t all started in February of 2008 when, unexpectedly, my grandpa passed away. We (my dad, mom ana myself) came to India to attend grandpa’s funeral, partake in his last rites and to take grandma back to the USA, as she had no one to take care of her in India. I didn’t have many memories of grandpa as I had probably seen my grandparents a half a dozen times in the 1 8 years of my existence. I was born in the USA.
“I don’t want to leave Chennai. I have spent most
of my grown-up life here and the only way I will leave this place is after my death to my funeral pyre,” insisted my grandma stubbornly.
“Ma, don’t talk nonsense. The USA will do you good and we will be near you to take care of you.
It’s very comfortable in the USA, ” said dad trying to convince grandma.
We tried convincing grandma, but she was stubborn. Dad was exasperated and I was irritated. I wanted to get back to the US and get on with my life. I didn’t want to dance to every whim and fancy of an old lady.
“Dad, if she doesn’t want to come, why are you pressurising her? Let’s go back. I need to spend time on my coursework,” I told dad point-blank.
” Anu, your grandma is old, she is not keeping well and has no one to take care of her. We can’t leave her alone here,” said dad.
aybe dad felt a tinge of guilt for having left my grandparents and moving to the USA 20 years ago. Why would anyone want to stay in a place like India, I tnought, witn its dirty roads, pathetic infrastructure, indiscipline and corruption. No wonder dad had decided to stay in the USA. Apart from creature comforts, America was a free land and it was my home.
Later that night, mom came up to me and said, “Anu, sweetie, your dad and I want to move back to india. For grandma, mainly. Dad is also lot very happy with his job. I link India will do us all good.”
other or go
out like it is
“Mama, how could you…How can I leave back all my friends, school, everything? I can’t stay here. It’s so dirty and there are mosquitoes everywhere… ugh! No way…” I screamed and stomped out of the room.
Maybe, dad was right in moving as the investment bank he was working with had been bought over by another company and, though I wasn’t privy to all the details, I knew that dad was not happy with things. Apparently, he was reporting to a guy who used to be his subordinate. Now, even mama was ready to move back. My life was hell. What was I going to do about Steve, I asked myself.
Steve and I had started seeing each other last summer. He was wonderful, handsome, made me laugh and we did crazy things together. How was I going to move to India and be in a relationship with him? No way. I was not going to give up Steve for this old woman whom I didn’t even know.
“Dad, I can’t stay in India. You had your dreams and you went after them. Don’t deny me my dreams. I am going back to Detroit tomorrow,” I told dad adamantly.
“Sweetie, listen. Spend some time in India with grandma. Maybe , you’ll like her. We love you and wouldn’t want to make you unhappy, in any way. I think we could do with a whiff of India. I am getting old and increasingly think India is a wonderful place for spending my retirement years. Think about it. I’ll talk to you tomorrow. Good night.”
How presumptuous of dad to think that I would come around, I thought with a sigh.
I didn’t want to “bond” with grandma. All I wanted was Steve. I was supposed to share my room with grandma as there were only two bedrooms in grandma’s house.
here was a knock on the door. Ugh, grandma,
I thought. I didn’t want to listen to her go on and on about how she couldn’t leave India. I closed my eyes, covered myself with a sheet and pretended to sleep.
“Anu, I am sorry , you’ll are have to move to India. I really feel bad about upsetting all your plans. Your father told me that you don’t want to stay in India. It will be difficult for me to adjust and live in a new country at this old age,” she started, sounding tad unsure of herself.
“Grandma, you are not upsetting any plans. It’s just that I can’t pick up my bags and leave the USA, once and for all. I don’t want to leave my friends and everything,” I said gingerly.
“Ah, is our little one in love or something?” grandma asked, with a twinkle in her eye.
Wow, she did have a sixth sense, I thought. Nobody knew about Steve. Not even dad.
“No way, grandma,” I said blushing and secretly warming up to her. Maybe having her around would be fun.
“You know, Anu, I used to blush like that when I spoke about your grandpa once . Who’s the lucky guy who gets my darling granddaughter?” grandma asked. And she was blushing red!
“Grandma, you are still blushing. Promise me not to tell dad or mama. I’ll tell you,” I quipped.
“I cross my heart and promise, dear,” swore grandma.
“I am in love with Steve, Grandma. Steve and I go to school together. He is the best thing that will ever happen to me. He is very handsome and smart, actually,” I gushed.
“So, this Steve is not an Indian, is he? Do you have his photo or something?” Said grandma, conspiratorially with a wink.
“Granny, Steve is actually Afro- American. His parents are from Barbados. He is so much fun, you know.” I said thrusting the cellphone which had Steve’s picture as wallpaper, on granny.
“Umm – so that’s the one that’s stolen your heart. Looks handsome, must say, good choice dear,” said granny unexpectedly.
