My Eccentric Antique Little Girl
‘Grandmothers are just antique little girls’ said a sign that hung in a friend’s home. And another said ‘Grandmothers are allowed to be eccentric. It’s in their contract.’ I would imagine both of these hold true, in so many varied ways, for grandmothers everywhere. But especially for mine. She was, and will always be, the quintessential eccentric antique little girl to me and everyone who knew her closely. A woman as unusual as one could be within the shackles of a conventional life.
Hangovers at age 65 and releasing a self-composed music album of her Urdu poetry at 70 were as much a part of her skill set as raising 6 kids at the age of 24. On her 78th birthday this week, I’d like to share with you what made her so special.
The stories she told me in my childhood were stories of her childhood. A childhood she treasured and held onto all the more tightly, having been married off at the grand old age of 15. Looking back at her story-telling ways, I see now her fervent desire to hold on to her short glimpse of her own individuality. Her blink-and-miss experience of herself as a person who followed her joy and her delights, did exactly as she pleased, threw caution to the winds and then faced any consequences – and her exasperated mom – with her chin up. Mischief was often the predominant theme is every one of her stories, a trait that ran through her like the blood in her veins. A trait that may well have resulted – and grown stronger — in opposition to the 360 degrees of restrictions on girls back then. Her brand of raw, rough-edged, small-town childhood mischief was highly aspirational to the city-bred, much-uniformed, reluctantly well-behaved child in me.
Curiosity, creativity, comedy, a love for beauty and a sense of innocent wonder were some of the other ingredients in her particular genre of stories. Various concoctions of these came alive with the glint in her eyes and her gift of story-telling. Making me dive head-first into her world and live out each of her memories as if they were mine.
To my 7-year-old mind, this was a many-splendored human – one to watch and learn from. Listen and glean lessons from, laugh and discover delight with. A multi-dimensional person with a colourful past and a present made bright by her own light. The first person who showed me that being a human can be an interesting experience with all its highs and lows and plateaus, if one brings a certain attitude to it. A certain pinch of elegance, humour and compassion. Like the just-right pinch of salt in her lemonades that made them way more delectable than lemonades are expected to be.
So much of who I am today – and relish being – comes from her. Travel and adventure were some of her biggest dreams in her wheelchair-bound latter years, and many a moment in the thick of my travel excitement, looking out airplane windows just before landing or feasting on views from just-hiked mountaintops, I’ve felt her living out her dreams through mine. Just as I once lived out her memories as mine.
The evening before she passed away, the family gathered around her and her eyes stopped at each of us for one long moment, as if to memorize each person into some part of her being that was way beyond the limits her body and time had imposed on her. Breaking limitations had always been her style after all.
I may be biased, but I can swear she saved her biggest, most sparkly glint-eyed look for me. As if to transmit all her mischief into me, seeing me as a worthy and eager successor. A look devoid of any sadness even if you searched through and through. A look fully meant as a high-five from all the magic in her to all the magic she saw in me. A look that told me we shared a secret – that she wasn’t going anywhere and I would feel her presence anytime I summoned it.
Her passing felt not so much like the loss of an elderly person whose time had come, but more like the loss of a little girl I’d long known and loved and hugged and kissed. A girl who lives on in me now, until I meet her again on the other side of eternity someday. And this time, it will be my turn to spill out story after story. With hopefully some fraction of her magical knack for story-telling.