A year back, when I first moved into hostel more than a thousand miles away from home, I felt all alone.
For the first time, I had no mother with me to wake me up every day (which is no easy task); I had no father to guide me about my decisions; I had no grandmother to feed me with her own hands (a privilege I still enjoy every time I am back home); I had no grandfather to thrill me with the stories of his exploits in faraway lands. All I had with me was a cauldron of emotions: a whirlpool of sayings, advice, stories and morals.
The first day I was in my hostel room alone, I felt like crying. It felt like I was on a lonely unguided ship taking me to a desolate place far, far away with no promises to return soon. I started thinking, “What if my grandparents die while I am away? What if something terrible happens to my family?” I broke down and started weeping. Which was when the phone rang up.
Maa is one of those gentle souls who cannot be at peace knowing that someone somewhere else is suffering. So when I picked up Maa’s call, I pretended to be alright.
Quite obviously, she saw through it.
But she knows best how to calm someone down. She took my mind off by weaving a story about our winter vacation plans and asked me what I felt about it. Then she recounted the story of how Dora, our cat, was finding it difficult to get up on the window sill, so she just had to claw and chew through the expensive curtains which kept getting in the way. Maa was almost sympathizing with Dora though I could hear Dad grumbling about Dora’s elevated position in the household. At the end of the phone call, I was genuinely happy.
There’s a unique lesson to be learnt from each elderly person, because they have all grown old with their own set of ideas and experiences, tied together with intimate bonds. While Maa taught me how to control outbursts of anger, Dad taught me how to solve problems rationally. While Dadu (grandpa) taught me how to think, Ammi (grandma) taught me how to feel. Even before I learnt to read, Ammi used to read out Amar Chitra Katha stories to me, enthralling me with stories of Lakshmibai and Shivaji, inspiring me with stories of Netaji and Swamiji, entertaining me with stories of Akbar-Birbal and Vikram-Betaal.
The support my elders have given me, is enormous. Their influence, all-encompassing.
Is it possible for me to support them back for all that they ever did?
Maa once told me how Ammi loves telling her sisters when I do well in an exam or win a quiz. She feels good knowing that there’s her grandson leading a healthy life (ignoring the chips and soft drinks) miles away from home, making her proud. Dadu’s expectations are somewhat higher: he wants me to wake up by 6 every morning.
To conclude with two lines from one of my favourite songs, from Ek Phool Do Mali, where the father sings to his child:
“Aaj ungli thaam ke teri, tujhe main chalna sikhlaaun
Kal haath pakadna mera, jab main buddha ho jaaun”
(Today, I enfold your hands and teach you how to walk
Tomorrow, do clasp my hands when I become too old)
Edit: This blogpost came second in the Support Elders Blogging Contest. Heartfelt thanks to all who read this 🙂