Sunday, September 27, 2009

Remembering my Grandmother's stories... and her life.

On the topmost rung of the bookshelf in my room are two silver cranes. On my last visit home, my mother wrapped them in two shoe bags and put them in my suitcase, insisting in that sweet way of hers that I carry back to Austin a memento of my paternal Grandmother - Dadima. Now it has been close to 20 years since Dadima passed away so I was a little puzzled as to why they were finding their way to my luggage now but I've learned not to question the wisdom behind anything my mother says.

Since January of this year, I have looked at those two cranes every morning when I get up and every night when I'm lying in bed, reading a book. And myriad other times during the day too. And it doesn't happen every time I look at them but there have been several occasions when a glance their way makes me travel back in time to my childhood... when these cranes sat on the carved wooden table in my grandparents home in a small suburb near New Delhi, India. It was small enough that the plot of land next to them... where there should have been neighbors... was home to a herd of buffaloes and the family of four that tended to them from their makeshift hut. And it was the milk of these buffaloes that was sold to every house in the lane and that was the bane of my growing up years. You see, I decided very young that buffalo milk was not exactly one of my favorite things. And oh the tricks I came up with just to get out of drinking that mandatory glass of warm milk at my grandparents home.

Sometimes a turn of my head towards the silver cranes makes me picture the monthly 'Kitty Parties' my grandmother hosted in the drawing room, where all the ladies in the neighborhood, aged 50 and above, would gather together and play Bingo... dressed to the nines as if it were a wedding they were attending instead.

There used to be a silver elephant too, on an adjoining table back then... its trumpet raised as if it were sounding an alarm. It sat next to the gramophone that I had never heard being used.

The cranes make me think of countless festivals I had spent in Dadima's home... oiling the cotton wicks so that they would shine bright when we lined the boundary wall to the house with sparkling diyas for Diwali. Or the makeshift temple in Dadima's room where we all gathered to sing holy songs with Dadima leading the brigade, and where I sat crouched towards the back, laughing silently at how none of the grown ups in my family could ever quite carry a tune.

The silver cranes make me remember so much that I thought I had forgotten. That I never realized I knew about my Grandmother. You see, I had been 8 when she died and the only recollections I thought I had of her were based on the pictures that I had seen framed on the wall of my parents home, or that sat on my father's bedside table. I had forgotten that I knew her once... and that I had memories of her that were my own. That just needed a little prodding to make themselves apparent to me again.

The silver cranes are my grandmother's Video Biography... or the best things I have close to it of her.

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