I noticed her as we came out of the Tibetan Monastery, the Golden Temple. Her head was leaning against the grill of the compound wall. She was old and her wrinkled face was looking tired and lonely; more lonely than tired. She struck me as sharply as a needle. By reflex my camera went up; but before I could focus and shoot, she noticed me and quickly changed her posture. She also tried to change her expression, but I think I could still catch most of it.
This was just outside a curio shop selling things Tibetan and things Buddhist. Even though not wanting to buy anything, we paid our mandatory visit to the shop, looked around, and while the family was still there, I stepped out.
The scene outside had undergone a total change by then.
The old lady had now transformed into a grandmother. Right and proper.
She had a grandson before her. The child had, just a few minutes ago, acquired a musical instrument from that very shop and wanted to show off his musical expertise to the old lady and, perhaps impress her. Quickly, taking up the challenge, she responded immediately, by beckoning him in a unique way.
The drama that was unfolding there was that the child was ‘playing’ the instrument to impress the grandma, and the grandma was mimicking and teasing him by indicating by her hand gestures that he was no good. Stung, the boy would try even harder. And this was going on back and forth, an excellent rally, much to the amusement of all of us around, including his real grandfather who was accompanying him.
At one point of time she also tried to have a dialogue with him. The relationship between them was so wonderful that language was no barrier – maybe he was speaking Kannada and she, Tibetan. I don’t know. But that didn’t matter. It didn’t hinder communication. Challenges and feedback were conveyed effectively and communication was complete.
And with creativity that only grandmothers possess – notice the novel musical instrument she is wielding – responded to his overtures.
Things were happening fast and I was finding it difficult to cope, partly because of changing weather conditions, but, truly more because I was getting involved. Somewhere along the line, I started seeing myself in place of the child, playing with my grandmother!
Do you recall your grandmothers? Do you remember playing with them, telling stories, asking questions, listening to tales, bathing at their hands, wanting to be fed and put to bed by them? In a world where the father was the disciplinary authority number 1, closely followed by mother at number 2, grandparents were the only grownups we could turn to. Our grandfathers were kind-hearted, but they would be usually busy reading newspapers, performing pooja or reciting stotras or chapters from Bhagwadgeeta, or out shopping for grocery and vegetables, and we would have limited access to them. But grandmothers, it seemed, always had time for us, although they too were clearly busy in or about the kitchen. Moreover they had answers to all our questions, patience to listen to us, help us in a hundred and one ways everyday – and all this without ever getting annoyed or irritated. In return, they made us want to do things we didn’t like, or didn’t like our parents telling us to do, but were good for us – eating vegetables, taking exercise, reciting mathematical tables, doing homework, behaving when we had guests – and we used to have plenty of them- sharing with younger siblings, caring for others, and take medicines when we were sick are some of the items that come to mind immediately.
Grandmothers were our best friends, right from when we learned to recognise faces. It was some years before I could understand my mother, and conclude that she too was my best friend. It took me, very sadly, much longer to understand my father and become friends with him.
I am sure just as I did; you too had a great experience with your grandparents in general and grandmothers in particular. Like me, you too must sometime be getting lost in their fond memories.
Are we passing on this experience to our next and the next generation? Or are we depriving them of it?
Compare the first and the last images. Notice the change in expression, mood and energy! That’s what a few minutes of exposure to a grandchild does to a grandmother!
Until we meet next,