Like my grandmothers, Stubborn is my first and last name

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My grandmother smells of coconut oil and Yardley talcum powder. Her hair is thinning, but she has black hair. She has never colored it. She dumps the coconut oil on her head lavishly and religiously. She wakes up early in the morning and goes for a long bath. She comes out, drapes her saree loose, and stands in front of the mirror. She puts on a thick coating of kajal on her eye, a big vermilion dot on her forehead, and pats down Yardley powder. Then, she will put two fingers into her Ponds lotion, take out a few whips of cold cream and paste it all over her body.

Her pill count for the day is 16. She sits down near the telephone and sips on hot coffee. Then her slow feet will walk in the garden, pausing after each right and left step.

Her hospital records are huge. Files of them. Mummy has turned daughter/caretaker/nurse/part-time doctor. She has given us a scare every once in a while. We have all by-hearted the hospital routine by now.
I imagine it as her bargaining with Death. And to date, she has never lost. It is almost like she is playing chess, and it is a grueling match where at the eleventh minute, she says, “Checkmate.”

She has come back from every imaginable horrific disease and survived the terrible.

Stubborn is her middle name.

My grandmother might not seem like it. She looks awful fragile like a touch-me-not. She doesn’t eat anything and is heavily dependent on someone. Someone must always monitor her and be in the house. And I have noticed how her hair grows white with silver strands the moment she starts feeling ill. But give her some time, that same hair will stain the pillows with coconut oil and wake up black as ever.

Her life begins and ends with her three grandchildren. She prays day in and day out to Lord Krishna for us and believes that it is her life’s primary purpose. She is our biggest champion. And a miser at criticism.

My other grandmother smells of raw fish blood and tamarind peels. Her day begins by rolling her grey hair into a loose low bun. She sits on the side of the bed for some time before going to the bathroom. It could be that she is gathering up her energy to get out of bed. But I think it is her way of her looking at how far she has come in her very long life. The never-ending struggles she had to face, with her husband and family, raising her sons and daughters in abject poverty, watching them get married and have babies, witnessing those babies have their babies, and each of their domestic conflicts.

Then she slowly gets up, holding her knees for support, and goes into the bathroom. She comes out with a fresh, clean, and crisp white top and mundu. She will drape a white shawl and put a shiny gold pin to secure it in.

Her eyes have withdrawn into the face, and her hands are wrinkle bags. You can see it swim through. You can also take it in your hands. They fold so easily.

Her medical history is a long one. But she can take care of herself. She still takes the bus in the heat, walks to church, and goes everywhere with a jute bag of goodies and a small purse of coins and little cash.

She cooks and cleans in the house. A big pot of brown rice would be steaming along with a chicken or a fish curry boiling with its smell wafting around the house. The leftovers would be thrown to the stray dog (now, not so stray anymore). She would wash the vessels by scrubbing it, without shedding a complaint of her age. I don’t even think she knows her age.

She recently celebrated her birthday, and I was laughing, seeing her face. She cut the cake because everyone told her to. She cut the cake using both her hands, which is kind of surprising, considering she chops off jackfruits and bunch of bananas from trees with her vaalu swiftly. She doesn’t understand all this birthday fuss that her five children, ten grandchildren, three great-grandchildren have made into.

She loves being in the garden. She plucks mangoes. She looks at flowers like it is her children. With too much tenderness. She knows how to get rid of garden snakes. She knows how to kill choriyan puzhu – with brick powder and a matchbox.

For her, every day revolves around Jesus Christ. She sits for a good hour, just looking at the portrait, and I have often seen her eyes well. She shares his pain of being struck against a cross. In very many ways, I feel like she is the same. Had too many nails hammered into her, and she resurrected every single time.

Papa says she is his God. Now I know why.

I think I got the stubborn gene from both of them. I think all of us did. But somewhere, I think I got the maximum count. People often tell me that it is a vice. I have only taken it as a compliment. They are, in their ways, so stubborn.

When life gave them lemons, they cooked spicy kozhambu and served it well.

Both of them are incredibly stubborn. Both of them have come from different walks of life, have different religions, but they seem to share a common thread. They will never succumb. And they do this without ever really naming it. They don’t even think they are stubborn. They want things to go their way, and they rig life to their advantage.

And between Lord Krishna and Jesus Christ, I am safe. Because in between them, I have these two extraordinary grandmothers, being subtle at being stubborn, and yet so fierce.

Considering both the grandmothers have outlived their husbands, with lung and heart capacity even at their lowest, let us say that they are stubborn in love and life. And that is how I am going to live mine. Stubborn in life and love.


Featured Image Credits: Sri Harsha Dantuluri

Rekha Joly
Rekha Joly is a die-hard fan of cake. Buy her pastry and she won't kill you.

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