October 2007
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Memories of Ma, my grandmother


Memories of Ma, my grandmother


Ma, that is how we called her. This word was exclusively reserved for her, while we had options available to choose for our mothers. We were more than half a dozen and played throughout the day, in and around my grandpa’s government quarters in a small town in the north Bihar. So many cousins, we never asked for more. We played, made fun, ran, looked inside the well, and formed strategies to tackle the witch that wandered after Indira Gandhi was killed! And we were proud of our Ma.


My grandmother was born in the eastern UP in a well off family. She studied till I don’t know which class, but she could read and write. Her marriage with my grandfather was definitely very early. We came to know that she was extremely beautiful in her younger days, her name of Chandravati was only a hint. Even in her olden days, whenever there was a photo shoot, she looked a class above from her daughters in law. She was a proud mother of six sons and one daughter, something that today’s Harvard-educated parents won’t find easy to manage. Most of her children got educated till masters and are well settled. She had slightly autocratic style of leadership. And this was supported by the fact that my grandpa respected almost all her decisions and argued only on rare occasions. But I think her intuitions were correct most of the times.


My earliest memories would go to those evenings, when we would fix the marigold flowers in place of her ear-rings. Her ear-piercing were very big and fixing flowers in those made us crazy. Then came the days when grandpa was retired and went to our three storey building, rare in those days, in Muzaffarpur. She gave up doing the daily work, and mostly spent her days in front of the TV, or on the balcony watching the traffic. Every summer vacation, when we would go there, we would find her in the same place. Later on, she suffered from motiabind (night blindness). (Apart from this, she never had any ailment or health problem in her entire life; not even a single skin eruption.) After that, she reduced her TV mania and spent time in the balcony, or guiding and instructing others. She was definitely smart. She read it out for us what came on the TV, and even understood things. She asked us about our studies, and understood well whatever we said. Even in her older days, when she was not well, she asked me about my engineering, classes and studies, and understood things. She always spoke bhojpuri, while we answered in Hindi.


Then one day, we lost our grandpa. He was suffered from high blood pressure, and that day he suffered brain haemorrhage. He was kept on life-support system for about a week, and then one night he took his last breath. During those days, all our extended family was there and waited for the good news. I still remember that one moment, when telephone had ringed and I had gone to attend it. As I came back to the first floor, grandma came out to enquire; her face waiting for some good news, her open hair, I still remember that sad moment. But she always was a brave women, I don’t remember her broken or weeping at any moment even in those days.


People insensitively remarked that she won’t live much after grandpa was no more. But she lived more than ten years after that. Grandpa had not done us good by leaving at only 70. She attended the marriage of her most loving granddaughter – my elder sister. And she was happy with the arrangements, and remarked that Mishir, my father had really spent something on the marriage. She was happy. Why she loved my elder sister was no secret – both were alike on many aspects. Sis was the eldest daughter in her generation, and Ma had brought the baby up with her massages and love. Both had many similarities in personalities.


Even in her older days, she enjoyed paan, with jarda. Her last days though, were not that peaceful; as she had some ‘differences’ with the daughter-in-law she had to live with. But even then she showed who the Boss was!


She had become weak then. Also, due to her eye-ailment, she was almost blind; and doctors had asked not to go for operation in that age. A maid was kept to take care of her. One night, there was darkness and the maid was not around. She walked alone and fell down. Her leg was broken, and she was bed-ridden. She couldn’t walk after that unfortunate night. She was not able to see, and even not able to move her body. But when we went to meet her, she recognised my father, and another uncle. We were touched. But even then she defied the pessimists. She survived and fought for many months after that. Then one day, she passed away in her sleep. I couldn’t immediately reach her, as I was appearing for my final year exams of engineering. But I went there for her thirteenth day, and took part in the mass-feast that was offered at our village. It was a massive feast, people kept coming and it was past mid-night that we stopped. A king size farewell for a king size life she led.