2015 – The year I lost someone incredibly dear.
One of the oldest and my favourite photographs of my grandmother. She’s the one in the middle.
Once upon a time, there lived two people in my house. My grand parents. How lovely and ‘grand’ those words are. Grand, quite literally.
I remember them quite clearly. Their calm faces, their wrinkled hands, their reassuring words, their lovely gestures, their simple ways and their childish demands. They argued, time and again. Amongst themselves, and sometimes with my dad. But never did they let it go on for long.
As soon as they would go into their room, he said, ” Its funny how we always fight and make up as soon as we’re back here in our room.” All of us would laugh out loud at the way he expressed his love for her. He would call her names and tease her all the time. She wouldn’t react and would say under her breath, ”He’s mad.”
They loved each other. And they loved us.
I remember how he would always get dressed up in the evening, even long after he retired from work. He was quite particular about the way he dressed. Formal suit, and a crisp matching turban. He would go out in the evenings to meet his friends in the park, and on his way back, he would get us toffees and my favorite ‘jalebis’. I would come rushing to the door, as soon as I heard the door bell ringing. I still remember the way he rang the bell. It was his signature style of ringing the bell. I don’t know if the others in the house recognized it, but I did. And it still rings in my head.
This was when I was still a child, and he was still healthy enough to go out.
I don’t remember too much of him from those days. It was years ago. It was during the last few years of the 20th century.
I remember how she was still strong and active at 70. Her body seemed weak and wrinkled, but there was no sign of fatigue on her face or in the way she lived out her days. .. She would wake up early in the morning, and do her prayers. Then she would spend the day helping my mother with the household work. I remember how whenever she would put on her dupatta, I would come running to her and take hold of it, asking as to where she was off to. And she would smile at me, saying, ‘Nowhere!’. Me and my brother were always eager to go with her wherever she was going. We wouldn’t let her put on the dupatta unless she proved to us that she wasn’t going anywhere or till she’d actually take us along with her.
I remember how when my parents wouldn’t let me sleep with them, I would go and sleep with her instead, and she’d tell me fairytale stories until I’d fallen asleep. Sometimes I was so excited about the stories, that I’d refuse to sleep. She’d run out of stories then, but she never said no to it. She’d quite cleverly change the plot and narrated the same stories over and over again, with just slight changes. And I would fall asleep eventually, with one arm wrapping up her body. I still remember the way she smelt. I don’t think I’ve ever or would ever, smell that fragrance again. These fragrances of our dear ones don’t come in shiny expensive bottles.
The days went by , we were growing younger, and they were growing older. Back then, we never realized how each day counted.
As I grew to my senses, I realized that the stories she told me were all imagined up. Those characters didn’t exist in the real world. But then her stories changed from fairytales to the real ones. She would talk about her life as a young girl in British India. I was always eager to know more. So I’d sit with her and my dad, cups of tea in our hands, and my questions wouldn’t stop. She’d tell me how she got married, and how she had never seen my grandfather before they were actually married. She’d tell me about how they lived happily in the village, their family home in Punjab, the open green fields, the family get togethers, the simple ways of life, and what not. I’d listen to the same stories over and over again and never get tired. I’d go back to my room in awe. And I’d still always feel that there was more she wanted to say. Her eyes had seen more things than she could put to words for me. I wanted to listen to it all.
As we grew up, we had less time to spend with them. School and studies took up all of our time, and we had grown out of the excitement for toffees and bed time stories. But their presence in the house was reassuring. Whenever we’d do something wrong, or whenever our mother would come running after us in anger, we’d run faster and hid behind our grandparents. No matter how big a mistake we made, they were never angry. And one look from them would calm down our parents too. So they were quite literally the fortress we hid in.
Years went by playfully, but the realization of their old age only struck us hard when he was diagnosed with cancer. I was nineteen years old by then, and sensible enough to understand how life was going to change for all of us. .. He was bedridden now, barely able to move. He had to be taken to the washroom and he barely ate. I missed the times when I saw him fondly eating a Mc Donald’s burger because we were craving for it! Now, he barely ate or drank. His body grew weaker by the day, and he needed much more care. My dad and mother were always around him, and I would shy away because I was so horror struck at what was happening to him. I knew what was eventually going to happen, but my mind wasn’t ready to accept it. And then one day, it happened.
I saw his dead body being taken away, wrapped up in a white cloth, and orange garlands on it. As he was being taken away, I felt as if we were being punished for something. I had never known of the death of someone so close till that day, so it came as all the more shocking to me.
