From Jammu to Gurgaon:
My mother-in-law is an only daughter, and so her aged parents had lived with her in Jammu for quite a while. A few years ago, they all moved in with us in Gurgaon, due to my father-in-law’s failing health. Even though her parents were in their mid-nineties, they were quite adaptable. Despite the language barrier and a different set up, they adjusted happily to the new environment.
From having used a wooden pen to encountering computers, they had seen it all. Nevertheless, a zest for life and an enduring curiosity to know more has kept their generation going. I have been married for a long time, but there was a side of Nani I had not seen before.
During our evening walks we would end up sitting on her favourite bench in the park. She would tell me many stories from her life, especially her biggest regret: that she hadn’t been able to study.
Nani was five and Nana was ten when they got married. Her mother had lost her husband very early in life. The money, as was prevalent in those days, used to be in the land and invariably there would be a cunning relative who would make sure your life was made more miserable than it already was. Despite opposition from her relatives against this child marriage, Nani was married and sent to her husband’s home.
A mere child, she sort of grew up with Nana. She would listen to the tutor who taught him, but was never formally sent to school. Those were tough days – families would be large and incomes meagre. The family struggled to survive, so education was mostly a male thing – the ultimate goal being to eventually land a government job. Playfully, without much awareness of the world around her, she grew up into a beautiful adult.
At the age of eighteen, a daughter was born to her who was taken care of mostly by her grandmother instead of her own mother. I suppose that it was maybe because these young mothers had to cope with their own growing up, as well as the other pressures of their life situations, which they didn’t quite fully understand themselves.
If you ask any Kashmiri of that era who their real father or mother was, they would most likely not be able to give you the correct answer, as grandparents mostly fulfilled that role. Real parents were just part of the greater family circle.
Anyway, life happened. Her daughter grew up and went to school, college and university but no one ever bothered to know if she had dreams too. It was an understood and unchallenged fact that women could live their lives in quiet subjugation and that they didn’t have the right to contest that.
At the time Nani and Nana moved in with us we had a house help who had dropped out of school to help her family. In the evenings I would teach her. Invariably granny would be sitting there and I would try and involve her in the lesson too. It was so heart-warming to see her absorbing the lesson and asking me relevant questions. As a matter of fact, most of the time it was she who would answer the questions meant for my house help.
She is a hundred years old now, and as she sits in her chair all day, with nothing much to do, she tells me, “If I was educated I wouldn’t need any one to talk to me, like the others I would read a book or look at the phones, like all of you do”.
She once said, “I think this is Satya Yug. See how women are emancipated today. They do what they want, they live their lives. Our generation just lived to survive”.
I was reminded of lines from Henry Wadsworth’s poem, A Psalm of life:
Tell me not, in mournful numbers,
Life is but an empty dream!
For the soul is dead that slumbers,
And things are not what they seem…
Lives of great men all remind us
We can make our lives sublime,
And, departing, leave behind us
Footprints on the sands of time;
Even having come so far in time, the burden of not leaving her own footprints anywhere is something she will have to take with her to the end, and for no fault of her own.
A Different Scenario: Lockdown
The whole world stopped being normal – or what was perceived to be normal. Women in most metropolitan cities went into a tizzy as their house helps were not allowed to work in an effort to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus – except if one had a permanent employee. I was no exception to this rule.
Luckily, our part-time help of three years agreed to stay with us and help us out. For the last three years she has been in and out of our place without being noticed much except for when she didn’t turn up. The last few months of having her living with us showed me a different image of a person I thought I knew. Jigyasa, is the mother of teenage children. She was married at the age of fifteen or sixteen.
With lockdown out came all the redundant, uncool things which we had either given away or hidden somewhere out of sight. The rebirth of carrom boards, playing cards, dining table tennis and old board games was witnessed with great enthusiasm.
Jigyasa was reborn. I am sure her own children won’t recognize her. She is the one who screams when she is winning or sulking and tossing rotis miserably when she has lost. The serious person who came in and out of my house for years is now an unbridled horse who just wants to roam free.
It wrings my heart to see the seeds of childhood that have not fully sprouted. The curiosity, the capacity to learn, the love to grow and live is so deeply embedded in her that our household, which is predominantly made up of older people, has become alive just by who she is inside. Funnily she has become the child of the family despite her age.
If you can dream – and not make dreams your master;
If you can think – and not make thoughts your aims;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those imposters just the same;
Every era has seen its challenges, its up-hills and down-hills. In every age there has been a conqueror and the conquered. The haves and the have nots. But the times that we live in belong to a generation who believes in making it possible for people to realize their dreams. To give meaning to lives which previously we thought didn’t matter. All lives matter, as do every one’s dreams. We just need to push the dreamboats of a few. The winds of time will keep their dreams afloat and give meaning to their lives. As someone said Hope matters, and we cannot live without it. Hope is not a wish, nor a desire for things to be different. It is a course of action a combination of mind and heart.
Read more from Anjli here: