The grandmothers of yesterday and today

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My paternal grandmother was a noble lady who was hugely revered by all in the neighbourhood and our relatives. After the demise of my grandfather, she became the head of our big family. She was universally addressed as ‘Dadi’ (grandmother) — amusingly even by people of her age.

She had carved out a niche for herself in the society due to her qualities of kind-heartedness and love. Dadi was a great environmentalist even when the term was not very popular. She would not let anybody maltreat a dog or any animal. Ordinarily, she did not lose her temper, but would come out heavily if a person would be the cause of pain to an animal. A very kind-hearted person with a benevolent nature, no child visiting our house would go back without getting a suitable send-off gift, also known as a ‘tip’.

Her philanthropic nature and concern for all made her very popular in the entire locality. Within the family, she loved us all. It is a different matter that I thought that she loved me more than anybody else.

She left us 46 year ago, but she is still around. Whenever I am under stress or get depressed, I feel her presence. She comes to me, caresses and comforts me. That does wonders to me.

When I was 14-15-years old, she chose only me to massage her feet, especially during the peak summer seasons. I would mix mustard oil with water in an alloy bowl, for its increased therapeutic efficacy, and gently rub it on her soles and feet. After a few sighs, she would fall asleep. But I would continue with the job till the light paste exhausted. Massaging the tired feet of the grand old lady soothed her immensely. She would frequently bless me for the relief she got at the end of an exhausting day.

And I kept collecting the brownie points.

A year before her demise, Dadi slipped in the bathroom and fractured her hipbone. That confined an otherwise very active lady to the bed. All of us became dismally aware of the fact that finally she was going to desert us.

I decided to pay my debt to her for all the love and affection she had showered on me and given me comfort when I needed it during my illness. Her one touch and one word gave the comfort that a hundred medicines won’t be able to give me.

Her leg, that had straightened beyond repair, needed utmost relief. I supplemented a physiotherapist’s efforts to give her much-needed relief. This continued for about a year. One day, she stopped uttering feebly those miraculous words of blessings. She became motionless. Her end had come.

Today, I have surpassed her age. Over these years, I have realised that it is rightly said that elders’ blessings do matter. Whenever I am unwell, I pray to Dadi, who would have been 117+ today, to give the same comfort she gave me when I was a child. And she readily comes to my rescue. I feel the touch of her caressing fingers.

My grandma headed a family that had some half-a-dozen grand children and great grandchildren to serve and take care of not only elders like Dadi, but their parents as well. No child could play truant and escape doing what he or she had been commandeered to do by elders.

Such were the discipline and code of conduct for all in our large joint family.

Today, the scene has changed completely. When I look back I find that the discipline and code of conduct that were followed by us ungrudgingly are missing in homes. But let us admit that it is so because of the fast changing times and the compulsions these have brought forth. With joint families having vanished in favour of nuclear families, grandmas and grandpas do not have the opportunity of staying with their sons and daughters-in-law, grandchildren and great-grandchildren to massage their tired feet.

Invariably, most youngsters fly to other countries to take up jobs or other vocations that bring more money. In fact, there is a rat race among cousins to work and settle abroad. Those staying in the homeland feel left out. That inculcates in them an inferiority complex that affects their psyche and personality. Like them, their parents also feel that they would be looked down upon in society if any of their progeny is not stationed abroad. The trend is strong because parents also get a chance to tag along. Who would not want to visit a foreign land?

In the process, today’s Dadis get suitable treatment overseas, even if it is hugely expensive, courtesy their own non-resident Indian (NRI) children or grandchildren’s resources. Grandmas who are not that lucky are conveniently admitted in old-age homes or clinics created to serve the parents of NRIs. Today, grandchildren don’t have to massage the tired feet or caress the hair of the sinking grand old lady. The job is done by nurses paid to do it even with forced smiles. Poor grandmas are frequently told that their son or grandson called up from abroad to enquire about their health.

Lalit Raizada is a journalist based in India.