Saturday, July 11, 2009

A Forgotten World.

I have very faint memories of my didima. (My maternal grandmother.)

Everything I know about her comes from my mother. She tells me that my grandma was a gentle and delicate creature. She was soft-spoken and frail. She had long, lustrous hair that reached past her waist. She tells me that her husband was devoted to her and all her children loved her with their whole hearts. I personally think that a woman who bore her husband eight children, could not have been frail. A woman who ran her large household with efficiency and precision could not have been so delicate. She must have been strong and capable. She must have possessed a magnetic personality to arouse such love and devotion from her husband and children... but what do I know? I have very faint memories of my grandmother.

My memories of my childhood start from age 4. My father was posted in Muscat. We would come to India for our annual holidays. I would visit my mother's home with her and watch in amazement at her transformation. She would seem vivacious and joyful. She would laugh loudly and talk nonstop with her sisters and brothers. I would sulk, standing in one corner, seeing my grandma going about her tasks silently. She did not seem to notice the presence of a little girl in that room. How could she? She had to run this big house and look after the comforts of the people. I was not her only grandchild. She could not afford to pay me any extra attention.

Things changed over the years. My mother's family, which was a close knit joint family slowly started to break after my grandfather's death. The love and laughter that I saw and internally resented, slowly changed into sorrow. And in the middle of all this, was my grandma, who started crumbling, without anyone noticing.

It started with depression and apathy. Many dismissed it as an after effect of her beloved husband's death. After almost 50 years of togetherness, they were an unit no more. The world, as she knew it, was not the same.No sympathy was offered, no doctor consulted. The sons started discussing who should keep her for how many days. For the first time in her life, she left behind the security of the big house in Kolkata, to move in with her second son in Bombay. A cramped 2 bedroom apartment. The sons felt it would be better if she could spend time with all her three sons for a few months.

This move was perhaps what started it.Without anyone knowing exactly when, her vocabulary started shrinking. She spoke little anyway, so nobody noticed anything initially. Then began the nightly wanderings. When her children realised this was no ordinary depression, medicos were consulted. More than 35 years ago, people were not really so aware. All they knew was this was Alzheimer's, and there was no known cure.

When did the warmth that my grandma always experienced, go? When did the love of all her children desert her?The society norms dictated the sons look after the mother. They came under tremendous physical and psychological pressure. The daughters were mute. It was unthinkable those days to keep one's mother in the house which they shared with their husbands' families. Parents-in-law, brothers-in-law, their families... where was the room for their sick mother? There were altercations and bitterness. Accusations and tears. Brothers vs sisters. Issues over money and care.And in the middle of all this, there she was, my grandma, forgetting bit by bit, a part of her world everyday.

The last few years were painful, not only to her but also to her children. They witnessed the breakage of a personality they had loved so deeply. A lady, who single handedly ran her home with an iron hand, was no longer capable of performing most of her daily activities. A mother who gave birth and raised eight children, now needed assistance for most basic bodily functions. The mother who loved them and healed their pain, now looked at them blankly and failed to recognise them.

Perhaps it would have been better to preserve a room entirely for her. A reminiscence room, where she could go and touch the familiar things. A place she could have felt comforted and soothed. A room with all the memories of her husband and children, Perhaps that would have given her back a part of her lost world. But all she knew was an endless number of caregivers and maids, impatient with her for her urinary incontinence, her disturbing behaviour and for not responding to their calls.

The last memory I have of my grandmother is me standing holding my mother's hand and looking at her with fear. My mother holding the door pane, her body shuddering with silent sobs. My grandmother smiling and asking her,"Who are you, and who is this little girl with you?"

It is sad that this is one of my very few memories of my grandmother....but perhaps what it is sadder is that she did not have any memories of me.


sujata sengupta said...

Dad often spoke about your Didima as her house was the most frequented by dad during his college offs.
Coming to the issue of old age and care, as days go by, my feeling becomes stronger, that we need to make good old age homes a strength in our society. I would love to invest in one such home and live peacefully and in comfort and company of my age people.

