I was raised in a middle class joint family far away from the city. My sister is 7 years elder to me. By the time I was in Std I, she was moved to the city to stay with my maternal grandparents as there was no good high schools in our place. Around the same time, Achan got promoted as headmaster and was transferred to distant locations. Most of my childhood memories are with my paternal grandmother and cousins.
My paternal grandmother is no more. Her only wish for all of her grandchildren was to find a job and be independent. Unlike the grandmothers of her age, she hardly spoke about getting married and raising the family. She herself is a ‘matriculation pass’. She lost her mother at a very young age. Being the eldest, she then played the role of a mother to her siblings.
My Achan is the eldest of her offsprings. He has two brothers and two sisters. She emphasised a lot on education and finding a govt job. Around a time when girls were married off as soon as they hit puberty, she ensured that her girls had professional degree and started earning enough to pay their bills, before they got married. It goes without saying that she was a rebel in the family and was told off for her choice. Just as she wished, four of her five kids are professionals and had government jobs.
My mother was her first daughter in law. Amma always recollects the initials days of her marriage. The house was a good old naalkettu. There was no attached toilet in the house. It was a few meters away from the house somewhere in the backyard. Though Achamma’s daughters were used to going to the bathroom with a lit up choottu (dry coconut leaves tied together which was used as a lamp), she insisted to build an attached bathroom before her daughter in law came in.
Amma just graduated before the wedding. Once she settled in the new house, Achamma and Achachan (paternal grandfather) insisted her to study further and get a professional degree in teaching. (Achachan passed away an year after my parents’ marriage. I love him so much through the stories I have heard of him.) With half a mind, Amma did her B.Ed from a college in Karnataka. (Amma was pregnant then. More on that later.) She joined a school the next year and served for 28 years. Not a day has passed in amma’s life without thanking her in-laws for pushing her to do B.Ed.
And then my sister was born. My paternal grandfather is from a royal family. Nobody of their generation ate non veg. My achan and his siblings started to eat meat when they moved to hostels in the city for higher studies. Nobody at home stopped them. Rather achamma asked them to eat whatever was served. She was the coolest grandmother anybody could ask for. No non veg was cooked at home until my sister was around three. She ate fish from my maternal grandparents’ house while visiting them and asked for it even at Achamma’s place. Achamma immediately asked the house help to go and get fish. She broke the ‘no non-veg at this house’ norms for her granddaughter. All she wanted us was to eat whatever we liked. Even though achamma never tasted any meat all through her life, she ensured that either fish or egg was cooked at home often for her grandchildren, DILs and later for her children too.
I have never seen her fight with any of her three daughters in law. She was more comfortable staying with her DILs than with her own daughters. After spending a week or two with her daughters, she insisted upon coming back to her DILs. She hardly complained about anything. One piece of advice she always gave us was to earn high marks. She had a reason for it. Since we are do not fall in the ‘reservation category’, scoring high marks was the only way forward to get a good job.
She was a happy healthy person. She took care of her grandkids as well as a great grand daughter. She had shiny black hair even in her 70s. She had the first grey hair only in mid 70s much after her children started dying their hair. BP, diabetes, cholestrol etc kept away from her because of her active lifestyle.
Alzheimer’s caught hold of her a few years back. Even then she was fun to be with. Year after year, it worsened. She lost her memory completely. It is a terrible disease. In the last stage, she couldn’t even recognise her kids or grandkids. We felt so good to have taken care of her til her last breath.
Whenever she could recognise me, her only question was whether I got a job. She passed away on the day I received my appointment letter to my first job. 🙂
More about her on another day.