Tuesday, July 31, 2007

My Grandmother

My maternal grandmother was the fifth of nine children in her family: five girls and four boys. Actually, her parents had first two children prior to nine but they both died in infancy. Out of five girls, my grandmother was the only one who was educated. In those days, girls were only educated up to the point where they were ready to get married and eventually start a family, while boys were expected to reach higher education in order to support their future families.

Even though her father was wealthy and respected in his community, he was quite strict in disciplining his nine children. Instead of riding in carriages to school, they were told to walk. In spite of servants around the house, they were taught to make their own beds in the mornings as soon as they arose (they were required to get up on certain times regardless of holidays), and put away their belongings in the proper places. The rest of the chores, the servants did them which included washing the dishes, sweeping and dusting the house, washing clothes and putting them on clothesline to dry, etc.

Their house was quite huge and beautiful. I was told that the columns were made of ivory while the floor were of real marble. There were two small cottages next to it, for servants. My
great-grandparents had three German Shepherds who lived in dog houses in the big yard.

My mother has good childhood memories of visiting there during summer times/holidays and interacting with her 35+ first cousins! (Unfortunately, upon my great-grandfather's death in 1968, in his will the house was given to his eldest son but he did not want it and neither did other siblings as it was too large, thus it was burned down. I don't know why it wasn't sold instead.)

Years later, when I asked my mother why my grandmother was the only educated among her sisters, she told me this story.

My grandmother married (arranged) at age twelve, as it was common in those days, especially among high and middle classes. (Nowadays, it is still prevalent but this time in low-class families) However, she did not go live with my grandfather until she was much older. (He was about five or six years older than her).

To pass her time as a married girl, she, while finishing up her high school education, mostly learned to sew, knit, cook, and visit her in-laws from time to time. In the meantime, upon finishing his education, my
grandfather decided to pursue further education in England. This was in the late 1930's.

But something happened. Few months after my grandfather temporarily moved to England, he suddenly fell critically ill. Several doctors examined and tested him but could not find anything specifically wrong. Apparently, he had some virus of a kind.

He was practically on death-bed that his brother-in-laws came and brought him back to India, to die in his native country.

Due to the fact that my grandmother would be a widow, my great-grandfather, after some thought, told her to pursue degree in medicine, in case of my grandfather's imminent death, she would be able to support herself. (According to their Hindu religion, re-marriage was not considered as an alternative, mostly for women).

At that time, colleges were only for men. However, since my great-grandfather was a benefactor of this college, my grandmother was allowed to attend. Because she would be the only woman in crowds of men, her father did not feel comfortable, thus asking his eldest son's wife, who then did not yet have kids, to accompany her.

After four years of core education, as my grandmother was about to enroll in medical school in the upcoming few months, my grandfather suddenly completely recovered, without any plausible explanation. (For the rest of his life, he did not as much get sick, i.e. flu, fever, etc, ever again until his death in 1997.)

Hence, she dropped her further education and started her married life with him, having three children in the process. My mother is the middle child.

During my teenager years, my grandmother lived with us. I remember the times she used to help me with my school projects, crafts, etc. She was very creative person and quite liberal compared to other Indian grandmothers of her time.

As of now, she is 85 years old, the only living grandparent, residing in India, with my aunt and uncle.