This one’s going to be personal. Because I am a writer. And the only way I can let go of things and emotions is by pouring them out on paper. Or actually a computer screen. And today I’ve got to let go of something big. Something’s that been a part of me since the very beginning. Something that’s literally a part of who I am, even though I might have forgotten that in the madness of daily living.
But first tell me, where’s home for you? Is it the sepia-memoried place you grew up? The crazy single girl’s pad of college days? The shiny new apartment you rented at the beginning of your career? The solid house you bought with that big promotion? The I-am-now-grown-up flat you moved into after getting married? The comfortable place where your parents live? Which one of these is home? One of them? All of them? None of them?
Like most people of the 21st century, I’ve lived in a lot of houses. But really only three of them have been home. And today even my last link to the first one of them went away forever.
It was a rambling old bungalow in Lucknow, a colorful, vibrant and crazily chaotic city in Northern India. We went there to visit my paternal grandparents every single year for every holiday, till I hit adulthood. Every summer would be spent there, four weeks reconciling the pace of our urban, multi-cultural lives with the traditions of Indian living.
Holi, Dussehra, Diwali, women who ruled the kitchen, men who brought home the bread (or the khasta kachori), copious amounts of chaat and jalebis (traditional Indian snacks), ever-overflowing trays of piping hot tea, mammoth Ambassador cars, rickshaw rides, loads of giggling, gossiping, family politics and all-around communal living with countless uncles, aunts and cousins packed into one sprawling space… this was my connect with the India of my roots. My heritage, which would be embraced for a few glorious weeks and then packed away for the rest of the year when we returned to our regular lives.
No, don’t get me wrong. I am under no delusion that traditional living is preferable to today’s multi-cultural, multi-national ethos. Times change and we have to change with them. That’s something my grandmother taught me, right in the middle of those summery childhood days. And my grandmother, with whom I have battled and made up more times that either of us could remember, was someone you really couldn’t ignore. Headstrong, intellectual, superbly well read and with her own ideas on how to do most things, she was pretty much the total antithesis of what one expects from an Indian woman.
Rather than exhorting me to pray to an endless number of Gods, she taught me never to conduct empty rituals without first understanding their core. She was never the kind of grandmother who cocooned me in fuzzy fairytales and loaded me with sweets and ice creams. She didn’t spend evenings pushing me on a swing.
Instead, she was the kind of grandmother who taught me how to be strong, how to be independent, how to meet life on my own terms. She taught me never to be apologetic for being myself, for following my own path. She led by example to prove there’s nothing a woman can’t do just as well as men, whether it’s to fire a pistol or manage her own life. She taught me how to fight but you also taught me how to forgive. To never stop looking for answers. And for that I will always be grateful… because fairytales fade but strength remains.
Grandmom, you were one of the strongest women I ever knew. I am proud to be your granddaughter and am grateful for all the years we had together. But now it’s time for you to rest, to be free of the unbearable pain that consumed you. Rest in peace dadi… you’ve earned your repose.