Friday, October 23, 2015

About my Grandmother

When I was in high school, there was this dark, rainy, downright-ugly day. It was pouring rain. The kind that if you were caught in it for a few seconds, you were soaked. I came home from school and plopped in front of the TV. After about fifteen minutes, my grandmother came up behind me, she was always right there, and asked, “Hey, aren’t you supposed to pick up your brother?” of course, she said it in Gujarati.
Oh crap, she’s right! I looked at the time and realized that my brother would be half way home by now, so I decided I was going to walk out to meet him and walk the rest of the way back with him. I left the house without an umbrella and without a jacket, and started on the path. Sure enough, about halfway, I saw my brother trudging along, miserable as can be. He had this green jacket, so if you zipped it up all the way, there would be this tiny hole at his forehead, so I have to say, he had it zipped up to about his chin. With every forward trudge, his whole body collapsed into what I can only describe as slog.
I came up to him and said, “Hey, let’s get as wet as we possibly can!” and we did. We jumped in every puddle. We shook every tree for the extra rain. We walked in the swollen gutters. We were drenched through, and through by the time we got to the front door where our grandmother was waiting for us. She looked at us, scoffed and turned away. She was a woman frugal with her words and economical with her emotions.
When someone leaves this world, we have a tendency to reflect on whether they have left us too soon, or whether they have been released from suffering. To most of us suffering and happiness are negatively correlated. But, if you ask different generations, “What is happiness?” you’ll get fundamentally different responses.
Some of you may know that on both sides of my family, I’m the first born outside of India, and the first one born here in the U.S. My generation asks questions. What did Ba’s tattoos mean? Was she happy? At another time, I asked Himat Mama if he thought Nani was happy and at best it was an upsetting question. She was married; she had children; she was taken care of­­­—of course she was happy. But that’s not what I mean.
I’ve tried asking others, but I’ve never received a real response. I’ve learned to stop asking older generations. Yet, here I am wondering, was she happy? Ever? In my definition of happiness?

This is what I know:
—She exercised every day. EVERY DAY. Until she couldn’t any more. Think about this. How many Indian women older than our generation really exercise? Sure, you see the men walking about, but not the women. And, she exercised every day.
—She loved animals. As Samir noted already, in 1999 when Nikki was hit by a truck, she vowed never to get close to any animal again because it was too painful when they died. Truth. She retreated into herself even further.
I tried to get to know her in various ways in the past, but never could get very far. It wasn’t until she was submerged in dementia that I learned more. Once, she was like a nine-year-old girl, talking about her polished nails, and how she wanted to style her hair. I asked her about her tattoos.
—She had tattoos on her hands, arms, chest, neck and face. She said, jare who nani chaukri hathi thyara theej mane shawk hatha (ever since I was a young girl, I had a passion for tattoo art). I learned she was more than a grandmother, more than the woman who kept her children safe during the trek from Pakistan to India during the Partition, she was a girl, a woman.
—And, boy did she have a sharp tongue! She would cut through the ish around us and tell it straight and hard, no chaser. I enjoyed that about her!
There are fundamental differences between people. Here it is October 2015, and what I learned from my grandmother is—Always Do You.

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