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To each his own

Discussion in 'Stories (Fiction)' started by twinsmom, Jan 15, 2010.

  1. twinsmom

    twinsmom Silver IL'ite

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    I scrambled up into the train as it just started shuddering its way out of the station. Lifting my shoulder bag from where I had thrown it inside, and slinging my huge hand bag back to its customary place under my arm, I pushed open the door to the chair car section and made my way to my seat – 9W the window seat as I had requested and booked. I slung the shoulder bag on the luggage rack up ahead and sank into the new brown rexin seat of the newly introduced Intercity Express from my hometown to Bangalore.
    I tried to catch my breath. The frantic rush to the station and the sense of foreboding I had undergone on seeing the train move even as I reached my compartment, made me realize once again that I should stop making a habit of cutting it too fine every time I travel. Only, this time I’d point an accusing finger at my mom’s sentimental farewell rituals than on my customary casualness. Talking of mom’s sentimental antics, what was it that she had thrust into my handbag as I hugged her?
    I was about to open my gigantic Nine West handbag, when a Batman-like shadow fell on me. Looking up I saw the TTE hovering about waiting for me to hand him my ticket for crosschecking with his almost empty sheet of reservations. It being the weekday, the compartment was very sparsely filled. Good, I thought, stuffing the initialed ticket into the folds of the handbag’s innards, I am in no mood for crowd and company. Blessedly, the seat next to me was vacant and I hoped it would stay that way.
    Once the Ticket Examiner moved ahead with his duty, I trained my attention back to my handbag and delved into its yawning cavities that held something my mom had stuffed inside. I was curious to know what it was. “It is for you,” she had murmured, “ from her.”
    The ‘her’ here was my paternal grandma who had 13 days back succumbed to old age, a good 90 years. I was rather attached to her, though I used to often fight with her during my rebellious teenage years… a continuation of my defiant childhood days. She had been ailing for a while now and I was grown up enough to realize that death was a blessed release for her from being dependent on others, from the little incurable maladies that comes with age, from the sense of frustration that envelops you as you lay there watching the world move by…race by, rather, by your bed.
    ‘Spunky’ is the word that comes to my mind when I recall my Paatti till a decade back. She was so unlike other grandmothers, believe me, I have had a wide variety of friends in my 18 years to know that. While my friends’ grandmothers doddered about in white and pastel shaded sarees, mine would majestically parade around in oranges and magentas. While other grandmas enjoyed Sabudhana Khichdis and porridges and observed various vraths, mine blatantly stated that she preferred a packet of noodles or even a slice of pizza. So what’s wrong, you might ask… nothing except that we belonged to a traditional Brahmin family, ruled by the iron fisted patriarchs. They set the rules, the menus, the curfews. Nobody dared to flout those rules. Nobody, except in my eyes, my grandma… and this got my goat so early in life that I started looking at whatever she did with jaundiced eyes.