ZB said...

hey, how universal and comparable are emotions and memories. You have just said my memories about my grandmother(Maternal).

I remember her(grandma) asking my mother if she was Nalini ( My aunt, my grandmothers youngest daughter) and my mother crying. She called me by some strange name after Alzheimer’s, and she would look at the coconut tree and say- she can see men and women dancing in white clothes. She would hallucinate.

Very well written. Poignant and profound.

Sumandebray said...

Made me sad....brought back some memories of my dida ..... planted a seed of worry for my future ....
Many emotions flashing by too fast!
Fortunately my grandmother had all our undivided attention..
Sujata .. yes we can invest in a old age home .. probably a five star at that ... but think of those who do and did spend all what they earn(ed) to bring up their children.... do you advocate that we should be prepared to let our children be on their own as soon as they reach college?

Ire said...

I cannot imagine my thakuma not remembering me! Horrifying! My nani has been silently suffering from depression and hallucinations for the past four years now.

But she remembers me!

Jaadi said...

Very well written, Aparna. Unfortunately this is the case in many households today. We have elders who can teach us many things and show us the essence of life. Unfortunately we are losing them by not taking good care of them and their feelings.

Gymnast said...

That was very well written , Aparna.Beautiful narration. It certainly is the worst..losing one's sanity and self.

SJ said...

My maternal granny was the sweetest thing ever ( i still get dreams of her getting somosas from Chat bhandra in chennai). The paternal granny is the exact opposite, she is SO prejudiced, only sons are great, girls should be fair etc etc yuck. No hallucination or Alzhimers but that granny goes from one son's place to another spreading rumors about the daughter in laws :P

Even though I don't like very much I pray she doesn't fall into depression or anything that would suck the life of her and prevent her from spreading rumors and spoiling family fun :P

Sharmistha Guha said...

Sad Aparna...very sad.

I saw my father's Mejomama, falling prey to this deadly disease. He was the universal 'Mejomama' to all of us...a jovial, energetic, hyperactive 86 year old 'young man' (as he called himself), but the last few months of his life were so heart wrenching...

Randhir Singh Suman said...

thik hai.

BK Chowla, said...

Very well written.I can relate to your sentiments

P said...

heart wrenching. Alzheimer is crudely nick named 'sweet burden' and hits so much harder at an emotional level.
I remember a grand aunt who had the same. She called her grandson her son. She had vague recollection of her daughter and grand daughter but her son-in-law had turned into a neighbor for her!

Supriya Dutta said...

Sad infact...

JP said...

It happens...

Sylvia K said...

Your beautiful post brought back some sad memories of my own grandmothers and how the older they got the more they just seemed to disappear into another world.
There are lovely homes where older people here in the states can live and be lovingly cared for, although I fear not nearly as many are able to go there, particularly with the economy as it is now.
Thank you for sharing your memories, they are indeed universal and comparable.

anamika said...

Old age is something which is unavoidable but some how we always believe of not going through it in future....

Quite emotional indeed..

Urmi said...

Very well written.Its very emotional.Even I lost all my grandparents and miss them very much.While reading your lovely post I was remembering those days which I have spent with my grandparents and those days will never ever come back again.

Sucharita Sarkar said...

So touchingly described. Old age is such a helpless stage of life, but even with the best of attention and care, it is not possible to delay it. And I totally identified with your feelings of fear at watching your grandmother, because as children our fear is more than our sympathy. Which we may regret later, but by then it is to late for amends.

Aparna said...

@ Sujata, the old age home is a good idea. May be we should look around for a place where we can all stay near by. All the cousins are going to be old almost at the same time.

@ ZillionBig, my mother was devastated by my grandma's condition and she took a long time to come out of the trauma. You are right, this is an universal emotion.

@ Sumandebray, about what Sujata said, some age related ailments can be draining for the children. I perhaps would not want my children to be burdened by my presence. But some parents will always need their kids around to be sane. My grandma needed that. It is sad her children did not understand that.

@ Nikki, yes it is indeed sad when the person you are close to does not remember you.

