My grandmother – my Shiela mummy…….

Having lived all my life with parents and grandparents, I often take their love and concern for granted. But my perspective changed once I became a mother myself. I realised that unconditional love is built on the strong foundation of selflessness and immense sacrifice.
This is dedicated to all grandparents in general, Yug’s grandparents definitely and specifically to my inspiration, Shiela mummy, as I lovingly call my paternal grandmother. I will probably understand her better when I become a grandparent myself (still a long time away). But after becoming a parent I realise the intensity of her feelings towards me. Recently, her health has deteriorated and she has increasingly become frail and weak with a fading memory. There are glimpses of her old self intermittently-to which I will return shortly.
As a baby, my grandparents took it upon themselves to rear and nurture me. This in no way undermines the efforts of my parents who were there for us throughout looking after our needs and fulfilling our smallest desires. In this also credit is due to our grandparents for instilling the right values in their children who went on to become ideal parents for us.
The earliest memories I have, are of papaji (as I lovingly called my paternal grandfather) and I eating fruits while watching trains go by at the station close to our house, his sitting patiently while I combed his hair, his saying I reminded him of his own mother etc. I recall that on some days, I used to sleep between my grandparents and papaji remarked that I must be feeling like I am sleeping in a valley. With papaji passing away almost 30 years back, I didn’t fully grasp what I had lost but am told that it did impact me emotionally and I became quieter. I always wish he could have stayed with us longer and left behind more such memories to cherish.

Even after losing her husband, Sheila mummy was a strong pillar of support and used to actively drive our household decisions. While my parents lovingly gave in to what she had to say, my sister and I did not always agree. But Sheila mummy was always willing to hear us out and one could actually have intellectual conversations with her. In spite of being a female hailing from a generation that did not actively support women’s rights, she was educated, rational and progressive. I think she would have made a very good school principal given the right opportunity. She watched news channels 24 hours a day when the rest of India was addicted to regressive soap operas. One could actually have a discussion with her on any topic and she would give a fresh perspective on it. She was and will always be the glue that held the whole family together. She engendered the right values in her children and her grandchildren. As a child, I was so attached to her that I actually thought that she is my mother and my actual mother is just my sister’s mother. I even wrote this in an essay in school leaving my teacher confused. The situation became hilarious when she called my parents to enquire if my father had two wives.

Shiela mummy hugged me and we cried when I aced my board exams showing how she truly understood the value of education. Before any exam, she would hold my hand and say; “let me transfer all my energy to you so that you do well today” and I actually did well. She would then be beaming with pride. To celebrate exam results, we used to go to Sagar Ratna (a local South Indian restaurant chain) for lunch- a family tradition we continued throughout, till my sister and I completed our education.

When other grandparents gave vague descriptions, Sheila mummy would proudly tell everyone her granddaughter was doing a Masters in Economics from the Delhi School of Economics. Once I started working she used to be interested in knowing what I did and try and understand it when I explained. In the typical Indian cycle of life, once I started working, the natural question in everyone’s mind was when will I get married? Shiela mummy however, fully supported my decision of working for a few years before deciding that question. She was the first (though after my dear sister) to know that I had chosen my life partner. I was nervous to tell her that he was a Tamilian not knowing how she would react to the inter-caste aspect. She surprisingly asked me only two questions – how tall is he and what is his highest qualification? When I asked her about him being a Tamilian, she replied nonchalantly-so what? Her saying that put an end to any potential opposition that may have risen about my choice. She was perceptive and broad minded in her outlook and I count her support as being instrumental in Ashwin, a loving and caring partner, becoming my husband.
I learnt a lot from her approach to life. She firmly did what she preached. She did not blindly follow religious faith. She questioned the wrong and whole heartedly supported the right. As kids, my sister and I used to listen to her stories with rapt attention as they were interesting and relatable since she referenced examples from current events. She was opinionated and not afraid to voice her thoughts in front of anyone. While that may have got her in trouble at times and made her unpopular with a few, everyone uniformly respects her for her courage.
In all these years, she was old but not aged. With her physical strength ebbing away, she has suddenly transformed. It saddens me. Whenever I meet her now, I can see in her eyes so many emotions left unsaid. Her eyes still light up on seeing my son, Yug and she never forgets to give him a hug. She asks sometimes about Ashwin and holds my hand wanting me to sit with her but her tired mind does not respond to her need to express her thoughts. While Yug may not be able to see her in her true form, he is surely lucky to be at the receiving end of her love and care. He will always be reminded of being given his first bath and first bite by his great grandmother, a lady who holds a very special place in his mother’s heart.
Caught up in my own life, I may not think of her every day but she is present in my memory as the woman whom I learnt so much from-loving, caring, questioning, leading, and expressing. Thank you Shiela mummy for always being there for us.

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