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Friday, January 29, 2016

Grandmother's demise

My grandmother on my mother’s side, Srimati Manimala Devi, whom I referred to once as ‘that utterly wonderful grand old lady’, passed away on the night of Monday, the 25th January, almost exactly eight years after my grandfather did. She too had a long life: married at fifteen, died nearly 88. Her great grandchildren are now grown up. We shall not have the same good fortune, people of our generation. She had been bedridden for years and almost lost her mind lately – though apparently she had a lucid interval hours before she died – but she went peacefully in her sleep, so for all practical purposes it was a blessed relief, and yet I cannot help feeling desolated. They don’t make grandmothers like that anymore. As my mother reminded me, I used to say she was my first love, and I guess she will remain the greatest, barring only Pupu and my yet unborn grandchild.

Born into great wealth, possessed of a rare beauty which gave her no end of trouble, reduced to poverty and humiliation after marriage, struggling lifelong to make a new hearth and home with her husband and three children (having lost yet another), giving shelter and succour to countless people over many decades, ruling her little imperium with an iron hand yet showering love and care with abandon, fighting a debilitating disease since her late youth – she will never enter the history books, yet her life could be the stuff of legends. She became a grandmother at the ripe old age of 35 – women go about in tank tops and tights or miniskirts at that age nowadays, women vastly less pretty and less substantial too – and although I never saw her dressed in anything but thinly bordered white saris without an ounce of makeup or jewellery, she had an aura of dignity and grandeur I have never seen surpassed, and I have seen a few women up close in my time. As for her relationship with my grandfather, I can only refer you to Dad and Mum in How Green Was My Valley

My relationship with my grandfather was much closer, more immediate and more intimate, and yet I got far more from my grandmother by way of quiet affection, indulgence and wisdom than I realized at the time. My memories go very far back indeed – right back to the little aluminium tub in which she used to bathe baby me – and a strange and beguiling mélange they make. She took ten-year old me along as an ‘escort’ when she went to see her favourite thakurmoshai at the Kalighat temple; the first time she saw me with a cigarette (I guess I was 17 then) the first thing she thought of asking was whose cigarette it was! and it irked my mama-s no end, grown up as they had under her very conservative rules, that she gladly tolerated how my girlfriends walked into my room and shut the door behind them. No one ever nagged me as much about if and what and when I had eaten as she did, God bless her soul. And yet she was the embodiment of calm efficiency when she nursed me the night I came home bathed in blood, having been involved in an accident while trying to take a hit and run case to the hospital. She was very fond of my short story Sushama – probably because it brought back many memories about my father and grandfather; she always said I reminded her strongly of her youngest brother the polymath, and thrice she was involved in matchmaking for me, twice because I could not imagine who else I could take along if I needed to have an elder with me at all. Oh, I could go on and on. She mothered me in a way that drove a very deep affection and regard for all womankind into my mind lifelong, something that so many bad and trivial women have still not quite succeeded in erasing. (Incidentally, she was one of those women who never tired of cautioning me against women!)

From 1980 to ’85 I lived directly in her care. Then unfortunate circumstances forced me to move out. Two years later, I returned to Durgapur – for good. But she remained a very important figure in my life for long after that. She was very much a presence at my wedding, and my daughter was cuddled and blessed by her hands (see photograph). The years flew by, but the contact never broke, though my visits became more infrequent – more so after dadu passed away in 2008, because the visits hurt too badly. Lately my mother actually told me not to visit, because I wouldn’t like what I saw. And now she’s gone. I hope she is happily reunited with her beloved father and husband, wherever she is, and I pray that her soul will find eternal peace. I know of few people who have earned it better.

[There are two more photographs, here]


Shilpi said...

Thank you for writing this tribute about your grandmum that unravels sparkling knots of recollections, incidents and feelings and for sharing them with your readers. I am terribly sorry for the desolation you feel – even if I cannot express it in words or sound clumsy in the process – but you’ve made your grandmum into a living memory, and I can see her within as she was in her prime and vis-à-vis you from what you said and from what you’ve written here. It’s clear that she embodied the finest attributes that a woman should possess: self-possession and composure in the face of seeing you covered in blood and yet nagging you about what you eat and also showering you with affection and a rare love and even indulging you…She embodies grace and beauty. Taking you with her to visit her favourite Thakurmoshai is something that made me smile wonderingly or bathing baby you in an aluminium tub - by God, you do have long memories. While in the bus and brooding yesterday, one of the few times I couldn’t help but chuckle was when I was reminded of what you said about her spirited response to the American GIs. The picture is lovely and it is a wonder to see little Pupu being held in the arms of her great grandmum and your dadu looks like a retired Army General somehow. Your post also makes one realise in a snap what you’ve yearned for from a woman/women/womankind. It makes sense that your dida was your first love. I was reminded of a sudden memory of what you’d said once in 2003. You’d told me about your grandparents for the first time in 2002 and I know I have thought about them through the years. I was re-reading your post on your dadu on January 9th and wondering about your dida. I am convinced that she is with her beloved husband…
Take care. Shilpi
P.S: I’ll wait to see the picture of her in her teens

Rajdeep said...

