My childhood was shaped under the influential eye of two very strong women. While one, undoubtedly, is my Mother, the other was my Granny. I thank my lucky stars to be born as the grand-daughter of a woman who showed me what true courage is, who taught me never to lose hope even in the midst of darkness, who showed me how to deal with the world and its people on my own and who made me find my voice in a world ruled by men. I never got the opportunity to thank her for rocking my world and moulding me into what I’m today and in a sense this post comes a tad bit too late.
Most of my early days were spent in a remote village of West Bengal. We were a Zamindar family, or so I was told as a kid; though for my part, I never saw the filthy opulence of the oppressive elite neither did I bear witness to the impulsive tyranny of my grandfather, the Zamindar. They say he was a small man with a huge ego and an iron fist. Well I don’t know about the stature of his ego, but his iron fist did help to keep the peace and the jackals at bay, both at home and outside.
A sprawling house with countless rooms, open courtyards, cow pens, a dried-up well and a garden that has grown entangled with thorny shrubs and mosses over the years was what constituted my home for most parts. The garden was a magical place; you could suddenly find a lemon tree or a tomato shrub in its midst without you having planted any thing there. The rest of the household consisted of a wide variety of animals, with the occasional reptiles hanging from the Jackfruit tree. With the zamindar’s death, which happened two years after my birth, the family lost all its senses of aristocracy and soon the jackals, the wolves and the lions were at each other’s throat for a share of the treasure trove.
Enter my granny. My granny’s maiden name was Prem, though we used to call her “Mimi”; yeah that’s about right. Those of you who are not from India, the word “Prem” means Love in hindi (yes all our name has a profound meaning behind it) but the noun is indisputably reserved for the male heirs of the society. The day I discovered her real name, I realized she was brought up to bear the burden of men, and so she did always, without breaking a sweat.
Throughout my life I have been surrounded by girlfriends who have led a very sheltered life. While they might have been lucky never to have faced certain kind of hardships, I could never bring myself to envy their life. I love not being dependent on anyone to take me shopping. I love going out to movies alone, eating popcorn and laughing by myself. I also love being a free thinker. For all these and more, I thank my Granny, my Mimi.
It always used to occur to me that Mimi was born at a wrong time in history. Her views were too liberal for the time; neither did she believe in caste, nor in rigid societal norms and nothing could stop her from believing in woman empowerment. In many ways, she was my Iron Lady, so indomitable in her work and yet failing so miserably in her personal life. At an age when India was basking under its new found freedom, my granny was already a working woman; she got married at the age of 13 but that didn’t stop her from completing her Masters in English and land up a job as a teacher in the nearby government High school within the next 19 years
I remember, one time, during my brother’s thread ceremony some 7-8 years back, one of her friend had come to visit her. This friend was a typical octogenarian you would still find in remote villages of India; a petite old lady, wearing a plain white saree without a blouse, in a careless Bengali style. No ornaments adorned her wrinkled body or her white head. It was the shock of my life to see Mimi and her friend conversing in English, as if it was something they had done every day of their life. So much for my stereotypes!
It is only now that we are witnessing a loosening up of the rigid caste system that bounded our society for so long. But in a remote village like ours, to accept a daughter-in-law from the Schedule Tribes of North East in a pure Brahmin family and according her a place of respect was akin to blaspheming in those days. Granny on the other hand, not only accepted my mom like her own daughter, but pushed her till she completed her Graduation and then with constant nagging, didn’t give up till she could shape my mom’s career to her liking.
Those who saw them together knew that my mom was the daughter Mimi never had. Mimi pampered her in a way even my father failed to do. In the evening, Granny would take care of all the household work, while Mom would toil away at her studies. When she got a job, my mom never had to take care of us or worry about household chores. When she returned from school in the evening, Mimi would make her tea and feed her gossips from the day’s events.
For us kids, Mimi was a talking Shakespeare, a walking Oxford English Dictionary and living Thesaurus mixed into one. She was the wife of a zamindar, and yet I never saw an ounce of pride in her status or in her knowledge. Neither did those hundreds of people, who still revere her name to this date. If you land up at our village, you would find her in the hearts of the hundreds of student that she had taught, the scores of colleagues that she had made friends with and the thousands of those needy who would turn up at her doorstep in the middle of the night and were never refused. Strangely, I never saw her raise her voice to any one; neither any of her students nor us kids, and that was probably her only flaw.
We seldom saw her idling around; even in her eighties she didn’t have one lazy bone in her body. An early riser, she would work from morning till noon, taking her power nap for an hour or so before getting up to immerse herself in work again. The only time she rested was in late evenings, when she either used to watch the TV soaps or read books over her glasses. She believed in simple living and high thinking, and tried to imbibe that in us as well. The only time we used to get exasperated with her was when she would forget the milk boiling in the burner for the umpteenth time, only to find it had all burnt away.
Be it a business deal or giving a lecture in the college podium, she was always at her best, soaring high above the rest of us, a living inspiration for all who witnessed her. Hers was the power of love, and she ruled over our hearts flamboyantly. Mimi died two years back, when I was in Bangalore busy in my new job. Even now, sometimes at night I see mom wake up and search for her in the emptiness. The day she died, my mom lost her mother again, and I lost my Iron Lady. I never got a chance to say goodbye to her and in a way I could never accept her death either. She seemed so strong I had taken it for granted that she will always be there for us. This is my goodbye to someone who will always continue to shine in her light in my life.
For Day 5 of WriteTribe Festival of Words Challenge, we were asked to share an inspiring story/ a personal experience that will inspire. For me nothing is more inspiring than the tale of a woman who survived life, facing all odds and was still able to hold her head high till the very end. Here is my take on the challenge, hope you find it inspiring too.