    My childhood had been a long battle with the authoritarian triumvirate of grandfather, father and uncle. They decided and controlled all the actions of us, children, especially girls.
    We kids were expected to be back from playing before 6 in the evening and had to wash our feet and sit in front of the lamp in the puja room, the hand written prayer book copies open in front of us. Grandfather would chant all Sanskrit slokas and we’d chant with him. My mother would be there to correct us whenever we mispronounced and to knock us on the heads with her knuckles whenever we gave in to bouts of giggles that seemed to erupt on hearing particular words. I was the recipient of maximum ‘kizhukkus’ on the side of my head as I had one funny bone too many in my body and made everyone break into laughter with my uncontrollable chuckles and giggles.
    What used to annoy me at the time was that grandma never attended any of these sloka- bhajan sessions. She would either go and sit in the garden or potter about in the kitchen. It made me even more rebellious. I was at the most difficult of my teenage years, finding fault with all the actions of all the adults around me. The fact that Grandma escaped the 2 hour ordeal in the name of religion when everyone, even the visiting aunts and cousins were expected to join, made me angry.
    Once I even boycotted the session, opting to stay with my grandma, defying summons from grandpa and mother and finally even my father. I hid in the barn, when my grandma murmured to me to run and hide. I was punished for my transgression, I had to go to bed without dinner – Chapathi and Aloo curry, my favourite – after a grand dressing down from grandpa and my father and given a taste of knuckles instead of good night hug from mother. I knew I had better toe the line… calling grandpa Hitler hadn’t been sensible at all…and shouting at the men that I didn’t like their double standards in allowing Grandma whatever she wanted to do. How could they allow her to be an atheist? She never prayed to any God. Nor did she pray in temples. I knew she avoided temples as much as possible. My saying all such things seemed to aggravate my father’s ire and he glared at my mother who, yanked me by my plait, and pinched my arm. As I lay hiccupping my unshed tears, I decided to defy the adults like Grandma did.
    But I guess I was too yellow to actually do it. So I spent my childhood and teenage years repeating hundreds and thousands of times the Sanskrit slokas invoking various Gods. By the time I left for my hostel stay for my Engineering studies, I could recite from memory, Vishnusahasranamam, Suprabhatham, and a dozen other long drawn invocations. As a child I had questioned Grandma about her indifference to prayers and she had just smiled and patted my head, saying I was too young to understand and that she’d tell me when time comes.
    Time never came. When I grew up, the intrusion of TV into our lives made sea -changes in our lives. Also, tuitions, home work and assignments excused us from the daily long prayer routines. As the evening lamp was lit we’d just customarily prostrate before the dozens of gods and mutter a quick prayer (mostly personalized pleas to get a holiday even by the death of some minister or great man, or to get a particular exam postponed or such trivial matters) before disappearing into our rooms while grandpa listened to M. S. Subbalakshmi’s recital of Vishnusahasranamam on a CD player. Mother would go about doing her evening chores waiting for father to come home from his busy days of work, chanting the same while, Grandma, as usual lolled about in the chair outside watching the world go by our gate.
    A couple of weeks back, that practice came to an end. Grandma passed away in her sleep. She didn’t suffer too much, as I had imagined as a child she would, for being so blatantly irreligious. Grandpa had found her sleeping her eternal sleep and quietly told my mother who was in the kitchen preparing coffee.
    We had all got together for her last rites and paid respects. After 13 days, I had to return to work. As I fell at Grandpa’s feet, he lifted me up and hugged me. “She had wanted me to give you something. Your mother has it,” he said.
    The train had picked up speed. The buildings and other landmarks of Ananthpur were left behind; now trees and plants hurried past my window. Usually, I love peering out of the window at the world muted in tones by the double glass of the AC coach , but today I was distracted. I rummaged inside my handbag and struck gold, so to say. It was a bundle tied in a piece of red silk. With trembling fingers I undid the knot. It was an old box, square in shape. As a child, I used to hang around Grandma, while she opened her huge rosewood almirah. It smelt of spices, a combination of cloves and cardamom. It was a place of intrigue and secret for me. No one was allowed to open it, not even my mother. On special festival days, Grandmother would open it and take out her jewellery and wear it with great pride. She would let me wear a pearl necklace or a waist belt when I was a little girl. As I grew up, I lost interest in her treasures, as I was lost in my own world of books, science and technology. Now the box intrigued me once again. The spicy smell transported me to the world of my childhood.
    The box was an old, very old, biscuit tin. On the lid was the coronation picture of Queen ElizabethII. She and the Duke of Edinburgh looked rusted and faded. There was a long slit on the lid carefully made with some tool so that the figures on the lid were not disfigured.
    With a palpitating heart I pried open the lid which came out with a grating sound. As I removed the lid, the contents spilled over from the box, on to my lap and to the floor, at my feet. There were hundreds and hundreds of small pieces of papers, folded into two. I opened one. It said, “ God, Let Ajay be selected in the cricket team.” Another said,” God, Anusha is suffering from Chicken Pox. Let her recover soon, and without any marks on her beautiful face.” One said,” God, my Bhuvana’s has lost her father. Give her strength to bear her loss.” I opened as many as 50 papers, each one held a petition to God for something for some member of our family, never anything for herself. Tears started pouring from my eyes as I read her prayers… her private prayers to her God, on our behalf. I felt mean and small. I picked up all the pieces from the floor of the compartment and stowed everything into the box and closed it. People were now staring at my tearful face. Under the box there was a diary, fifteen years old. An envelope was inside it.
    With trembling fingers I opened the diary on the page where the envelope was held with a piece of cello tape. 26th February . In her small neat handwriting she had written: “ Today, Anusha threw a tantrum in the evening. She doesn’t like sitting for hours repeating prayers loudly. And she wants to know why her grandmother has allowances while the kids are severely disciplined. Good question. But when I tried to explain to her, she lashed out at me. I guess she is too young to understand. I hope she’ll understand when she grows up. “I looked at the envelope. Eager to know the long secret I tore the envelope open and took out a single sheet of paper. It was a letter addressed to me.

