My grandmother died at the age of 94 or 95. Nobody can really say what was her exact age when she passed away in 2004 because her birth was never officially recorded. And I have no solid information regarding her education qualification too. But she ruled everybody’s heart till she breathed her last. She was the star attraction of all our summer holidays as we always looked forward to visiting my mom’s ancestral place.
Her pickles were something to die for. The more one ate, the more one longed for it. Like most Indian grannies, she always carried a basket of stories with her. On hot summer nights, we all slept under the starlit sky and she mesmerized us with her stories. In between stories, she would break into a song and her magical voice would be like manna from heaven. She lived in a joint family with her sons, daughters-in-law and grandchildren. My summer holidays with her were one of the exciting points of my growing up years.
But then as the years passed by, my frequent visits to my granny’s house became infrequent. And then followed hostel life, limited days of holidays and pressures of studies, jobs and all that. My childhood years stayed with me like a beautiful memory. From Delhi, granny’s house really looked quite far.
It was not possible for her to attend my marriage as she couldn’t travel much at that time. But I wanted my husband to meet her (my husband right from the beginning was over-enthusiastic to meet my clan, extended clan and further extended clan. I am very different on this front) and he jumped at the idea.
So on a slightly cold November morning of 1998, we went to meet my grandmother. She was a little shy as my husband touched her feet as a mark of respect. Then with a cup of tea in my hand, I sat down to have a chat with granny. The first question she asked me “Where’s he from?” I told her “Kerala.” Then she asked me how many days it would take me if I take a train from Odisha (then Orissa) to Kerala. When she heard that it would be almost two days, she gave me one of those ‘where have you landed, my kid’ look and told, “Couldn’t you find somebody from Calcutta (Well, for Granny it was always Calcutta never Kolkata)?” I broke into laughter and was happy that granny had not lost her sense of humour.
But she just could not believe when she came to know that my husband is a vegan. Forget about fish or chicken, he doesn’t touch any milk products. That was too much for granny to digest. So as expected, she came up with a googly, “First you marry somebody from a far land. Then he doesn’t even eat fish or chicken What kind of a son-in-law is he?” But I just couldn’t control my laughter when she took me to one corner of the room and came up with this sixer in Chris Gayle style, “But tell me is he a kanjoos (miser) who wants to save money by not spending on chicken/fish/milk?”
Notwithstanding my husband’s aversion for animal products, she took an instant liking for him and every time he went to the backyard of the house to have a view of the river, she sent somebody to keep an eye on his safety. Even as she supervised my husband’s special vegan lunches and dinners, she told me, “Don’t force him to change his eating habits. That’s his way of life. And you also don’t change your eating habits and continue to enjoy all the fish and mutton curry you have grown up eating.” And then she added, “Problems in a marriage starts when you expect the partner to change for you and when you change your own self for your partner without wanting to do so. Have your own sense of pleasure and enjoy life’s pleasures as you want. Let him do so also.”
That was my important lesson in giving space in relationships and retaining your individuality. I have always followed her golden words of wisdom so far as my husband’s vegan diets are concerned. After 18 years of my married life with a vegan, I still love my share of gosht biryani and at the same time, I enjoy cooking rajma chawal for my hubby on Sundays. And now 12 years after her death, sometimes I think, granny could have been a good marriage counsellor and probably earned a lot of money too.