As a seven-year-old, it felt strange to be ignored by my grandmother, even as I had very high fever. My mother had gone out to work, leaving me home to be cared for by her. Was it because I was a girl child that she spewed so much bitterness? Or was it because her son was married to an educated woman who belonged to a lower caste? Caste- and gender-based harassments still are shamefully prevalent in the Indian society. The recent news about a lady doctor who committed suicide because she was insulted due to her backward caste brought back gory memories that simmered within me for years... up until I let go of them one day.
That day, as grandma went about her chores in the kitchen I continued tugging at her sari. She pushed me back and I fell and hit the burning stove. My left hand felt spasms of agony as it hit the boiling water! I felt tears of pain and anger course down my cheeks. She looked back to see what happened and felt further irritated, just then my mother returned home to face her wrath! Yet again she was accused of giving birth to a girl child, blamed for belonging to a lower caste. However, I failed to understand the reason why people have to be proud for being born into a high caste family? The caste system was previously based on the job a person did and if my mother was to be judged as per her occupation then she belonged to the upper-most caste, also she was born to a scholar, a Padma Shri awardee.
In spite of all this I would see my mother stitch clothes for grandma and come winter, she would knit sweaters for her. Over the years my mother too accumulated some amount of bitterness within... which she vented through poetry. The incidents of female infanticide and the ill-treatment meted out to girl-children further made me passively hostile towards such oppressors of society, who wore false badges of entitlement! I had also begun imagining all elderly mothers-in-laws as shrews! And what irked me most was that how could a woman be so venomous towards another woman? Was it because she had suppressed resentment within her too, that grew into a heavy burden over the years?
Through my conversations with her, she provided me with the understanding and closure I needed to forgive grandma and let go of my anger.
As the years passed by, my grandmother became bed-ridden, she needed love and care. I wondered to myself now, “Will ‘karma’ come to play?” But all I saw was my mother taking utmost care of her. How could she? Was it because of the love that she felt for my father? I wasn’t convinced, after all I was just into my teens then.
Then came a day, when I was in high school, we had to put together a project about the life of elderly people living in an old-age home. The very topic made me sick in the stomach. I wondered why grandma couldn’t be sent to a home like this. The teacher’s sermon about looking after the elderly in our families made me argue with her to the point of being rude! The teacher was surprised to see that I harboured so much anger within me.
My classmates and I reached the old-age home, an old building with green shuttered windows. I sat stubbornly on a bench in the garden, hell bent on not doing anything constructive and staring at the Gulmohar trees and the beds of chrysanthemums. That’s when I felt a gentle touch on my shoulder. I looked up and saw a short, cherubic old lady, in a red-polka dotted dress, beaming at me! Her name was Kathleen Caulder, she invited me to her room and we shared a packet of Marie biscuits over hot cups of tea that she made.
Her chirpiness attracted me to her and I gushed about my grandma. She assured me that all old people weren’t the same and probably grandma had reasons for such angst-filled actions. After that day, I went back to visit Kathleen several times. Through my conversations with her, she provided me with the understanding and closure I needed to forgive grandma and let go of my anger.
Thereon I would sit beside my comatose grandma, take her bony hands in mine and speak to her... I would tell her how I yearned for a hug from her or even a smile. I don’t know if she ever heard me but a while later she passed away and with her passed my anger-ridden self! And I found solace in forgiving!
Navanita Varadpande is a writer based in Dubai. Twitter: @navanitavp