@ Jaadi, old age care is pivotal in a society. It is unfortunate that in India, many people have gone away from their parents and have stopped taking the responsibility of caring for them.

@ Gymnast, thank you.Yes losing one's sanity is terrifying.

@ SJ, looking forward to a post on your ajji. My father's mom was the sweetest lady I have ever known.

@ SGD, this is a heart wrenching disease, more so for the children. Imagine the pain when your ma or baba does not remember you.

@ Suman, thank you.

@ BK Chowla, thank you.

@ P, yes for a lot of people, alzheimer is a burden. The cost of caring, the social, physical and psychological hardship is immense.

@ Priya, yes it is indeed very sad.

@ Jarlin, true.

@ Sylvia , Welcome to my blog. India is a traditional country where children have always looked after their parents. To many of us, putting a parent in a home for the aged is unimaginable. But it is true that the traditional family structure is breaking up and more and more old people are not getting the care that they deserve. These issues will always remain universal.

@ Anamika, yes we never think of our own old age when we are young.

@ Babli, the love that one gets from a grandparent is unique and can never be received from anybody else. Thank you.

@ Sucharita, I always had mixed feelings for my grandma, I did not understand her condition and therefore afraid of her, and I also resented her for making ma cry. You are the only one who noticed the word.

shilpa said...

its very sad story and your grandmom suffered pains so maybe god took her memories out to release those pains she was holding.I am not jugemental but can relate to the story of mine somewhere

Lala said...

my dada passed away when i was 4 or 5. but i remember one thing that happened before he passed away... we were all sitting (my buas and chachas were not yet married, so there must have been some 15 of us there) and eating (and somehow i remember it was roti and aam) when a bird hit the fan and went down. he picked it up, put it in a corner and gave the bird some water. the only other memory i have is him lying on the front room on a slab of ice and i am poring water in his mouth... you know, i have these images, but no sound. it is like there was complete peace. my dadi is still around (and she keeps shuttling around too)... i am very close to my nana and nani, who live close to where ma lives... and i dont know why i wrote all this... i dont think i can relate to what you say, but i guess you are lucky to have her memory.

ani_aset said...

I feel sad about the last line. God bless you

Nona said...

Thanks for sharing such a personal experience.

Meira said...

I would personally want a good old age home for myself, instead of scurrying in and out of my children's house, feeling like a burden. I wish our grandmothers had known about financial independence.

Sharmila said...

How beautifully written Aparna! Your writings always awaken thoughts, feelings and memories that have somehow moved into a corner of our minds in the busy days of life ... yet omnipresent. I have seen two people in the clutches of this scary malady ... one I was very close to ... my jethima's ma .. she was always laughing and smiling and talking yet perpetually forgetting everything and body. She could not recognise me the last time we met and called me by my masi's name.
I can never forget how I felt.

Sakshi said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Sakshi said...

If it were not for grandmother's how would we know about the naughty tales of our parents, the fairy tales, those hidden little treats which she promised was kept only for me her fave grand daughter?? I miss both my grandmom's and thankfully they didn't suffer before saying goodbye to this world. Your post's always touches the heart and some other's the stomach (coz of all the laughter and frankly it hurts my stomach....)

Btw I know you had noticed Dracut, Mass was on ur blog yesterday. But poor Dracut couldn't leave a comment bcoz of the Weekend Internet Surfing Hating person at home...Hope you will forgive me??

R. Ramesh said...

that reminds me..i have never seen both my grandfathers while my grandmoms were both close to me..good post...cheers friend

Swatantra said...

You have an amazing memory!! Good writing!!

sayrem said...

so touching aparna, u write beautifully. :)

wanderlust said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
wanderlust said...

totally agree with sujata and meira. these kind of situations are going to increase in future. and good old age homes are the right solutions. i personally believe it is not right and more importantly it is impractical to think that our chiildren will take care of us in our old age. we will be comfortable in one place and in all probabilities they in some other place. and adjustment would definitely be an issue either way.

