We woke up last Monday morning to the news that VC’s grand mother had passed away. After weeks and months of silently suffering and fighting natural, age-related degeneration, her passing was in fact a relief. Peace for granny, relief for her caregivers who were growing increasingly distressed at having to watch her suffer, without having any more solutions to offer. What can you do to slow down the natural process of ageing, after all?
VC and I had visited her just the previous morning, and though she’d been largely bed-ridden for the last five years, it was all kinds of heartbreaking to watch her motionless that Sunday morning, her eyes refusing to make contact even though we knew and felt she was willing them to, her breathing heavy and shallow, panting gasping and holding on to the last dregs of life. I left that morning, with a silent prayer that her suffering ends sooner than later.
In that sense, it was an expected eventuality, but no matter how prepared one is, when the finality of death of hits, with the swift thud of a weight that’s been threatening to drop for weeks, it takes the wind out of you. And it feels just as distressing and tragic, like an unfortunate end that took you unawares.
Death has a strange way of spurring families into action. And for the first time ever, I saw a teeny-tiny benefit of how useful the joint-family set up can be at times like this. At home, granny lived surrounded by her sons and their (growing) families, which means she was looked after by her sons, devoted daughters-in-law, doting grandchildren, their spouses, and the next generation too. A whole brood of little, great grand children that she fawned over. Her home almost always had someone sitting with her, keeping her company. And this remained true till she breathed her very last breath.
As two people who have stepped away from this big family set-up, the establishment so to speak, that continues to thrive at home, I found myself at a vantage position. I observed how quickly everyone sprung to action and how much easier it was to mobilise things with all the extra hands to help in striking off duties that required doing, rites that needed fulfilling, and in between it all being there for each other, lending a shoulder, consoling, praying and keeping it together. It warmed my heart in a way I didn’t think VC’s family could. I recognised how it was all possible because they live within mere footsteps of each other, the doors of their homes almost opening one into the next.
Almost in the same breath, though, I realised how taxing the very same system can be. How unequal, one-sided, skewed and deeply, deeply patriarchal it all is. How the men automatically relegate themselves to matters of rites and rituals that women are patently kept away from, while women swiftly slipped into action taking care of cleaning up, getting food organised and playing host to visitors who came in to offer condolences.
As a woman rather unaccustomed not just to this sort of conventional division, but also very unaware of the customs and mores, the “right” things to say, the “right” way to behave, I watched part aghast (that this reality exists within a single degree of separation from me), part relieved (that I am sufficiently distanced from it), but very, very distressed at how much more taxing a system that ostensibly is about togetherness, is on women folk alone.
As we drove to the funeral, VC and I wondered aloud about being so ill-equipped to handle a situation like this. Not only am I not mentally or emotionally prepared for what death brings, but I am completely clueless about the motions that follow. Watching the family silently ticking things off that invisible list of things that need to be done when an elderly person in the family passes on made me wonder where is this list, what goes on it, how is it passed on and how will we ever know?
I barely knew granny. A language barrier posed a significant challenge in our chance to get to know each other. But that aside, I have always been the misfit daughter-in-law of the home. In the year I lived in the home, every morning I’d leave for work, feeling like I was defying generations and years of expectations that had been imposed on me. I carried the guilt of it for many years later.
When I visited from Goa, I’d be sure to go say hello, take her blessings, but it probably didn’t help that I showed up sometimes with blue streaks in my hair, sometimes wearing a dress that ended above my knees, no bangles on my wrists, no diamonds in my ears, and eventually with a pixie cut that she just laughed at, straight in my face. Every time that I’d visit, she’d forcefully tell me it was time to have a child, and I’d give her the same plain-vanilla answer, “It’s not what I want, so there’s likely not going to be a child.”
None of this made her happy, I’m sure. So I can’t say I had a real relationship with her. But she was adorable in that way grannies are, and I suppose she had made an impact somewhere in my life because I surprised myself when I realised I was crying quite uncontrollably when her body was carried off to the crematorium.
Go well, mummy. We may not have gotten to know each other too well, but you lived a long, full and blessed life and I’m fortunate I got to witness some part of it.
The traditional prayer meeting saw VCs entire extended family come together. It gave me the chance to meet so many people; uncles, aunts, cousins, children for the first time since our wedding ten years ago. Having moved to Goa within a year of getting married, and shutting ourselves off in a place that was conveniently located away from the grid, we escaped most family shindigs. It worked very well for us. We always had work keeping us busy, and even if we wished to attend family dos, Goa isn’t the most convenient place to just up and go from.
So it was oddly nice to be together, touch base again, now that we’re here and possibly will run into family more often (than we’d even like!).
As per custom to close all business operations, we shut shop for three days. On Thursday, though, we left for a shoot close to Salem. What was meant to be a one-day shoot, turned into two days because a- it was more extensive than we imagined and b- the exhaustion of the week finally caught up with us and neither of us wanted to drive back the same night.
We returned on Friday night, I was totally disoriented. My routine has been shot to bits, and that always makes me feel a bit rootless. The weekend was spent largely catching up. With unanswered emails, meetings waiting to happen, and assignments lying unfinished. It’s Monday, and I’m still feeling a bit out of sync, but plodding on in the hope that just getting on with it will bring that rhythm back.
Two years ago: Day 64: Because I want to remember