    [FONT=&quot] Ananthapur[/FONT]
    [FONT=&quot] 26th February 1991 [/FONT]
    [FONT=&quot]My dear Anusha,[/FONT]
    [FONT=&quot]You’ll probably get this after my death. I am going to tell your Grandfather to hand this over to you one day, when you are mature enough to know the answers to the questions that have tormented your childhood evenings or when I die. I want to share my life story with you.[/FONT]
    [FONT=&quot]Anu, I lost my mother when I was just two years old. My father was working for UNICEF and I was put in a boarding school in Scotland while he was posted in African countries where there was a lot of tribal wars and turmoil. I spent all my formative years in the company of the nuns who ran the St. George’s School for Girls in Edinburgh. [/FONT]
    [FONT=&quot]When I was fifteen, my father was injured in an inter tribal war and had to return to India. I returned with him and found myself in a very alien motherland called India. Though I had learnt the language with a private tutor at the insistence of my father, I really felt culturally alien. I was studying in Madras when I met your grandfather in a meeting of the Theosophical Society. Well, we liked each other and with my father’s approval, we got married. Marriage once again transformed me to strange place and I found it very difficult to adjust to the utterly traditional environment. Luckily, your grandfather got a project in Singapore and we both shifted there. [/FONT]
    [FONT=&quot]We had to return during the WW II. By then I had become a mother of three and settled down in life. However my greatest handicap has been my inability to participate in pujas and prayers, the kind undertaken in your grandfather’s house. Your Grandfather has always been a fair man and early in our married life he had promised not to force me into anything I was not comfortable with; hence his leniency to me during prayer times. He, however, wanted to make sure that his children were devout Brahmins. I did not mind that. Your mother is a very religious too, so she continued your Grandfather’s ways. My children know about me too and have accepted me for what I am. [/FONT]
    [FONT=&quot]It is not that I don’t believe in God or prayer. But since I never learnt any of the sacred Sanskrit chants, and since I was unused to such prayers, I stayed out of it. But I have been praying to God, my personal God without any religious tags attached to Him… and I have often turned to him for advice and help. I want you to know this. I thought I would give this to you on after your marriage, but in case I die before that, I have left instructions with your Grandfather to hand this over to you.[/FONT]
    [FONT=&quot]I am sure your question has been answered. And, I hope you understand. One word of advice, Anu darling! One should not be too judgmental in life about others. People are what they are for reasons best known to them. There is a saying ‘To each his own’ which means that one should let each person have his viewpoint or opinion about things. I have followed this in life. Try it and you’ll be happier for it.[/FONT]
    [FONT=&quot]I love you very dearly and wish all good things for you. God ( yours, mine or any) bless you. [/FONT]
    [FONT=&quot]Affectionately yours,[/FONT]
    [FONT=&quot]Grandma[/FONT]

    I wiped my wet cheeks with the back of my hand. The train would reach my destination in another 4 hours. Plenty of time for me fathom my grandma’s love for us. With a peaceful heart, I opened the box again to seek solace in the sincere and devout prayers of an extraordinary woman.
     
