She is 93 or 94, maybe even older. Nobody knows her birthday. Or her parent’s names or lineage. The family simply knows her as ‘Paati’ (grandmother). I was never close to her. To tell you the truth, I was in fact a little wary of her sharp tongue and incisive words. Every we met she would tell me that I’ve grown darker and that my hair had thinned. Which made me angry, but which was, in all probability, the truth!
She was the typical old woman… she loved gossip – who married whom – against whose wishes – how many kids they had – one dark, the other fair, and so on. At 85, she was fit as a fiddle – she could still walk, climb stairs, and see everything clearly – things that were within eye range and way beyond! Which is certainly not the same I can say about myself. At 30+, I am terribly overweight and pant my life out to climb up just two flights of stairs!
Today she lies on a bed, weak, unable to move, unable to swallow. Still talking, enquiring about people the way she always does, (unintentionally) prying into things she has no business in, and reminiscing events – weddings, births, deaths – that occurred ages ago. Where she always took the trouble to be present, never once mentioning her small illnesses and discomforts. Of which we were ignorant, anyway!
Today she is in a world of her own. A world that is foreign to us, but one in which we still command a presence. Why ever not, for her entire life has revolved around us. She has seen every member of my family being born and growing up. Though we never cared to know much about her. And while we have made no place for her in our hectic life, we still are present in hers.
She has seen it all. The beginning of the century – the days of plenty. The days when she herself was a child, carefree and happy. She has survived the daunting phase of poverty, and the challenge of single-handedly bringing up eight children. And at the end of that tiring journey, she has also lived through the phase of being ‘unwanted’.
Today, as she lies in that bed, we squirm to see her suffer, and in our selfish interest, we want it to end. But then, in a remote corner of our heart, we want her to survive this too…. we want her and us, to escape the inevitable. We want her around just a little longer…until our children can grow up…until someone here gets married…or someone there has a child.
Because, the world isn’t so scary a place, if we can still make that weekly or monthly phone call to a ‘Mummy’ or a ‘Paati’ and unburden ourselves. If we can just talk about things as mundane as the grocery bill. And share our worries, without having to speak about it.
Today, as she withers away into a ‘certificate’ from the hospital, we want ‘her’ to take the enormous effort of consoling ‘us’. To say those words – ‘Don’t worry, everything is going to be Ok’, even if it really isn’t!
Because, as long as our elders are around, we can still, remain ‘children’. And Hope exists, for a happier Tomorrow. Till death finally do us part.
And life goes on.