Sunday, September 18, 2011

The pillar falls

My Sunday seemed to have started nicely with a yummy breakfast at my favorite joint with friends after a tiring workout. When I saw papa's call on phone I thought it was one of those regular calls to check my plans for the day. But the news left me numb. My grandma passed away. I listened in silence, suppressed the overwhelming emotions inside me as I didn't want to spoil the mood of the group.

Emotions took the better of me by the time I reached home. I broke down. She was the last one of that generation in my family. With her going, not only one entire generation is gone but also many untold stories and struggles that laid the foundation on which we built our lives today. "Maamma" as we all called her endearingly, was the pillar of strength to all of us and led by example on how to live with dignity. Her life was no less than a female oriented Bollywood movie which experienced every ordeal that was ever scripted.

The dusky village lass fluttered many a heart with grey-green eyes, chiseled features well set on defined cheekbones and jawline and carved body. Widowed in her early 30's she defied every rule and norm in the village to feed her 6 children and mom-in-law. The docile woman who was enjoying being the lady of the house was forced to step out of the house and work shoulder-to-shoulder with men in fields. She used to stay away from home for days together and walked many kilometers selling goods from village-to-village. I spent long hours listening to granny whenever she visited us. I remember she telling me once, "I didn't have the time to mourn your grandpa's death. If I broke down what would've happened to everyone who was dependent on me? You know even when I thought there was no way out I never thought of dying." Such was her determination.

She was illiterate, couldn't recognize numbers or count money but she took up every sundry job to keep the hearth warm. Over the years, she emerged as a shrewd businesswoman who gave every man in the village a run for his money. She endured extreme poverty and enjoyed lavish lifestyle with same grace. "I never imagined I would see this life when I was struggling to stay afloat. Such were the testing times that I thought life would be degraded to abysmal depths," she said while narrating one such incidence.

Life kept snatching her loved ones but she kept going. She cremated her 2 grown-up sons, daughter, son-in-law and grandsons. She performed final rites of a homeless who took refuge in her house. She stood by the people who believed in her. She drew flak from villagers but unfazed she moved on. She stood tall in the male bastion, earned respect and lived with dignity.

Maamma had the habit of licking palms while bidding goodbyes. As kids we used to run away to avoid her licking our palms at the end of summer vacations. The belief behind it is the person whose palm is being licked will never forget her. Yesterday, she licked my uncle and aunt's palms as she knew it was time for her to go. For the first time I regretted for living so far away. I regretted for not being there to be licked by her. I regretted for not licking her palm so that even when she is crossing over to the other world she shouldn't forget me.

At the same time it was a relief that she was, finally, liberated from her 2-year long suffering. It was a relief for everyone around her who couldn't bear to see her suffer with helplessness. It was a relief that she breathed her last in a warm bed amid her loved ones after spending many cold nights building her life.

Maamma, you will be remembered as a brave woman who defined her own destiny. Even though I am going to miss your hearty laughs, your funny quips and antics, you will always be a source of inspiration for me and everyone who knew you.

Maamma, I'll love you always and forever.