My heartfelt condolences. May her soul rest in peace.

Navin said...

Dear Sir,

My deepest condolences on her demise.

With Best Regards,

Subhasis said...

Dear Suvro Sir,
I am sorry for your loss.
It must be a painful experience to see a loved one pass away.
Death comes to us all,as it must.
But i find it incredibly heart warming, that you have written in such clear words of how she lived and loved.
I do not know you enough to say if you have a spiritual belief system,or not..But I hope that you will have the strength (from every source) to grieve the passing of such a pivotal figure in your life.
Kind regards,
S Chakraborty

Suvro Chatterjee said...

Thank you, Shilpi, Rajdeep, Navin and Subhasis.

I count these comments. Tells me a lot about people.

Soham Mukhopadhyay said...

Dear Sir,

Please accept my deepest condolences on your grandmother's demise. It was heartwarming to read about her. This post reminded me of the similar article on your grandfather that you wrote earlier. It is truly remarkable to know about them, especially when it is narrated by you. Also, these kind of posts make me miss my own grandparents, from my father's side, whom I never met in my life. Both passed away before I was born.

I know it is difficult to suddenly confront the fact that someone so close to you is not around any more- especially if she took care of you during your college days. But I know you will muster the strength to carry on. Take care.

with warm regards,

P.S : I'll be waiting to see that photograph of her in her teens

Suvro Chatterjee said...

Ankan Saha's comments are always specially welcome, not only because he is a favourite old boy who has kept in touch, but because it was he who got me into blogging. Also, his comment on this post has a particular relevance and poignancy, because he lost his beloved dad very early in life, and so knows how this sort of thing feels. This is what he wrote via email, and has kindly permitted me to reproduce here:

"Dear Sir,

I just read your latest blogpost about your grandmother passing away. My deepest condolences at your loss. It is indeed a very touching and poignant post reminiscing about a person on such a lively and positive note that it almost felt hard to imagine that she is not around any more. While it makes for incredibly engrossing reading and also gives me more insight to your early life, it also made me think how I would fare if I attempted to write about my grandparents, both of whom passed away several years back.

At moments like this I jarringly realize the paucity of genuine connection with most close relatives and how little I truly know about them. While I only saw them during vacations, there were several anecdotes here and there that my mother often recalls (from times when I was too young to recollect myself), that makes me wonder how things would have been if I knew them better.

I have particularly tried to write such a piece about my father several times, till it got too hard to continue. I also realize that with the passage of time, the memories fade gradually, the face becomes increasingly indistinct and the intervals between reminiscence get progressively elongated. I really don't have that many worries in life yet, but I do worry that I will probably forget the details about him, his mannerisms and his features with time. Which makes it all the more pertinent that I write more about him while I can.

I am happy though that your grandmother finally escaped the suffering and hopefully went to a much better place. Her life, through your eyes, surely feels like a life very well (and vibrantly) lived. I hope I am able to say the same about myself when it's my turn. I also read about your trip to Darjeeling, glad to know you had a good time with Pupu in the mountains, free from the crowd and that your leg has healed significantly now.

And I am sure you already have the strength to reminisce about your grandmother with a smile on your face.

Best wishes."

Tanmoy said...

Dear Suvroda
My sincere condolences.


Nishant said...

Dear Sir,

I am really sorry for your loss. But it is always a pleasure to read tributes you write about people who you look up to. From the fond memories, things they did on certain instances which shaped your personality, how their presence influenced you, we get to know more about you. I also see why the bar is set quite high for a person to be deemed worthy of your respect. Writing something nice about someone tells us not only about the person, but about the author as well. Thanks for the article.


P.S. I am pleasantly surprised that you can remember as far back as taking a bath in an aluminium tub.

Suvro Chatterjee said...

Thank you, Soham, Tanmoy and Nishant.

Yes, I do have a long memory. And Nishant, some people set the bar very high for me right in my childhood - apparently to the discomfiture or even chagrin of a lot of people who have crossed my path since then, alas! Particularly true about the females of our species.