In Love for Fifty Years
………. A journey through five decades of togetherness till deathbed
My earliest memories of my grandmother are when I was in my second grade and I would eagerly wait to meet her during my summer vacation. I remember how I and my mother would board the train from Pune to Chennai (then Madras) alight at the Madras Central station and rush to Madras Egmore for the connecting train to Sivakasi – The Kutty Japan (Mini Japan) of India. It’s the place famous for crackers and safety matches industry.
Sivakasi is a small town in the South Eastern part of India. It’s very hot and humid all throughout the year with major water supply issues. My grandmother Chellathai was married to my grandfather Dharmaraj when she was just fifteen years old. He was ten years elder to her and was then a Tahsildar after having completed his bachelor’s in arts. She had lived a lavish life as the daughter of the village headman with sprawling fields, orchards and houses. She was the twelfth daughter to her father and had been his favorite. Grandma was never inclined towards studies and had managed to scrap through eighth grade after supplying her classmates some south Indian snacks and later sneaked into their answer papers. As a pampered child and all her interests fulfilled she found it difficult to adjust with the meager salary that her husband brought home. But that didn’t deter her from living a life with him and raising her family with whatever he brought home. She bore her first child, my mother, when she was just seventeen. After which she had five more but only four survived. I always remember my grandmother as a tall stately lady with an imposing personality. Her hair would be braided in a long plait that would reach her hips and the loose end tied with a matching ribbon. Her sari well pleated and pinned. She would always ensure she was well dressed and carried herself with poise and dignity. Wherever she would go, be it a naming ceremony, marriage, betrothal or get together she would be the cynosure of all eyes. People would crowd around her and they would be involved in all the gossips of the world. My grandmother would always be available for free advice. She was the magic magpie who always had a shoulder for the needy and a patient ear for the discontent. Throngs of people gathered for a free word and she would always be glad to give a piece of valuable suggestions on the way of life.
As opposed to my grandmother, my grandfather has a short stature and has always been a man of few words. He would speak when required and to the point but it would have the required impact. True to his name Dharmaraj meaning a righteous person, has never spoken a lie in his entire life. Grandpa is a person who takes life with a pinch of salt and is a man of principles that he never let down. Together they made a great pair and I would find it at times amusing to watch this couple. Grandma would always be in control of the house and would want everything spick and span all the chores completed on time. She was a great cook and the curries, pickles prepared by her were a huge hit. No one can beat it hands down. We would stay close to forty five days with her and when our time to return would near; she would start with her preparations of masalas, chutneys and some special south Indian delicacies that we would carry back. I can still picture her sitting with a long ladle on a stool in front of a kerosene stove with a huge wok of oil and preparing her specialities the adhirasam made of rice flour and jaggery and achu murukku. She was a woman with traditional beliefs and was a strong advocate of Arranged Marriage. She would shun people who belonged to the Love Marriage league and would give free counsel to both the sexes who were of marriageable age. She never preferred the nightie and wouldn’t favor her daughters-in- law wearing them too. I have vivid memories of my grandmother chiding over grandpa’s siblings and showing her displeasure. Grandpa had started a Litho press with his brothers and had discontinued his services as a government officer. This conversation would mostly start after his lunch when he would be lying down for his afternoon siesta. Grandma would keep ranting but Grandpa would turn a deaf ear and snore away to glory. It would be a great scene to watch over and again as all the scowls had the least effect on grandpa. It would irritate Grandma further due to his indifferent attitude. But it was in their fights that love bloomed. We cousins and grandparents would sleep in the first floor of the house in a large room. It was great fun during the summer holidays and it was filled with laughter, petty fights and quarrels. We would watch movies together, play the whole day in the streets and visit the annual fair. Grandma was always a movie buff from her younger days. She would ensure that she didn’t miss a single movie be it Tamil, Hindi or English in spite of the fact that she was clueless of the latter two. Grandpa would never interfere and restrict Grandma from following her interests. She was a complete pro in embroidery and tailoring.
