She is a peculiar character, my velliamma. From the time I remember she was fond of keeping a jar of candy or toffee next to her bed. One of the many habits she shed with age. I remember her asking me to buy packets of mangobite, Coffee bite, or melody, if she was in a mood for it. She made it a point to call us all to her room after each meal to give us one toffee each. Except my dad, her beloved eldest son, he got two toffees because he is older than the rest of us (duh).
She is like that, openly partial. I, as her first grandchild, am subject to a huge portion of her affection. Once she called me, Bilal and Shereef to her room and said she is going to give us some pocket money. 100 rupees. Less than 2 dollars. For the three of us. She said "Shereef and Bilal take 33 rs. Nazreen can take 33 and the extra 1 rupee, since she is the eldest." She is the eldest among her siblings, and clearly being born first gets one into a soft corner in her heart. Why shereef and Bilal resented me a lot back then. Ha!
She has a sweet tooth. Her idea of a good cup of tea is one with four teaspoons of sugar. That was one of the ways I got into her good books, By making her sickly sweet tea.
Velliamma was probably the one who invented the concept of everything has its own place and only in that place the thing shall go. It gets her worked up if things aren't in their places. When she stopped entering the kitchen, about 20 years back, she started folding the entire household's laundry from her bed. Many an embarrassing moment have I had when she would wave bras high in the air above her head, very intimate flags these, asking the owner to step forward and identify themselves so she can add it to their pile. This while the whole clan was seated around her. As a a very awkward teen, this was my idea of hell.
Once my grandpa, a die hard cricket fan , was watching a critical match between India and Pakistan. Or Australia.I don't remember. Anyway, It was the last ball. and India needed six runs to win. He was tensed and leaning forward, focusing hard on the screen. My grandma, who by then was walking slower than before, slowly shuffled across the room, stopped infront of the TV, blocking his view, and unfurled a torn underwear. "is this yours?" She asked, wanting to sort the laundry pile as soon as possible. My grandad was stumped, then screamed at her to move. Too late. The last ball was over. The crowd had erupted in cheers and he didn't know which team won. My grandma still wanted to know whose underwear it was as my granddad was on the verge of self-combusting.
6-9pm used to be her TV soap viewing time. She did not allow us to even touch the remote during this time. Malayalam soaps had her literally on the edge of her seat. She used to bite her nails in anxiety at the prospect of the heroine falling into the trap of the vamp, whom she used to curse without reservations. Once we found her sitting by herself and crying. When we asked her what happened, she said she was feeling sad for the mother in law in one of shows. "Paavam. She has to suffer so much because of that evil daughter in law of hers" she said through tears.
Bilal and Shereef used to hate these Malayalam serials because they clashed with their WWE viewing time and they couldn't watch sweaty men fake break chairs on each others backs.
One day they decided enough was enough and at 5.50 pulled out the cable from the back of the TV while grandma wasn't looking. They said if we can't watch, then she can't either. At 6 pm my grandma was greeted by static on the screen. For three hours. Then miraculously it became alright at 9. This carried on for a couple of days till she finally caught on what's happening. The boys got an earful that day.
Velliamma doesn't remember much these days but is still very concerned about her "mealsafe" (meat-safe) and its contents (which range from the 1960s to 90s, an assortment of old plastic ice cream cups, dinner sets she got as wedding presents, metallic contortions of things that were supposed to be spoons, corpses of cutlery, all covered in a generous coating of dust)
I have watched her shrink in front of my eyes. I have seen age strip her of her memory, take away many aspects of her personality, make her insecure. I see her hallucinate sometimes. Sometimes she tells me she talked to her parents. She becomes a child and wants her mother to come take care of her. Now we need two people to help her go to the bathroom. She screams a lot. She forgets a lot. She talks a lot. And she wants us around all the time, scared that we will abandon her otherwise.
Over the decades, the roles have been reversed. As we move from being under her care to becoming her caregivers, she has returned to childhood. She cries, we console. She becomes stubborn and fussy so we chastise and try to reason with her.
Sometimes it gets too much. But she could be any of us in 50 odd years. That terrifies me.
Old age can be a terribly isolating, lonely place. I don't think we can fully understand how much it weakens ones spirit till you are bang in the middle of it. I can only hope that I carry on till the end of my time without being abandoned by my strength and senses. InshaAllah.
Meanwhile, here's my grandma saying peace out.
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