Stories of Foxes Marrying Wolves...

Towards the end of her life, my grandmother was barely the person I once knew. Years of suffering and pain, having lost her oldest son, followed by her husband and then her last son had left her a hollow shell of the person she was when I was five or six, when times were happier. So many things plagued her in the last of her days – she often asked herself why God had let her live for so long, while all her loved ones succumbed before her eyes. She not only had her own sorrow, but she had to live through the sorrows and pain of all her loved ones. Dementia started setting in towards the end and she barely recognized me the last time we met and maybe I was relieved. She deserved the much deserved detachment from her reality.

You see when I look back at my folks and the people that they were, I often judge my grandmother  with the harshest set of ideals. She was deeply flawed, as compared to my grandfather or my father and uncle. She had a temper. The caste based biases were deeply ingrained in her character and she even discriminated people based on the complexion of their skin. She also grew a little cold towards me at the end of her life because of some reasons I will elaborate upon in this article. All of these flaws actually got accentuated more because they were in contrast to her husband, my grandfather, my guardian, who was very close to perfection as a human being. 

“Bhadralok” (Gentleman) in Bengali and “Sajjan” (Decent Person) in Hindi are the words that were often used to describe my grandfather. Highly educated, quiet and someone who possessed a handsome gravitas, my grandfather – a retired English professor lived his life for his unfortunate little family. Having planned his retirement all through his youth, which had always felt like it was too harsh anyway, he was distressed at first, finding a young boy left behind by his oldest son. I came to his cate on his sixty-seventh year and even though he was at wit’s end at first, he took it up as a challenge and raised me to be the man that I am today. He was dependable and charismatic and most people pale in comparison. I was really attached to my grandfather and when he passed away in 2013, my relationship with my grandmother and uncle, who were the last of my family, grew just a tiny bit colder. 

There really was no reason for it though. Both my uncle and my grandmother had been great to me when I was growing up. I had been really close to them. But in 2013, as a twenty three year old who was freshly independent and beginning to handle my own finances, I might have seemed a little cold to my folks. The exact dynamic of a family after the death of a patriarch is hard to define. I still talked to both of them but something had changed a little. I paid no heed to it though. A few years later, tragedy hit my family again and my uncle was diagnosed with brain tumor a second time in two decades, and this time round, it was my turn to take care of him. (He was first diagnosed with brain tumor in 1999 and my father, who was suffering from kidney failure at the time, took care of him through his surgery and recovery.) So it kind of was my legacy. I took off time from work and got his surgery done. He needed around six weeks of radiation therapy and I was distressed because I came very close to losing my job because of the amount of time I took off from work to tend to my uncle.

I did not earn a whole lot of money at this juncture and I didn’t want to lose my job. So I entrusted his radiation therapy to one of my uncle’s students who he had sheltered at our house back then. His surgery had been successful but I was told that he started growing weaker after the radiation, which like chemo, takes a toll on a patient’s body. A few months down the lane, he was paralyzed and bedridden and months of ordeal followed before he breathed his last in August of 2018. My grandmother had shown great resilience through this all but once she lost her last son, her body gave up and she also became bedridden in that last year of her life. She knew I wasn’t very religious and she wanted to get his “barsi” done. That’s the one year death anniversary where Hindus have a “puja” done for the deceased. I think the “barsi” was what kept her alive because soon after it was done, she passed away in September of 2019. That was the end of my family. After this, I was left all alone. In my existential loneliness, I have had some time to think and consolidate my feelings towards my folks. 

So today, I am reminiscing about my grandmother. While I grew closer to my grandfather in my teenage years, my grandmother was my favorite growing up. She pampered me more. I think the worst part of growing up for me has been developing this habit of looking at things from the eyes of an adult. While that may give you some perspective, it forever changes the way you look at some things that awed you as a child. Take for example my grandmother’s stories that she would tell me as a child. I know today that the purpose of those stories was to make me eat food when I was fussy. But oh, what a world of wonder they would catapult me into. She would point at the lights on the hill that surrounded our city (my school is located on those hills along with some administrative buildings, forest offices and staff quarters and those are the real source of those lights) and told me that that was the marriage procession of the fox who was marrying the wolf. She would tell me how the lights were the fox and his rodent friends taking their ‘baraati’ to the wolves den. And just like that the lights moved in front of my eyes and a wonderful jungle story came to life. And I ate my food, in that excitement I would even eat the bitter gourd with the potato and that, my friends, is how you get a five year old to eat his vegetables.

I am a foodie, big time. My grandmother is why I am a foodie. She lived to indulge everyone at home. All three of us – my grandfather, my uncle and I, had different tastes and she would cater to all of us. Eventually, she would end up cooking eight dishes for every meal. My uncle wanted boiled vegetable, while my grandfather preferred everything fried. I loved potato roundels fried in mustard oil so much that I demanded for it in every meal. My grandmother came through in every meal, day in and day out. I never appreciated how hard she worked to fulfil our whims and fancies. On my birthdays, or later when I moved out, on days that I visited, she made my favorite sweet, the ‘patisapta’, a hybrid version of the traditional Bengali dish that only she made. Legend has it that she learnt it from the royal family of Balangir where she used to go to play with the princesses as a kid. I loved the dish so much that I would ask her to make a hundred of them so that I could have it for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

All of that and yet, towards the end, all I remembered her for was the doubts she expressed on whether I would take care of my uncle once she was gone. (It never happened because he died before she did.) So many years of love and care forgotten because I saw her from the eyes of an adult, where I recognized her ‘shortcomings’, the ‘flaws’ in her character. I really hated her at times for her archaic views about caste, complexion, etc. this one time.  In my adolescent fervor, I thought she needed the lecture. She was fifty six years older than me and I thought I needed to school her about how the world was bigger than her ‘small beliefs’. Thankfully, I never said anything out loud. I did talk about it to my uncle this one time and all he said was, “Be that as it may, don’t forget she raised you to be the man you are today.” He was right. I did justify and rationalized all her so-called flaws to her upbringing and the time when she was from, but a single pertinent point was lost on me.

None of it mattered.

You see, it’s great that I am conscious of the discrimination that’s rampant in our society and I feel like I should initiate change. However, it does not give me the right to judge my grandmother. She raised me, with love and care. She took care of a family which wasn’t always good to her. She was loyal to her family till the end. Somewhere, in judging her for things I consider wrong, I failed my grandfather. My grandfather, who after every meal, made sure I thanked my grandmother with words of praise for the food, irrespective of whether I liked the food or not. I owe him more. I owe her more. 


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