Thanks for dropping by my blog. Have added you to my favourite list :-)

wanderlust said...

totally agree with sujata and meira. these kind of situations are going to increase in future. and good old age homes are the right solutions. i personally believe it is not right and more importantly it is impractical to think that our chiildren will take care of us in our old age. we will be comfortable in one place and in all probabilities they in some other place. and adjustment would definitely be an issue either way.

Thanks for dropping by my blog. Have added you to my favourite list :-)

JD said...

GMs are the best part of any childhood. When my GM died, i was the last one to know. But, when they took her away, my photograph was found under her pillow :-(
nice post

Roshni said...

this story is an all to familiar theme in our country unfortunately. It is more social pressure and stigma that calls children to take care of their ailing parents than love itself. One wonders if we are just the same as the west, only more hypocritical with regards to our 'duties'!

I am excited about your comment atmy blog about your family members being freedom fighters too! I would love it if you would consider a guest post at my blog. Do email me if you like the idea!

eye-in-sty-in said...

I loved my granny! (dad's side) I still miss her ... thankfully, mom's side granny is alive and well :-)
And both adored me, I guess i was lucky in this aspect :-)

A New Beginning said...

Hey Aparna!
Thats a very touching post. You know it so happens, that sometimes a perticular person becomes an imp part of our memories, he/she may or may not notice us. U have made ur grandma , a special part of ur memories and I think grandparents may not say it, but they do kw what we feel:)
She loves her granddaughter for sure, whereever she may be :)
Thanks for visiting my blog, do come again, it was great to have u there!

Deeps said...

That was so so touching,Aparna. Your Didima reminded me of my grandma.She was the pillar when it came to binding everyone in our family together. I literally grew up with her.And I used to call her 'Amma' just like my ma did. But I never felt any different.When she was alive,my mother,my uncle,his wife,grandpa,we all were close knit.And then when her health started to deteriorate my uncle,who got a transfer to Bangalore decided to take her and my grandpa with him.Probably that made her condition even worse. She had lived in Delhi for close to 45years and then one fine day she was being asked to relocate.It really broke my mom's heart.She felt helpless too.

After my Nani expired it has never been the same,the bond between my ma and her brother I mean.
I perfectly agree and echo with what Sujata has said."We need to make good old age homes a strength in our society"

Deeps said...

Oh,BTW,you grew up in Muscat?I was in Muscat for 5years before moving to Doha in September last year :)

I feel a closer connection with you now like I have with Sujata :))

Smitha said...

Such a touching post.. My grandma(maternal) deteriorated so fast after my granddad passed away.. Though my uncles and mom did everything they could.. It was almost as if she just lost the will to live.. But I was lucky to have known her and loved and be loved by her for almost 16-17 years of my life..

pradipwritenow said...

The sad part of our life is the old age. The things they need is the respect which they used to get before. The absense of this slowly decays the mental state.

Aparna said...

@ Shilpa,perhaps, that's true...perhaps she was happy not remembering anything.

@ Lala, thank you so much for sharing.
I really appreciate you sharing your memories with us.

@ Ani-aset, thank you so much.

@ Nona, thank you for writing in.

@ Meira, I wish she was financially independent too. I also want an old age home. Never want to burden my daughters.My husband on the contrary wants to be a problem for them and stay with them in his dotage.

@ Sharmila, it is sad when we lose our near and dear ones to such diseases.

@ Sakshi, welcome Dracut, Mass. I always notice the flag Sakshi and warms my heart. It is enough knowing that you have read. Moreover there's someone here who hates me surfing on Sundays too so I completely understand.

Aparna said...

@ Ramesh, our grannies and grandpas are precious. Thanks.

@ Swatantra, thank you very much.

@ Sayrem, thank you and welcome to my blog.

@ Wanderlust, we will definitely have problems in our old age. The earlier we plan for it, better perhaps it is for both us and our kids.

@ JD, grandmas are special.

@ Roshni, the Indian family is getting fragmented and old values are dying. For many of us, our parents are becoming a burden .We rallly have to look at proper old age care for the senior citizens.

@ EISI, lucky you!

@A New Begining, yes, grandkids are special, even if they never express their love.