I expected her to lecture me on how Indian girls should not get married to Afro- American guys and how our cultures were very different.
“So, what have you guys planned?
Finish college and get married or is it not that serious yet? asked granny sincerely. Suddenly, it felt like I was chatting to Cathy, Akriti or any other friend of mine. Girl to girl.
“I guess, it’s too early to think about marriage. But if dad insists on moving to India, I might have to run away,” i said naughtily, winking at granny.
“Don’t even say that! You don’t know how risky running away from your family is. It causes so much unhappiness to everyone,” said granny with a grave face.
“No offence, granny, but what would you know about running away? Don’t tell me you ran away with grandpa?” I added cheekily.
“Of course, I did,” she said plainly.
Incredulous, I am unable to believe it. Maybe, she is pulling my leg.
“Anu, I did run away with your grandfather 50 years ago. I was 15 when I fell in love with your grandfather, Sreenivasa Iyer,” continued granny, her eyes clouding.
“Go on, granny,” I egged her on. I nestled my
head on granny’s lap, cooing blissfully in comfort.
“Your grandfather used to stay in the house opposite ours in our village. He was staying with a bunch of bachelor friends and used to look at me with those longing eyes. This went on for almost a year – with neither of us speaking to each other, “continued granny, looking a million miles away from Chennai.
“So was it love at first sight, Granny?” I blurted out impatiently.
“Things were different those days, dear. We couldn’t openly talk to each other or go out like it is these days. I had to wait almost a year to actually talk to him. He belonged to a lower caste and was not rich. We were very well-to- do – in fact, one of the richer families in our village in those days.I was 15 and your grandfather was 21granny went on nostalgically.
“So what did you talk to him the first time you met him? ” I asked unable to control my curiosity.
“I spoke to your grandfather for the first time outside a temple , maybe for two-three minutes with three of his friends keeping watch. He told me that he would take care of me, come rain or sun and wanted to come home to ask my hand in marriage. I fell in love with him that minute,” said granny wistfully.
“So did he come home , Granny?” I interjected.
“Yes, he did come home. My father turned him away, insulting him. Your grandfather had only studied up to the 7th standard and was getting a salary of Rs 7 at that time. It was not enough to support a family.
My father told me that he was disappointed in my choice.I felt miserable and wanted to forget your grandfather. Fortunately , my heart told me otherwise. It told me that I should not let go of my shot at happiness. I realised that rather than getting married to someone rich I didn’t know , I would be happier marrying a poor man who would do anything to keep me happy,” said granny.
“But, Granny, you didn’t know grandpa too well either. I mean, how do you get to know someone from a few stolen glances and one furtive meeting at the temple?” I asked puzzled.
“Anu, love cannot be explained logically. It is about feeling comfortable with someone . I just felt deep down that your grandfather would love me and love he did. So we ran away to Madras.
Hoping for a fresh beginning. With only 20 rupees and love for each other to sustain us. Initially , things were difficult. I missed home a lot, our fluffy mattress, our Ambassador car, our big house and
servants to do everything. It took me years to get adjusted to the hard floor, your grandfather’s cycle, our small house and having to do all the housework all by myself. I missed my parents a lot and felt bad about running away. I had caused them too much hurt. My father, your great-grandfather, passed away a couple of months after I left and amma was all alone, ” granny said, tearfully.
“I went and visited amma after the funeral and was stricken by how much unhappiness I had caused. It took amma four years to accept your grandfather and she lived with us in Madras.
Despite your grandfather not having gone to college, he insisted that I get an education. I went to college and in the final year of my BA, I had another baby, your aunt, two years later. I was the first woman in our family to get a college education,” said granny, breathlessly…
“Wow, Granny, you should be proud of yourself!” I said and hugged her.
“Your grandfather was a clerk at the secretariat and what he brought home was not enough to feed two hungry babies. So,
I started working in a press near our house as an editor of a newspaper. Then, gradually, your grandfather’s standing in the secretariat started improving and he was getting a good salary. We started our own printing press, Pushpak, which we later sold off as we couldn’t run it by ourselves and your father had to go to America for his education.”
I just nodded in awe at this spirited woman. Why hadn’t I got to know her before, I thought with a pang…
hen the disconcerting thought hit me that if
Steve had asked me to run away with him one day, I would neither have the guts nor unwavering faith in him to do that. Everything was clear to me, that minute. If things were meant to work out, they probably would and it would be fun having someone at home to come back to, I thought as back in the USA, mom and dad were normally not around and I had to content myself with microwave and TV dinners, alone.
I was not going to let go of this new-found friend that I had found.
Steve and I could have a long-distance relationship. If we really loved each other, we could also stay away from each other. I could always get back to America for college later.
“Thanks, Granny … We’ll stay with you in India. Would you like to start another newspaper? Just the two of us… ” I asked, hugging her.
And that is how I found my best friend… m