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  2. natpudan

    natpudan Gold IL'ite

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    Twinsmom,

    What a Grandma, What a Wisdom.

    I really underwent the same experience you did while reading the bits & pieces of grandma's letter to god - yours or hers and while reading the diary & the letter to you.

    Though your grandpa was strict with you all, since grandma & grandpa had a good understanding, he never forced her into anything.

    Amongst human beings or between human beings & god (for those who believe in), the key element is the understanding of each other.

    She has been very particular that one day you understand her, by way of reading her letter and that too made sure grandpa passes it on to you, amazing understanding, commitment, love & affection.

    In this fast paced world, we seek answers then & there - like doing it on google: why grandma kept away from prayers? and there you go hundreds of links.......

    Really you expressed your feelings well. great twinsmom.

    (I didn't read this as a story, I felt it as a true story of yours - such was the narration).
     
    Last edited: Jan 15, 2010
  3. twinsmom

    twinsmom Silver IL'ite

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    Hi natpudan,
    You have paid me a very high compliment indeed. It is absolute fiction, though the prayer sessions are from my own childhood... I never resented it. I enjoyed it. And the giggling part.... it is true till today. Even now, when I am with my brothers and sister, their families and my parents we laugh soooooooooo much on trivial matters...
    Thank you. Both my grandmas were devout old darlings...
     
  4. Mindian

    Mindian IL Hall of Fame

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    dear twinsmom,

    i just loved this "fabricated" grandma of yours..you know something, she is very much like me..i too cannot do without GOD but till date have not managed to recite a single slokam,because i feel there is no use reciting some verses without knowing its meaning...though i keep playing cassettes as i feel it will cleanse the atmosphere:) i talk to GOD in the language that I am most familiar with :)

    It is not that I don’t believe in God or prayer. But since I never learnt any of the sacred Sanskrit chants, and since I was unused to such prayers, I stayed out of it. But I have been praying to God, my personal God without any religious tags attached to Him… and I have often turned to him for advice and help. I want you to know this. I thought I would give this to you on after your marriage, but in case I die before that, I have left instructions with your Grandfather to hand this over to you.
    I am sure your question has been answered. And, I hope you understand. One word of advice, Anu darling! One should not be too judgmental in life about others. People are what they are for reasons best known to them. There is a saying ‘To each his own’ which means that one should let each person have his viewpoint or opinion about things. I have followed this in life. Try it and you’ll be happier for it.


    I just LOVED the above lines...not being judgmental is the greatest thing that you can do for yourself and others..

    Great one from you:thumbsup

    viju, today i also stumbled on your post after your FIL'S demise..I did not want to open it lest it makes you grieve all over again but just wanted to say you are a terrific writer and an even greater human being..just LOVED your relationship with your late FIL and a little envious :) since mine passed away even before my marriage .
     
    Last edited: Jan 17, 2010
  5. Tubelight

    Tubelight Bronze IL'ite

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    For a work of fiction this story is wonderfully detailed with true-to-life situations, emotions and reactions. I would love to have had a Grandmother like her.
    But perhaps, if we really cared to look into the person we always take for granted, we're sure to find a precious soul .
    Now I miss my late :cry: grandma !
     
  6. Meenupanicker

    Meenupanicker Senior IL'ite

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    Dear twinsmom
    I also felt myself back to childhood and then near my grandma.Although my grandma is not exactly the same there are similiar elements.My grandma always wear colourful sarees ,and ornaments matching them which make her the special attraction of all our functions.She is modern in her thoughts and ideals.At times we used to trim our long hair when we go to her house whereas my mother didn't permit us.
    Thankyou very much your story .I enjoyed your style of narration and felt this is your story
     
    Last edited: Jan 26, 2010
  7. SuccessMinded

    SuccessMinded Gold IL'ite

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    Nice one... to not be judgemental of anyone..
     

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