But life goes on. And it did. Though we felt his absense in the smallest of things. When my mother would ask me to bring the plates for dinner, I would always accidently take out six plates, and then with a heavy heart kept the sixth one back. There was always one cup less when tea was asked to be made. His signature doorbell ring was never heard of again. And his side of the bed was always empty.
As time went by, I began to appreciate the presence of my grand mother much more. I wanted to hear more and more of her life, and the lessons she had to teach us. I brought her a gift when I got my first salary. I made it a point to remember her birthday and bring a cake for her. And the smile on her face would be my reward. She would talk of death sometimes, and some days she was so ill that my heart would shrink at the sight of her. And I would only pray for her to stay with us a little longer. Everytime, just a little bit longer. But only if that longer could be extended till infinity.
Soon, unfortunately, that year dawned upon us, when she grew extremely weak. It was 2015, and she was 81 years old now. I wasn’t in India when my family celebrated her last birthday. It was in April, and I was in France. I saw their photos on facebook, and even though I didn’t knew it back then, I really felt like I was missing a major event. For it was never going to come again. .. Whenever we’d talk over the phone or skype, I’d talk to her in Punjabi. She knew I never talked in Punjabi, but I’d do with her, and I could sense that extra comfortability that she felt. Everytime I heard her voice, I would think of the day when I left for France, and the way she hugged me tightly with tears in her eyes. I knew why she was crying, and I knew I wanted to come back as soon as possible, and be able to hug her again.
I came back during the summer, but she was already too weak by then. She barely ate or drank. Whenever I saw her refusing to eat, I’d think of the times when she’d come to me with a 500 rupee note in her hand, saying, ‘Simran, lets get food from outside today since your mother hasn’t made anything exciting’ .. And we’d both giggle and ordered burgers and pizzas.
Now, she could hardly eat, and wasn’t able to walk. We’d take her to the washroom and our body would be supporting hers fully, for she couldn’t even stand. Seeing her like this was painful. But it was much more painful for her. What is one supposed to do in such a scenario. We want them to be relieved of this pain, but we don’t want them to leave us. But willingly or unwillingly, they do.
I remember that day. 4th of July 2015. She was in the hospital that morning, and the last time I met her, was in that hospital room. Her body as weak as one could imagine. Barely able to open her eyes, and move herself. I was with my mother, and she said to her, ‘It’s Simran.’ I then lay my head on her chest and hugged her. She lifted her right hand and carressed my back, saying, ‘I know.’ I couldn’t control my tears, as I can’t control them now, and I went outside.
She didn’t want to die in a hospital. She kept on repeating, ‘take me back home.’ So they started preparing to discharge her and I left for home with my aunt, waiting for her to get back.
Sometime later, in a moment I didn’t realise, she was breathing her last breaths in the car, in my mother’s arms, as they were just about to reach home. But she had already passed away by the time the car stopped in front of the house.
I saw her dead body being brought into the house. I watched as the women of the house washed the body. Lifeless. Pale. I knew she was somewhere around. I could sense her. I kept on hoping that I’d wake up from this nightmare, but the day went on.
That afternoon, I cried myself to sleep in her bed. And I had a dream. The strangest dream. She saw me crying and asking her to come back. She smiled at me and said – ‘Why are you crying!’. I said, ‘Because I’ll never see you again! Please just come back!’. She was still smiling, and said ‘You’re silly. Ofcourse we’ll see each other again. You’re all going to come here one day, where I’m going now. I’ll see you there then. Take good care of yourself.’ And I, still crying, said, ‘Take me with you now then.’
The body was to be preserved till the next day , till the grandsons came back home, since they were out of town. We didn’t sleep that night. Me and my cousin sisters sat up all night as guards to the lifeless body, chanting prayers, and I know that all of us in our hearts were still hoping to wake up from the nightmare that we were living. But the time went by, and soon, she was taken away.
I would never see that face again in this lifetime. She would never tell me those stories again, and she wouldn’t protect me from my mother’s anger. I wouldn’t make that sugarless cup of tea for her again, and I’d never hear the words – ‘Simran you make excellent tea!’ , from her again. The number of plates for dinner have reduced from five to four now. And the cups of tea as well.
We lost our childhood and the freedom to behave as 10 years olds in our 20s. Our parents always expect us to behave all grown up, but it was our grand parents who’d be completely happy and alright with us behaving as little kids, no matter how old we are! Indeed, they are ‘grand’, quite literally.
I hope they are happy wherever they are.
I miss you, daada and badimumma.