My grandmother is timeless. While others aged as I grew…she was old from the time I knew her. It was like she was born old and stayed that way until her end. Her thinning white hair was pulled back in a tight top bun, showing her wizened face. Her eyesight though failing still shined sharp hinting her intelligence.Her sagging skin was pruned like a faded creased parchment. Neither her age nor her swaying pendulum-like walk deterred her from doing her chores. Her knotty, gnarled fingers were always at work cooking, scouring or gardening. She swore on her independence and always liked doing things on her own. She is long gone now…no more….. but her stories have stayed me.
As senility grounded my grandmother she grew garrulous and loved talking about incidents from her vivacious past. She would never let a chance slip, in narrating her stories to a stray listener. They were always full of life, peppered with scenes of her valor. The irony lay when the same incidents sounded stripped and bleached when it was retold to us by her contemporaries. She was always a brave woman in these tales from her yesteryears. Some of it was so far fetched that even we children could see through that she was lying . There were instances of how she would go to the movie theater alone with a loaded gun in her hand or how she boldly rode the bicycle along the paddy fields, cheered by her brothers or the time when the then Prime minister, Indira Gandhi drank ‘cool drinks’ offered by her or her fantasies of having talked back or even slapped my boisterous grandfather whom she often regretted for having not divorced ’cause she did not know there existed an option like that. There was even one about how she single-handedly caught a thief and was lauded by her neighbors and the local priest as the savior of the street. But they were always the same, the truth tweaked a little each time, till it turned into illusion far removed from reality.
Yes, there was always a seed of truth in these stories. She did go to movie theaters. My grandfather did meet Indira Gandhi, as the local collector to receive her at the airport. There was once a thief too, who tried robbing my house. But they were all wrapped each time in layers and layers of fantasies and figments of her imagination. And there were the other ones that were purely products of her illusion. The truth be told her free spirit was sadly yoked by patriarchy in her youth and her earnest desires of learning to drive a cycle or her demand for equality and self-respect from my grandfather were sadly never fulfilled. The denied dreams coupled with her old ages’ distortion of memory led her to weave tall tales where fact blurred into fiction and the monochrome-reality was dyed in vibrant colours of illusion.
However, it was these illusions that sowed optimism enabling her to look beyond the scars and pimples of her life and relish its beauty. As I write about her and contemplate on her tall tales, I realize how all of us have our customized illusions we turn to: a Santa Claus to a child, a prince charming to a young girl or will it sound blasphemous if I say, God…. to you and me. Whatever be it, it is these illusions that give us hope and make reality palatable!