able to meet dadi the next day. 

I didn't speak to her after I got through to Oxford, and I don't know why because I spoke to most of my other family members. Perhaps because I knew I would be home in a few days, perhaps because I knew my father was with her and would have told her, but the fact that I didn't has been killing me. My father's book which is out next month was dedicated to her and she never knew.

The whole family is here, together in grief as it were, and I don't think the absence has, therefore, hit us yet. Though it does rear its head – it's impossible to think of the house without her, to see her chair empty or to not have her phoning up everyday. She was a most extraordinary woman. Always graceful, always active, always kind. She was always so absorbed in things, so busy that it was impossible to believe that she could tire or even slow down. She published eleven poetry books amongst others. A few days after her death her publisher called to say her new book, a children's book, was about to published soon.

When I came back from a trip to Switzerland a few years ago and was showing her the photos from the trip, she remarked about how things used to be when she was there in the seventies. It was a surprise to imagine her traveling around alone, but then again I guess, in all our egotism I don't think we ever really imagine our grand parents as being anything other than grand parents, of having a life other than the one we have seen them living. 

A few years ago I learnt about how she was jailed for a short while during Quit India, where she was on that stroke of midnight in 1947 – my great grandfather was the first Indian District Magistrate of Balia and she was at the official celebrations, the next day she left for her first teaching job in Dehradun. My grandmother taught political science at the Benares Hindu University for almost twenty five years, a Fulbright scholar she taught in the U.S for a while before moving to Delhi University, from where she retired.

In many ways, I always thought of her as a grand matriarch. My grandfather passed away when I was very young and it was always her at the head of the family. A couple of days ago my cousin remarked that she had always been such a feminist idol for her and I think that's true – she never changed her name after marriage and always lived completely on her own terms and for large stretches of her life, alone. In our family we are all grand daughters (and two great grand daughters) and for us she was a wonderful example. We all went to Haridwar for the immersion of the ashes and at one point the pandit asked where are the grandsons? My uncle simply said, there are none, we specialize in girls. It's true and she took a lot of pride in us (so many of her books are dedicated to us) and the fact that we are all so well educated – we are often referred to by our professions: the MBA, the journalist, the lawyer, the PhD student, the (soon to be) M.Phil student and the youngest one (who is still in school but meant for great things). Over the past few days that is what I have heard the most – from the most far flung relatives, people I haven't met in eons – just how proud she was of all of us, how she always talked about us the most. I know she was and in a small way that makes me proud.

About a year ago she was extremely unwell and in hospital for almost a month. She came out fighting, but ever since had been extremely weak. My mother said she had become like a wisp of cotton and had to be protected from even the slightest wind. She passed away quietly and gracefully in her sleep – when I saw her afterwards, I almost expected her to awake from her slumber any minute - and while the vacuum will always be there I am glad the end was peaceful.

11 comments:

km said...

My condolences.

Your grandmother seems to have led an extraordinary life.

blackmamba said...

Deepest Condolences. She seems to have been an amazing woman.

Scherezade said...

:(
So sorry to hear about your loss.
My gran passed away a couple of years ago. She was closer to me than my own mother since she'd raised me. In summers, I remember this peculiar habit of hers; keeping the best pieces of sliced mangoes for me. Knowing fully well that I despised the fruit. She'd do it anwayt.
My thoughts are with you and your family.
Take care.

Tabula Rasa said...

be justly proud, and preserve the memory as best you can.

thank you for sharing.

Beth said...

I'm so sorry. What you've written here is beautiful.

My grandmother was a matriarch too and her death left a vacuum in all our lives. That was in 1992, when she was 92. So many years and so many deaths later, I can tell you that the regrets you feel right now will soften -- we all have regrets, always, when we love deeply -- and be replaced both by memories and a strength she will continue to give you as you move through life. Those of us who have had strong female forebears are very fortunate, and they pass on something essential that we can then pass on to others. It's a very wonderful thing, good to remember even when grief and absence are painful. Take good and gentle care of yourself - grief is like a wound that takes time to slowly heal. You'll be in my thoughts.

Renovatio said...

I can see a lot of what you've written about your grandma in you over the years of reading you, and not commenting as much.

You have my condolences.

verbalprivilege said...

Oh, Sz. So sorry--she was clearly a remarkable woman, and I'm glad you're carrying on her legacy.

Space Bar said...

she sounds wonderful. many condolences.

sepoy said...

my condolences. She has left a great legacy.

Nachiketa said...

Just came by to your blog.... love it...

Especially this post.... very touching

My heartfelt condolences.....

Have been in the same life situation.... my dadi also encouraged us a lot... just yesterday i was mentioning her to a friend and today i read ure post....

You've articulated a lot my feeling....

Thanks.

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