@ Deeps, yes I grew up in Muscat. There are so many memories, thats another post. Relocation at any age is difficult. I felt for my grandma, it was devastating.

@ Smitha, you are lucky to have your grandma till that age. I lost both of mine pretty early.

@ Pradipda, old age is so difficult. The society and us need to be more sympathetic to their special needs.

Rajesh said...

This is the sad story in every household now. We fail to take care of those people in their time of need who nurtured us so well.

Sandhya said...

Still feeling sad, reading about your grandma. Old age is terrible stage, when you are alone, without your spouse, esp. Every one is busy, nowadays - not only now, always. Young people have got their family responsibilities and the work pressure also is more now, than before. So an invalid, sick person is a big burden. We can't blame old people or the young ones. Best is, staying in a good old age home with same aged people. And our own money should be there to pay for the home. We should not distribute our money, before we die. Just write a will properly, saying that everything goes to the children after the concerned person passes away.

Every person will end up, to this stage, one day, Sujatha.

sunny said...


Meghana Naidu said...

I can relate to every word of what you wrote. only worse, it was my gradmother who brought me up, she lived with us then.
She is the only living gradparent i have and more dreadful than she not remembering me is the fact that i dont remember her anymore.
All i cant think of is the childlike confused person she is now and those have overwritten all memories i had of her from before.

I remember reading a description somewhere, which compared alzheimer's to a 'permanent house guest who took over the household locked up her memories and threw away the key'

But i find solace in the fact that even though she doesnt remember my name, it is only my words she'll listen to, when i scold her to finish her food, or put her to bed, or make her take her medicine.

It feels relieving to talk about it, thanks for sharing.

Miss M said...

My parents and their friends have already made plans for their old age.

Apparently they're going to spend six months in Bombay and six months in Kolkata, living it up with their friends and family.

Oh and ma has already started lecturing me and my brother about how we should look after her and dad when we are married and have oue own life.

So you see, they are investing pretty well for their old age! :P

But your didima's story was somewhat similar to my didu's. Though she could very well recognise us and everyone else, her health really deteriorated towards the end, and a bit too rapidly.

Didn't got to see her before she passed away.

Miss M said...


Kavita Saharia said...

Aparna.....this post of yours made me very emotional....and pleeez don't talk about oldage homes.....i read today that internet surfing keeps brain many time my dear frns. .....the oldest blogger who recently died was over 100 yrs....CHEER UP ..ALL OF YOU.....i will be thinking of your nani for many was indeed a very emotional post.

Tharini said... are a fantastic writer! I have been silently enjoying all your recent posts. A Suitable boy was a complete riot to read and I fwded it to a friend of mine who enjoyed it too!

This post was really haunting. I can understand the tussles there can be between the boys and girls and the daughters having to keep silent.


ARUNA said...

hey Aparna, that was a really beautiful touching narration, very well written! I giess i'm visiting ur blog first time!

Aparna said...

@ Rajesh,it is the story of our times.

@ Sandhya, we need to really plan for our old age. The earlier we start the better.

@ Sunny,:( indeed.

@ Meghana Naidu, I am sorry for your grandmother. But she is with you and somewhere probably she connects with you still and that is I believe some consolation.

@ Miss M, good for your mom and dad. We all need to learn from them.And sorry to hear about your didu.

@ Kavita, you made me smile...I guess we all need to be more active in the blogging world!

@ Tharini, Thanks a lot. Glad to know you enjoyed reading my posts. I think you are pretty fantastic too.

@ Aruna, Welcome. Thank you for your appreciation and hope you will visit again.

The Panorama said...

Your post is really poignant and touching. You really have a gift for writing. Keep it up:)
My nani died of alzheimers too so I could relate to your post.

Mamma mia! Me a mamma? said...

This post of yours touched a chord on so many levels; the memories of how my mom would become 'different' whenever we came on our India trips and she was surrounded by her parents, brothers and sisters; watching my mama's baari, a once close-knit family, crumble away; and now, watching my mom struggle to come to terms with my grandmom's failing memories.

This was a beautiful post and your last line was a knock-out punch.