We lived in aplace which was very far off from our grandmother’s place set in an idyllic hill-town. Since our father’s untimely demise and imperative need to practise frugality in order to ensure us a decent education, our mother could visit her home town, only once in 4 years or so. At that time, we did not realise how heavy that must be weighing on her chest, her inability to visit her old, ailing mother more often or bringing her back to stay with us since the treatment that she received over there was much more advanced and free of cost, as a part of grandfather’s service benefits.
So, just once in 4 years like the much anticipated
cricket or football World Cup finals we set off in the sleeper class of a train
chug chugging us to the distant town of Assam. The journey was every bit as
relished as the destination awaiting us.
My mother’s family, who though not affluent were extremelyindulgent and loving and full of warmth, made those days memorable for us. The escapades of those days were enough to sustain us in the intermittent years.
Coming to my grandmother, she was a vulnerable shadow of my grandfather as long as he was alive but once she lost him, she had hardened as steel. This was stuff I had gathered from my mother. She had survived the Partition of India, the emigration of her family and countless deaths and heartaches. She was brusque and a nonsense woman, who had reared up a large family, consisting of her own three children, her husband’s widowed sister and her family, her own nephews and nieces from far off corners.
Her prowess laid in her hands. She had the hands of a wizard. She could stitch, she could sew, she could knit, she could cook fabulously, she could tend to cows, milk them and her green fingers ensured that her kitchen never saw any market bought vegetables for as long as she lived. She could make the most finger-licking homemade sweets made of strange ingredients like lentils and pointed gourds, lip-=smacking, pickles - sweet, sour or spicy. Her home was always filled with savoury snacks for munching at any hour of the day and she kept a mean track of how much her stocks dwindled and which of her grandchild was responsible for that?
The best thing about her hands were in spite of being put to so much of toil and hard work and being weather-beaten, they never lacked softness. The way she untangled my mass of curls, oiling them and braiding them every day is a feel I am not likely to forget for the longest time. At night, when the stars twinkled outside and glow-worms buzzed around, she laid us to sleep by stroking her soft fingers through our hair strands and ithad the most soothing and soporific effect on our restless selves.
Grandmother was put to final rest in 2005 and her garden ran into wilderness, soon after and our vacations, too lost its charm in the ensuing days.