Sunday, August 24, 2008


And so passes a doyen

My grandmother, a feisty, petite, fair lady with black hair and green eyes lay down her life to a mixture of Alzheimer's, paranoia and old age.

A wife of a freedom fighter, amma had stood alongside her husband in his ahimsa struggle against the British rule. Post independence, she did oppose his entering the politics, claiming that the family had to give up a lot, since he was inherently honest. An honest politician is a poor one. I always had a feeling that she secretly was proud of the fact.

I was born in a dark corner room at her home in Kerala. It was also the home of most of my childhood summers.

The train from Bombay would arrive at Trichur around 4 am. My grandfather would be at the station to pick us up, and take us home, past coconut palm dotted river banks and dancing paddy fields, all which would be shadows in the dawn. My grandma would rush to open the wooden door and welcome us in for the summer, eyes twinkling. She would hug me and I would sink my head deep into her sandalwood paste fragrant soft cotton mundu.

After lunch most days, she would pull out one animated story after another from her never-ending bag of tales. Scenes from the Mahabharata and Ramayana would come to life. She was the only person who ever read aloud to me. The way she pulled out her rattly little box from under the bed, you would think it held treasures. Actually, it did. All those old books, almost tattered from extensive use.

She used to have another trunk of treasures in the kitchen. A huge wooden box was her pantry and she would make sure there were enough goodies for us kids for the entire summer. Appams, jackfruit and plantain chips, rose cookies, cashewnuts, mangoes and several types of bananas. This, apart from the sumptuous meals that she would cook. Her culinary skills were excellent. All her food had her distinct touch, flavors enhanced from cooking on her wood fired stove.

Some mornings, we would walk with her to the jackfruit tree in her backyard to collect wide leaves to make spoons, to eat rice gruel with. The leaves lent a nice faint fresh fragrance to the gruel, making it an extremely satisfying meal.

So many random memories fly about..

I can still see her removing the coir husk off a coconut and opening it with merely one whack of her heavy knife.

I can still relive the wonder when she would give me the several dainty bead purses she would make during the hot afternoons.

I can still remember her chasing me around the house with coconut oil in her hands. "How will you get beautiful hair if you hate oiling it, Sangi mon! How??"

She was a quirky lady quite ahead of her times, who believed in the equality and power of the woman. And of the power of the word. Well read, she could recite poetry and shlokas in Sanksrit as if it was her native language. Her tongue was known all over to be extremely sharp and there were several who would shudder to face her in an argument.

This fiery lady finally in the end of her days succumbed to Alzheimer's. Someone who could recite complicated Sanskrit shlokas did not remember if she ate her breakfast or not. All her children and relatives had faded past recognition. It felt like a rude twist of fate.


I woke up, startled and with my heart thudding away loudly. Something had happened, someone had beckoned. It was a little past three am. Something was not at all alright. I groped around in the dark, finally found the phone and dialed the one number etched in my brain. My brother picked up his phone. "Dont worry chechi, its going to be ok, get back in bed" and he spoke gently to me till I could calm down. It was just about 20 minutes later that he called me back. "Chechi, it has happened, Amma passed away, just about half hour ago" I lay in the dark thinking she had perhaps thought of me on her way out.

Amma had once told me about an out of body experience she had. One afternoon, she had fainted, probably due to overexertion. She told me that she felt she was floating through an iridescent tunnel path towards this source of light at the end of it. It was so peaceful and beautiful and she wanted to go on and on. She felt Lord Krishna beckoning her. Then suddenly she had to return, unwillingly. And she woke into the world, staring back at the numerous faces trying to revive her. Ofcourse I did not believe her. "It is too fantastic. It is too surreal. Amma, its all in your mind"

And yet now, I want to believe it. I want to believe that her passing was through an irridescent tunnel into the peace she was seeking.

Those who have passed have gone forward on their journey. We who are left behind, mourn and then go on with our lives, feeding our mortal need and wants. And sometimes, when triggered, we slip into the wonderful land of memories where we have stashed away the sights, sounds and smells of our childhood, our youth, and little pieces from the lives of people who have walked with us. The the land of immortality, it is where those we love, live forever for us whenever we want to visit. And through this past we can dare to face the future.


  1. I am sorry chechi, I couldn't read it fully (Actually I can't). I don't know from where the sadness rushes in to my heart and just I can't read it more!

  2. A heart wrenching piece of wonderful writing.

  3. Sangita, Such a moving eulogy to a well-loved woman. You describe her so beautifully. I am sure she must have been really proud of you.

  4. Thank you, Vaishali, but I am not that worthy. She was such a beautiful lady.

  5. Sangi,So sorry to hear about your grandma, remember you speaking so much about her, Amma am sure was really proud of you, as you were of her. Really a warm and moving writeup.

  6. A touching tale. I also really miss the old days and my grandma after reading this.


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