Have you ever had your heart broken?
In the memory of my grandmother, who I loved dearly.
My grandmother married Baba at the tender age of 17. She didn’t receive much education, which isn’t a surprise, considering the times she was born in. It wasn’t a popular practice. But she knew how to sign. She wrote ‘Ganga Devi’ in Hindi with her shaky hands. I like to think she was proud of it. I know I was.
Amma, as we called her, told me stories about her life as a young girl. She was the only child to a wealthy couple in the small village of Khandela. She remembered riding tongas and hanging out with her friends. They had silly names like Bhindi(Ladyfinger), Baingani(Purple), Santra(Orange), etc. I remember laughing at them. She spoke about the transition from her parent’s house to my grandfather’s house.
She told the same stories over and over again. At 88, I am sure it wasn’t easy to remember what she had already told me.
For a woman, with little formal education, she was very intelligent. She had the makings of an engineer. We had a fridge that was decades old. Once in a while, the fridge would malfunction. Each time that would happen, Amma would get to work. With her little purse of tools, she would open the back of the fridge, fix it and get it running again. The fridge must have outlived any appliance of its time by years.
She was a foodie. And she was picky with her food. I like to think I get that from her. Patashi (Pani Puri), an Indian snack, was one of her favorites. We would get the Patashi from the market; make the potato masala and the jaljeera (Tangy water with spices and herbs) at home. We sat together around a table and she served them to us. Even today, my sister likes to add Tamarind Chutney to the Patashi, just like Amma did.
She was creative. She stitched clothes, bed covers, and pillows for my dolls. She made purses to hold her collection of little tools. She stitched some of her clothes too. But my favorite were these boxes she made by stitching glass together.
I remember first seeing them when I was around 7 years old. She had made a small jewelry box for my sister. It was just so beautiful. First, she would get pieces of glass cut in the appropriate size. Then, wrap the edges of the cut-up pieces of glass with a ribbon. Once the piece was secure within the ribbon, she stitched the different pieces together in the required shape of a bookcase or box or small almirah. For the final touch, she added ruffles of satin all around the object.
I read this question somewhere, what object, besides documents, would you save if your house were set on fire? I have an obvious answer to this. I would save this.
I asked her to make this for me when I was much older and so was she. Getting tasks done was getting difficult for her over the years, but she was firm and excited to make this for me. Because how could she not? I had asked her and she could never say NO to her youngest grandchild.
On Teej- a traditional Rajasthani festival, Amma would give us money to spend at the Carnival organized at the nearby stadium. The first time I made her tea, she handed me a 500 Rupee note as a reward. The first time I made her a Roti, came another 500. Whatever money she had saved up she wanted to spend it on all of us. Diwali, Sinjara, Birthdays, Results, were all just excuses to give us ‘Mela Kharchi’. It was her way of appreciating and showing love. She had five grandchildren, and I can safely say, she loved us four granddaughters more than our one brother. In a time, when I heard stories of grandmothers being mean to their daughters-in-law for not having sons, this was my Amma.
We lived in our Ancestral house in a large joint family before moving to our own house in 2006. Amma was hesitant in the beginning. Leaving behind a house that she had lived in for over 50 years would not have been easy, I am sure. She warmed up to the new house eventually. She sat on the balcony, watched and observed people and vehicles as they came and went, she sometimes went to the park for a walk, and made friends with neighbors. In the winters she prepared the gallery in the back of the house with a carpet, bedsheet, and pillows. She hung bedsheets to block a little bit of the heat and then spent the entire afternoon basking in the sun.
Big glass jars filled with different vegetables were a common sight in my house when she was alive. She enjoyed making pickles and she was great at it. She pickled lemon, ginger, carrot, to name a few. The lemon pickle must have been everyone’s favorite. We even sent jars to other family members. I wish I had been mindful enough and taken down the recipe from her. Today when my mother makes the same pickle, the evaluation is rarely based on taste; it is more about how close it is to Amma’s.
Last year we celebrated my parents’ 25th Wedding Anniversary. At the mention of my grandmother, I broke down. I don’t think it was just because I missed her. I think it was because I realized how she was going to miss out on so many milestones. The birth of her first great-grandchild, my first job, gifts for her from my first salary, meeting our significant others, our weddings and so many more.
What nobody told me about grief was that it is a permanent feeling. With time, you just learn to live with it. Every special occasion carries with itself a reminder of her absence. I think it always will. However, I have realized that missing her is also an opportunity to celebrate her life. She had a full life. It was not devoid of sorrow, but it was also brimming with love. She spent her life loving and being loved.
When I first heard this question, “Have you ever had your heartbroken”? I knew my answer wasn’t going to be about romantic love. No loss of love or friends has come close to this. I don’t think it ever will.
One evening, back in 2017, I was sitting with a friend in a cafe in Delhi, unaware that Amma would be taking her last breath later that night in Jaipur.
I said, “She keeps asking me to come and visit.”
I hadn’t been home in over a month. I was scheduled to go after 2–3 weeks during my Mid-Semester break.
“If she is asking you to come, you should go right away. She is old, you shouldn’t delay meeting her.” He had said.
The daily train that runs between Delhi and Jaipur had already left for the day. Even if I wanted, I couldn’t have made it home that day.
I regret it sometimes. I wish I had gone.
I wish I had met her, one last time.
But sometimes, I am grateful that I didn’t.
Amma was sitting on her bed, surrounded by her two sons. One of them was holding her and the other one was feeding her dinner. After a long time, she ate well that day.
If I had decided to catch that train, my father would have come to pick me up at the station. And I would have stolen from him, his last moments with “JiJi”, as he called her.
As she finished her meal and the three of them sat on the bed, she closed her eyes forever. Finding beauty in her death was easier than I thought. She died in the arms of her two sons, and I don’t think it gets better than that.