There is a curious sense of satisfaction to be derived from the company of the elderly. Perhaps it’s the novelty of hearing about figments of the past that find no existence in the present, or mere enjoyment of the simple (but long lost) act of story-telling. There is also the unmistakeable appeal of old world innocence, of a time when life was not necessarily easy, but somehow less complicated. But really, I think what really attracts us to elderly interactions boils down to listening to the wisened perspective of someone;
a) Who is at ease with who they are and is utterly and totally unapologetic about it
b) Who has the authority to tell you not to sweat the small stuff and to tell you about the truly important things in life because they’ve been there and done that. All with an added gentle touch of course, because life has taught them to be kind.
Plus, I think we can all agree that sitting down next to our Paatis* while munching on homemade murukkus* as they narrate tales of their yesteryear adventures (and misadventures) rates highly on the spectrum of comforting things. As someone who has had the privilege of growing up in the presence of both my grandmothers, I’ve heard my fair share of vintage tales (i.e. the classic “Never Saw Your Grandfather’s Face Till Our Wedding Day” or “I Went To School By Walking Over Mountains And Rivers” and even the “I Never Wore The Diamond Earrings My Mum Gave Me As Dowry To Get Back At My Mother-In-Law For Asking For A Stupid Dowry In The First Place”). Recently though, Amma told us all to get our house ready because Kanthi Maami was coming over for the weekend and I knew my collection of vintage tales was about to expand exponentially.
Lovingly known as Kanthi Maami to all and cherished for her gentle nature, Maami was in her eighties and looked like any other grandma would. It only took me a few minutes once she was settled in though, to realise that she was no ordinary grandma. She started her narration with the story of how she got married, titled “Have you ever heard of a ponnu parkaal* where the bride travels to the groom’s house because the groom refuses to get married?”. Her eyes, widened with a combination of annoyance and disbelief, coupled with her intonations as she explained that she was made to sing, not once but twice for her prospective in-laws (two of whom were Kalakshetra* trained vocalists) was incredibly cute, to say the least.
She had lived through an era of early British Colonialism in India, something I had only really seen depicted in Bollywood movies before. Her father was one of the esteemed lecturers at Oxford and Stanford which was impressive enough in itself I suppose, but what really intrigued me was that Maami herself was one of the few women of her time to complete post-graduate studies before she got married in the 1940’s. Her command over the English language was impeccable and her grasp of modern day general knowledge could put most of us to shame. The most inspiring thing about Maami however, had nothing to do with her access to education, or a privileged lifestyle embellished with the wealth of culture and tradition. It was her love and unbreakable spirit that shone through and left an indelible impression on us all. She still travelled the world to do service despite her ongoing battle with cancer and chose always to rise above life circumstances that she could easily play victim to.
As the weekend came to an end, I wondered what a person of Maami’s age would want. What can a person who has been through all the stages of life and survived the test of time possibly need? In the words of Maami herself , “In the end, Love is all that we look for. It’s the only thing we need in this life”.
What are the most cherished memories that you have of your grandparents? Leave a comment below!
Glossary: Paati (grand-mother), Murukku (savoury snack), Maami ( married Brahmin woman), Kalakshetra ( highly reputed institution for the study and performance of fine arts), Ponnu Parkaal ( a pre-wedding ceremony where the groom’s family meets the bride officially for the first time and asks for her hand in marriage. It is usually held in the bride’s house.)
I am a 24 year old tradition lover living in Australia. As I have never lived in India, I am no expert in Indian culture. Still, my love affair with this beautiful culture has been running strong for many years and I hope to share my passion with everyone this blog reaches:) Parts of this blog are fictional, while others are based on my own experiences. Happy reading! – Divya