For the first time, I independently called my grandmother, without my parents in the room to help me translate my English-speaking brain into Tamil. Things went well. I explained that it was summer vacation and that I was working, that I made “Chinese rice” for dinner, that I often cook Indian food, and we both agreed that eating out too often isn’t good for ones health.
I was later analysing the conversation, suddenly remembering words that I previously couldn’t conjure up. I couldn’t think of the word “now”, so when asked when exactly summer vacation was, all I could do was name the month I was in, and the previous month, as an example. She consequently thinks that I have a two month summer. A big deal? Not really.
I was thinking about my grandmother, and how little I know about her life. I remembered a moment in grade 12 History class, when we were briefly going over Indian Independence, when I realized that my grandmother was alive during this time- that she lived in India at the same time that Gandhi was famously hunger striking, and infamously protesting over the salt tax. I’d always wanted to ask her about that time. For five years I’d wanted to ask her about that time, and tonight I finally did.
I was iffy about calling her so quickly after we’d already talked. I wrote down how to say “I have a question for you” in Tamil, spelt phonetically in English on a new page of my Moleskin diary. I summoned up the courage to open up Skype and call her again. I decided not to, that I would do it tomorrow. Earlier I had texted my friend, explaining that I was thinking about calling my grandma and having this conversation. She texted back saying “U should do it’. And I realized that I should just do it. And I did. (I later realized this happened to be the only friend of mine who’d ever met, or will, in all likely hood, ever meet my grandma).
I once again called my grandma and asked her about Indian Independence. She didn’t launch into detailed stories about the changing of past tides. She didn’t really get what I wanted. She reminded me of the date of Independence, August 15th. I asked her what it was like. She said things had been great then but were going down the drain now. She asked if I meant before independence or after, and I said both. From what I gathered- I couldn’t understand a few of the keywords-she said there had been some trouble before independence, but after it was great. She said some other things, but repeated this sentiment a few times. To sum it up, she said, “It was great, Indu.”
We talked about some other things after that: Gandhi, my uncle’s travel plans, my old dog who had died. But that line stuck with me. It was four words, but in those four words I understood something. I understood what it means to see the beauty and ease of a wholesome and cultured way of life slowly eroding into a unfamiliar chaos. I understood the desire to share that beauty and ease with the people she loved. I felt a long held nostalgia buried deep in her skin, in her wrinkled face, her tired limbs, for something that once was, and is now forever lost. I felt the love for something as big as a whole nation, for something as small as a milk man bringing a cow to her door each morning. I felt the love for something as foreign and unknown as a Canadian granddaughter, connected to her by lineage, and perhaps more tellingly, by our mutual fondness for stray dogs.
Our conversation lasted approximately nine minutes. I’m 21 years old and I think that’s the longest conversation I’ve had with my grandmother. Not because she isn’t great, or because we don’t love each other, but because she lives in India and I live in Canada. Very simple.
For those of you who have easy-access grandparents, and extended family, consider yourselves extremely lucky.