Madhu did not grow up with a strong sense of attachment to her grandmother. Truth be told, the old, now fragile, woman was not her own grandmother but her mother’s aunt. Even so, she was the closest Madhu had, whom she could associate with being a grandparent. Grandmother turned 80 five years ago. And Madhu remembered the pictures her cousins had shared of the function, as she could not be there herself. Grandmother had looked beautiful in a purple sari and for a change, a perfectly matching blouse.
A flood of memories washed over Madhu as she remembered holidays during school years. The summers Madhu spent with her grandmother were memorable because Madhu was not nagged all day long to study but grandmother always had chores for her to do. Madhu was to clean the house, sweep the front yard and make a pretty pattern for a rangoli. She had to hang out clothes to dry and later fold them neatly, to put away. She was not expected to lend a hand in the kitchen, though.
Grandmother used to take Madhu to a lot of temples in the city- by a rickshaw on the rare occasion or more frequently, by town buses. Madhu was instructed not to share food or snacks with the friendly neighbours even if they dropped in unannounced, in the middle of her meal. Grandmother was very fond of television serials. She watched eight of them in a row. And for want of things to do, Madhu would be asked to sit with her on the mat in the living room to watch episode after episode of melodrama unfurl on the television screen.
Grandmother had the occasional doctor visit but was usually very healthy for a woman her age and managed her things by herself as grandfather had left her a widow at the tender age of nineteen, with no children, either. Grandmother lived in the ground floor of the house and usually let out the first floor to an orthodox, conventional and God fearing family. Her bank managers, temple trustees and the regular nurse brought services to her home so she didn’t have to travel much. She lived on the rent from letting out the first floor and grandfather’s pension.
Whenever grandmother did visit Madhu’s parents, she always got fruit (one kilogram of apples and one kilogram of oranges) and a frock for Madhu. The frock would usually not survive a second wash but Madhu did not understand why. Grandmother would boast about how well she bargained with the street vendor for the oh-so-beautiful frock and Madhu would stare at her in awestruck amazement as she added details to the conversation with a lot of animated anecdotes.
That was over sixteen years ago. Madhu had long since moved out of her parents’ home- initially for studies, later for work and eventually, marriage. Last year, grandmother fell ill seriously and could not live by herself anymore. Madhu’s parents brought grandmother home to nurse her back to good health. It was quite difficult for her parents to adjust to the whims and fancies of a woman who had lived by her own rules for well over six decades. Eventually, when Madhu’s parents had to leave town to keep other commitments, grandmother had to be left at an old age home.
When Madhu was informed of the decision, she felt crushed for a few days. Warm summer memories from her grandmother’s rustic village kept coming back to her. But soon, she understood that her parents did the best they could, when nobody else volunteered. She even looked up the old age home online and read amazing reviews about the place. It was a little comforting to know that grandmother was in good hands. She remembered the time when grandmother had got a new mobile phone and Madhu had helped input emergency contact numbers in Tamil and taught grandmother basic operations on it. Perhaps, she should input her own number when she visits grandmother.
On her next visit to the town, Madhu took her little daughter to see grandmother. Madhu’s daughter was grandmother’s oldest great-grandchild. The old age home smelled of disinfectants, cleaning agents and medicines. As the head nurse escorted Madhu to her grandmother’s room, familiar sights greeted Madhu- a neatly piled stack of religious books, a rosary atop the first book and a melodramatic mother- in-law scheming against her daughter-in-law on the television. A strong smell of incense took over the hospital like smell that dominated the world outside of the room. And on the cot, right in the middle, sat her grandmother, in a dull grey sari, with a mismatched blue blouse, frail and lean, cotton dressings covering her many medical scars and the warmest ever four-toothed smile.
After about ten minutes, Madhu had to take her leave. She remembered to ask for grandmother’s phone and add her contact details in Tamil. Grandmother seemed to have much to say and was cajoling her great-granddaughter into having a conversation with her. Madhu paid her respects by prostrating at her grandmother’s feet and handed over two bags of fruit. As she was about to leave the room, grandmother called out to her and asked to hold her hands. Madhu knew grandmother was really old, but when she held the old wrinkled hands in hers, she was taken aback and wondered how quickly time flew.
Grandmother was too proud, even today, to let herself cry in front of others. Grandmother held Madhu’s hands just a little longer and just a little tighter than she ever had and her grey eyes bore into Madhu’s. Perhaps, she was trying to say something or perhaps she was just drinking in the moment, not really knowing when she might see Madhu again or even if she ever will. She then pointed at something in the corner of the room. A fish shaped wooden case, to play an ancient game called pallankuzhi, lay on a suitcase. She told Madhu to teach the little one the game and said she’d love to play it one day when the child was old enough.
Madhu went home with a laden heart but also with the comfort of having introduced great-grandmother and great-granddaughter to each other. ‘Irrespective of the people we eventually turn out to be, who we were at a point in time in the past, does not change’, thus began her diary entry that night.