A tribute to an Iron Lady
Her death came as a shock enough to numb the senses… holding the phone in my trembling hands, I felt a chill down my spine. Almost cinematically, the phone dropped from my clasp. Gripping the lightweight cell phone suddenly seemed too much for my numbed wrist… I wanted to fly away from this world, I wanted to run away from everyone and everything, I wanted to be alone and let the obnoxious feeling sink in that my darling grandma, my most precious possession had suddenly traveled to some place that was beyond my reach… Grandma was the only friend I had when I had been a kid! I was her first grandchild and the first girl in the family because grandma never had a daughter. She would swoop me up in her arms and I would settle comfortably in her lap, safe and happy. We roamed the entire neighbourhood till noon while my mother would wrap up her work at home and join us sometimes.
Grandma’s mouth was always full of tobacco-rich betel leaf and nut…I would watch her intently as she divided the betel leaf into two equal halves, take one half, sprinkle tobacco powder and a few small bits of betel nuts and fold the leaf in a way I could never learn to this day! She would then place the neatly folded leaf inside her mouth in a royal fashion…something that might have been done by the royal begums of the Mughal kingdom! Her paan-eating ritual always fascinated me and as I stared at her in wonder, she would laugh at my innocence and plant a paan-stained kiss on my tender cheeks…
Clad in a white saree, the pallu of which was always knotted at the end with keys jingling and swaying from side to side, soft music emanated from her as she walked through the rooms. I don’t know if these keys ever unlocked anything. One of those keys however, belonged to a lock that grandma used, in order to guard her antique steel trunk. Nobody really knew what unknown treasures lay hidden there and grandma never let anyone touch it. Sometimes driven by curiosity, I would sneak into grandma’s room to try, and find out what she hid so zealously in the trunk. But every time I got caught! I finally gave up!
As I grew up, grandma taught me how to play chess. Initially, I was very poor at the game, but with time and practice, I was gradually getting better. One day when I defeated grandma at chess for the first time, she was very disappointed and she would not accept that I had so easily played her into a checkmate!
My voice was always a wonder to grandma. In her opinion, very few singers had touched her heart the way I did. I knew that it was her love for me that spoke in favour of all my songs, yet I let her feel that way. She was my greatest fan. I had learnt some very melodious Meera Bhajans just to please her and watch her drift into a trance as I sang them…
Grandma’s uniqueness set her apart from many women of her age. She was an outstanding swimmer. Swimming, not in a swimsuit but wearing a saree might have been unthinkable for many, but not for grandma. She was a mermaid in the waters and she glided in the waters of the Andaman and Nicobar islands with ease. The beautiful beach of Jolly Buoy Island with its crystal clear waters appealed to grandma and she went swimming in the waters dragging me along with her. What’s more, she snorkeled in the waters of the island and marveled at the sea creatures below.
An avid traveler, grandma took frequent trips across the length and breadth of India, sometimes taking long strolls on the Port Blair sea beaches to walking on the sands of beautiful Jaipur city, to tasting her favourite Bengali cuisine of mouth-watering maach paturi and shorshe baata ilish in Kolkata, grandma lived life to the fullest!
After her demise, people, young and old thronged to our place. They did not come to console us; they came to grieve with us…
How many people grandma had helped when in times of need and how many owed her a debt of thankfulness…we do not know. But the number of people, who came to mourn her death, amazed us…
The Digboi Town Committee Women’s wing of which grandma had been a founder-member and president, as well as some local women’s organizations, came to pay their homage to her. They narrated their sweet experiences with grandma and how much they enjoyed in her company. With her sympathetic nature and enchanting words, grandma had touched the lives of whoever came close to her. She was a wonder woman!
Decades back, ours was a poverty-stricken family. My fathers are six brothers. Grandpa was in the Indian Army (under the British Raj) and hence he was always away from home. Grandma, who never went to school, was determined to bring up her sons well and provide them with the best possible environment for their education. There were times when the money sent by grandpa wasn’t enough to run the family. There were times when grandma slept hungry and yet she struggled to pay the school fees as well as buy books for her sons. Grandma finally found success when her six sons established themselves in various fields. Grandpa passed away shortly after retirement, but by then, our family had already turned self-sufficient.
Grandma was adored by one and all. She remained the sole decision-maker in the family and we all turned to her for advice. She was a powerhouse for the family and we called her ‘the iron lady’.
Grandma played a major role in transforming our lives and making them beautiful. Every tiny aspect of the house is filled with her memories, her soothing touch. Whether it is the flowers in the garden that she nurtured with so much care or the perfume collection inside her wardrobe, everything including the upholstery in the living room bears the sweet fragrance of grandma’s touch. It needs mention that grandma was passionate about gardening.
A pious lady, grandma taught us the most precious virtues of love, sympathy, kindness, tolerance, patience and forgiveness. She taught us the values of faith and responsibility, hard work and perseverance.
With her death, life came to a standstill. Initially caught in a time warp, I kept going back to the moment when I was informed that grandma was no more…
It is amazing how time gradually defeats everything. In fact, time is the most powerful element on earth. I passed the first few days post grandma’s death, in utter shock. The next few days were spent in disbelief. But with the quick passage of time, I learnt to live with this truth that I would never hear grandma’s voice again. Life must go on and so must I. But grandma will forever remain in my heart like a never-ending song….
“….And the stately ships go on
To their haven under the hill;
But O for the touch of a vanish’d hand,
And the sound of a voice that is still!
Break, break, break
At the foot of thy crags, O Sea!
But the tender grace of a day that is dead
Will never come back to me.”
Alfred Lord Tennyson