One of the most endearing images I have of my late Grandmother is the one of her being addressed to as a teacher whenever she visited my school. Forget the students, even some of the teachers would wish her, thinking she was a part of their fraternity – that was Grandma!
The funny part is that in actuality she was not a teacher. Grandma was born in a remote village in Kerala in a well-to-do tharavaad (ancestral Kerala home). Unfortunately, she was born at a time when Kerala was yet to attain the distinction of being India’s most literate state, and so she dropped out of school before completing her secondary education. After marriage to my late Grandfather, she shifted bag and baggage to the city of Bombay. For someone who was so far ensconced in the lap of luxury, the fact that she was resourceful enough to survive and succeed in this city still amazes me. Moving around for a few years and finally settling down in Sion, she remained a rock beside Grandpa all through the initial turbulence that Mumbai creates for all its immigrants.
She neither wore expensive sarees, nor used excessive jewelry, nor applied lipstick, but still managed to look majestic every time she stepped out of the house. She would apply a lot of powder on her face, make gracious use of perfumes and do her hair in a single plait (with a distinctive black ribbon), maybe as compensation for the lack of sartorial niceties. Since Grandpa was an extremely tall man, she was very conscious about her height, or lack thereof, but she more than made up for it with the confidence she exuded when they walked together. Though she did not know the English language and even her Hindi was as limited as it was accented, she had an amazing ability to reach out to total strangers and empathize with them – irrespective of the language barrier.
Grandpa was mildly short-tempered and relatively strict, but one loving look from Grandma and he would be putty in her hands. As kids, my sister and I have benefitted from this ability of hers, wherein we have managed to eke a lot of extravagances out of Grandpa. Every Sunday, they would trek from their home to our place and the trip to the local market was something that we siblings looked forward to. Grandpa was a voracious reader, reading anything from onerous fiction to light comic books and Grandma would religiously ensure that these books would be passed to me.
As far back as my memory goes, not once had she raised her voice or hand against either of us siblings. As a child, my vexatious antics have driven my parents up the wall on numerous occasions, but even such obnoxious behaviour never invited a rebuke or even a warning from Grandma. I was her favourite grand-child – maybe because I was the first-born or maybe because I was a puny little wimp then (yes I was). Whatever may be the case, she would make it a point to visit me in school almost every day during the lunch hour, feeding me with chocolates and biscuits in addition to other goodies. Since the school in Wadala was close-by, distance was not an issue, though I am sure that even if my school was at the other end of town, she would willingly have traversed that too. Her stately grace and composure led to her being wished like a school teacher during these visits. Her interaction with my school teachers was so courteous that almost all of them considered her to be a part of their community – of course I was the inadvertent beneficiary of this unusual camaraderie. Grandma was succor for all maladies that I harboured as a child. Being an irritable and obdurate child, my parents would injudiciously use hands and canes to drill their lessons of life into me. Every time I had these facepalm moments with my parents, I could turn to her shoulder to cry on. There have been countless occasions when she had been asked by my parents to keep away from such domestic intimidation sessions, but that never stopped her from trying to. She was too dear a soul to raise her voice against my father, but in her own way she would put her point across.
Grandma was an extremely patient lady. I would be annoying the hell out of all and sundry around me, but she would maintain her equanimity and slowly cajole me into calming down. In hindsight, when I think about these moments of my life, I realize how ridiculously puerile I was as a child. She was a competent story-teller and I still remember her telling me numerous stories, most of which were fantasies. Those stories have left such an indelible imprint on my mind that today when I make up stories to entertain my daughter, she finds it extremely amusing and equally fascinating. She was also highly trusting and a born do-gooder, always helping people monetarily or emotionally as and when needed. Grandpa being financially better off, money was never an issue, but I am sure even if we were economically strained, she would still have helped. Another quality of Grandma’s that I admire was her humility which ensured that despite the brickbats she received for her altruistic attitude, she never changed her optimistic outlook towards life. Many a times her trusting nature had landed her in a mess, but that never stopped her from aiding people. It was inherent in her that she would go out of her way to help others, as was her match-making skills, for which there are innumerable couples in our family who still thank her for getting them together.
There are so many of the virtues of Grandma’s that I want to imbibe (especially the patience and humility bits), but in this respect I still remain a woeful illiterate. If nothing else, I just pray that I just become as good a human being as she was. Time may have dissipated some of the remembrances of my dearest Ammamma, Padmavathi, but she led a charmed life and lived nobly. Angels like my Grandmother never die – they just become endless and joyous reminiscences that remain immortalized in our hearts forever…