When she was in her forties grandma developed early signs of arthritis. Year after year that I would visit her I would notice that slowly the vice had started to show its effect. She tried various medications and treatments over the next twenty years in Tamilnadu and Kerala. Boarding buses, walking and standing for long hours became a problem. By the time I had reached college she found difficulty in climbing the stairs and had constrained herself to the room on the ground floor. Her involvement in the kitchen had started to reduce and she refrained from travel. In the meanwhile Grandpa had a mild attack and also suffered a fall in the bathroom. He broke his leg but regained his health soon after a surgery. As the years passed by grandma found difficulty in walking within the house. She had fallen couple of times and had started to use the walker. She groaned and moved around the house hauling the walker with great trouble. Taking bath and draping the sari had become a nightmare. A maid was brought in to bathe and dress her, but in all this pain she still didn’t bargain on the sari for a nightie. The sari still had to have five pleats and had to be pinned up at the waist else the maid had a tough time. But this change didn’t reduce her talks or pale the spark in her eye when giving valuable suggestions to the world. Her interests didn’t deter either; she wished to attend all the functions of her close relatives. She would travel by car and people would come running to receiver her with a chair. Once she would seat herself with great difficulty, friends and relatives would pick her with the chair and walk inside. But these health issues brought Grandma and Grandpa closer. They would stay awake late through the night call their friends, relatives and grandchildren to get news from the other side. They would be delighted to hear on their grandchildren’s developments and achievements. It would make them proud and would be the talk for the next couple of days. They would spend time discussing about their relatives and argue over petty stuff. They would stay awake till late night and talk to their heart’s content. Grandpa would attend to Grandma all throughout the day. Giving her the daily dose of medicines, taking her dress from the cupboard or giving her a bed pan and then cleaning it, he was always around.
|Happy Times – On Grandpa’s 75th bday|
Last year just before Diwali Grandpa was admitted in the hospital due to breathlessness. It was diagnosed to be a case of mild attack and chest congestion. He recovered and reached home soon much to my grandmother’s delight. She called me up on Laxmi Puja to inform me that Grandpa is getting discharged the same day. I could hear the enthusiasm in her words as she spoke. She had wanted him to be beside her as always. But her happiness was short lived. Within few days of his return one afternoon after a heavy lunch Grandpa was seated on the chair while grandma as usual was on the bed. She called him couple of times but he didn’t respond. He couldn’t move his hands or legs; he was immediately rushed to the hospital and was diagnosed of brain haemorrhage. His limb movements and speech had been affected. When grandma heard of this she was heartbroken. She waited for him daily and also waited for someone who could give her the good news of his recovery. She was bed ridden and couldn’t visit him at the hospital. Friends, family and relatives would feed her with the updates. But this time Grandpa’s recovery took its time. She missed him and also worried about his recuperation. She didn’t have her much desired and ever available partner near her. He wasn’t there to hold her and massage her legs in pain. Her partner of five decades who had always been with her was missing and she feared his well being. Most of all she wanted to be assured of his state. As the days passed by confined within the room, Grandma would go into a state of delusion. Calls from family and friends would lead to talks that didn’t mean anything. She would be in a state of trance. She doubted his recovery and return home. She feared she lost him. She developed fever and her body became weak. By the time Grandpa returned home he was very weak and Grandma had gone into a condition from where her return seemed impossible. She couldn’t recognize people around her and her food intake had reduced drastically. She couldn’t understand if it was night or day, she had lost count of time. She breathed her last this February at seventy eight. A woman, who couldn’t come to terms with life in the absence of her husband after living fifty glorious years with him, such is the power of love.
It doesn’t matter if it’s a Love Marriage or an Arranged Marriage, Love and Trust are the emotions that keep a marriage ticking. Without them a marriage can’t be sanctified or lived through long.Marriages might be made in heaven but Love blooms on earth and this couple is an epitome of its being who have stood the tests of time. Miss you Grandma.