Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Silver-haired angels with wrinkled smile

Some people disappear from your life and every time you think of them you feel a longing sense of loss that how nice it would have been if the person was still around. There are some others who leave an immense joy of having them in your life, long after they are gone. Lives worth celebrating... That's what grandparents were to me - silver-haired angels with wrinkled smile.

It's been three years since I lost my maternal grandmother. I don't remember a single instance when she was not smiling - a smile that emanated from her heart and touched her eyes. She smiled gleefully whenever we grandchildren were around her. During my school days, all grandchildren - six of us then - would spend at least a week with her. We thought she had a magic wand that made her food tastier than what our mothers made. We'd go back and ask our Amma: "why don't you make this like Ammumma does?"!

The smile that kept us with her
As an adolescent and an adult, I felt that a woman's success depended on the milestones she achieves in her career. I never felt anything great in spending whole life cooking for children and looking after the family. But when I look at my Ammumma's life, the values she gave us just being a wife, mother and grandmother, I'm humbled. She didn't study beyond upper primary, she never had financial independence, she didn't have a social status other than being Krishnan Nair's wife. She  taught me through her life that how a woman can achieve so much without even having seen a college in her life. She commanded respect of all in the family with her good nature and warm smile.  

I have never seen her annoyed or frustrated other than while having silly fights with Appuppan. At the end of the fight when the frail old man laughed loud, she would scowl at him for annoying her for nothing. It was Appuppan's fun game in front of grandchildren... to show us that their grandma could fight too!

I have never seen her rest other than while sleeping at night. Even after her swollen arthritic legs prevented her from even stepping out of the house, she never denied us the opportunity to relish grandma's goodies. How much ever work she did, she was always as fresh as a lilly. Always clad in Ujala-white mundu and blouse, her routine started with some exercises inside the room in the mornings, preparing breakfast for Appuppan by 8am, washing,  cleaning, making lunch, taking bath and reading newspaper in the afternoons on the parapet on the work area behind the kitchen where she spent most of her life... Evenings she would take care of her plants, water them, pull out weeds... 

As she grew old, she was confined mostly to her room and drawing area. But that didn't stop her from giving us more moments to cherish. The Vishu Kaineettam that would wait for me even till the month of August if I don't make it for the festival in April, the long prayers for my safe journey in front of the photos of gods in her room (some of them cut from magazines and pasted on cardboard) when I start for home from Bangalore, hopeful eyes glued to the pathway through the windows, the frail hands holding mine tight with eyes sparkling with joy of having me near her, words of concern for my health as I stay alone in a far away city, the reassurances that her gods would protect me from all evils, and finally, a request to visit her once more before I left for Bangalore after my holidays...and, when I leave, the white-clad frail figure that waves at me from the window till I disappeared from her eyes... Beyond all, the strongest bond that I ever experienced...

Ammumma and Appuppan lived together for over 50 years, through which she showed us how to love unconditionally. Whenever I visit them, Appuppan would accompany me back till the paddy fields that I've to cross to get back home. During the short walk, he would say: "Mole, you should study well and get a job. These days, women are not respected at their husbands' place if they don't have a job. When you grow up, study well and get a job, Appuppan will see it all from heaven..."

I would interfere saying, "No way, you will see it here only". He would refute with a loud laugh saying, "No no... I won't be here then..."  He was farsighted. He was not around even to see a single grandchild finished studies and got a job.

The image of the tall dark frail figure with glistening silver hair, clad in white jooba (the kurta Appuppan wore), holding a walking stick, waiting for me to cross the paddy field and get to the other side, is still fresh... He would wait till I waved at him signalling him to go.

Appuppan would claim he has 500 stories in his pocket and we'd flock around him. How easy it was for him to get us behave with the story-lure till the time we got to bed! He wouldn't disappoint us.. one from the stock of 500 would come out at bed time!

Though the time I spent with my paternal grandparents was less, it was not any less warm. Even when I call Ammumma (paternal) to inquire about her health, she would forget all that and go on advising me: "Have a glass of milk everyday; oil your hair properly, it was thinning last time you came; chop small onions, fry it in ghee, mix with rice and have it. You won't have any indigestion problems;..."

During our vacations with them, Appuppan (paternal) taught me to write neatly. The aroma of bhasmam (ash) he'd apply on forehead and arms after a bath with Margo soap is lingering fresh on my nose tip! We would crush arecanut for him in the tiny grinding stone there for him to chew with betel leaves. Chewing that, he would lay on his easy-chair, with a wooden plank kept across on which he would keep his papers and pen. I still treasure the Parker pen and the Chelpark ink bottle gifted by Appuppan who authored many books.

I may never stop missing them but will be grateful forever to have had them around for so many long years.