On her 18th death anniversary, my dad recalled his fond memories with Maaji, his grandmother:
"Going back to the village was always exciting because of Maaji's food. But the best part was that she allowed us to draw on the walls. My mother was too strict about her walls being spoilt by kids, but Maaji, never.'
This made me laugh a little because his mother and my grandma actually allowed me to mess up my bedroom walls when I was kid. She even tried to cover for me when my mom scolded me for it.
My 50-year-old father narrating this experience with childlike joy made me realize that the lovely relationship grandparents share with their grand kids runs down generations.
Coming from a family where both my parents were working, I ended up spending most of my childhood with grandparents from both the sides, who were more than happy to have me around. They gave me my nickname and I took my first steps in front of them. My childhood became all the more better because I had 4 adults to tell me stories, spoil me with a little too many chocolates and teach me the real meaning of unconditional love.
As a growing child, they would compliment the most crooked of my drawings, encourage my very bad dance moves and motivate me to be whatever I wanted to be. I didn't quite understand the importance of having such encouragement around me back then, but in hindsight, I realize they were slowly and lovingly moulding me into a confident adult. Be it wanting to cut my doll's hair or painting the walls, they supported my wildest ideas. Not once did they curtail my thoughts or actions, although their watchful eyes never left me unattended.
And my God, did they go to lengths to take care of me! From running around in the park even with the painful arthritis to teaching me how to play hopscotch, I think I really stretched their physical limits. But their love for me was way greater than that. When I look back now, I feel extremely bad for putting them through all the discomfort but I also know they wouldn't have stopped even if I asked them to.
If my parents believed in bitter 'allopathic' medicines for a fever, my nani and dadi won over it with thande paani ki patti. When my parents scolded me for being too naughty, my dada and nana scolded them back.
My parents were strict about the intake of street food but my dada had no qualms about taking me out on his scooter for a plate of gol gappe. My nana wouldn't even allow my mother to walk in his garden but I was an exception. I learnt from them that you don't need to do big things to make someone happy. The smallest gestures can make someone's day.
Honestly, my grandparents were way cooler than my parents. My parents had to be the good cops to instill discipline in me but my grandparents were done with parenting. Now, they were all ready to spoil the kids of the family. They let me be a kid in the true sense.
But as time went by, I could see them getting older. They couldn't run in the park all that well and they were less inventive with games. They never stopped spoiling me with chocolates and street food but their wrinkled faces reflected their age now.
Even as a teenager, that scared me. They were unwell more often and as the circle of life goes, I took charge of taking care of them. However, that didn't mean I wasn't their baby anymore.
In fact, I can safely say they understood me better than my parents even though they were from an older generation.
I remember my dadi asking me why I look upset after my first break up. She could gauge my mood like no one else and would go ahead and fix it with halwa. Like always, it worked wonders. My nani told me I should take up humanities if I don't like science when the time to choose my stream came.
But soon the time came. Nana passed away due to cancer. What irked me the most was that he never drank or smoked but cancer struck him. Dada passed away of a sudden heart attack. No one and two and wait for the third. He was just gone. Nani and dadi both passed away of old age. And just like that, I wasn't a child anymore.
No one to call me with the nickname they gave me, no one to spoil me with halwa and no one to narrate my childhood stories to me.
But even in their death, they guided me through my first experience of loss.
They took a whole chunk of my childhood with them, ushering me into adulthood. I cried, blamed God and cried again. But now, I realize that this is the cycle of life. I'm making peace with the fact that I was blessed to have them around. They taught me so much and gave me stories I'll tell my own kids.
I still swear by my thande paani ki patti, and halwa can fix my mood on any given day. I know the best street food vendors in my area and I also don't allow anyone to walk in the garden. Most of all, I know the feeling of unconditional love.