Letters to the dead
Disclaimer (sort of): Since so many are wondering (as I would), this is half “inspired”, some autobiography and some pure fiction. Read on.
To my dead grandfather,
This letter will not begin with Dear or end with Love. Not even with With Fond Memories. Yes there are fond memories but they’ve been forcibly and consciously replaced with hurt, disappointment and disgust. The perks of being an adult – you get to choose your memories. They say in death we eulogize. We claim virtues that aren’t even there. We exalt the person to a height where they’d gasp for air if alive. Not for you thatha, the words don’t come to me.
I see the life of your children today. My mother is the oldest. She has three sisters. You chose those husbands. My mother had the temerity to choose hers. At the age of 27. In 1978 that should have been okay, even late. But you taunted her “is this what I educated you for”. Her sisters jeered at her, called my father “avan” – the utmost disrespect for a son-in-law. It’s small of me to care about those trespasses, I know. My mother was pregnant with me in the first three months. Coming home for her delivery should have been joyous. Awaiting your first grandchild should have been a blessing. Instead your wife and my grandmother said “Have you come back already, lugging your stomach?” My mother said nothing. She was still smarting from the letter you sent detailing the expenses of the wedding in a neat tabular format. (it included the cost of the auto to the registrar’s office). You didn’t even use the inland letter so it could be sealed. It was out in the open, on the 25 paise postcard. You wanted my father to read it. He did.
My aunts went on to do PhDs (my mother only has an MS). You took your time looking for their husbands. They sat smug in the knowledge that they hadn’t wasted their life on a man. Grand marriages came in quick succession once they were 30. My mother remembered her plain cotton sari and her registered marriage and sat palely on the sandal-scented mandaps. She dutifully did the eldest-sister duties and went home to the man she shouldn’t have married.
Sister 1’s husband beats her. He quit his job and lives off her. He’s taught his daughter choice Tamil expletives which she uses on her mother. They laugh at her obesity and look away when she talks. She is Treasurer at the leading bank in Chennai.
Sister2 married the dream and went to America. Her husband lost his job and verbally abuses her. He came home drunk last month and smashed his phone into the wall. He said he wished it were her head. Her son is a valedictorian but now he does drugs. She teaches advanced calculus and was voted best Math teacher in her district in Virginia.
Sister3’s marriage is said to be on the track back to normalcy. He doesn’t drink or smoke as much. He also doesn’t stay with them and visits once a month. She is an IAS officer.
My mother will retire this year. She’s had a low-profile but successful teaching career. Her colleagues love her; they cannot bear to see her go. Her ex-students drop by to visit her at school. They say they cannot imagine tenth standard without her. My father and she fight constantly. But he has never come home drunk, lifted a finger on her, missed a PTA meeting or Sports day, forgotten her birthday or anniversary or the fact that she fasts on Tuesdays.
She is nervous to retire and wonders what will happen to the life she’s built for herself over the last 31 years. But she comes home to a man and daughter who will play scrabble with her and praise her sambar no matter how many Sundays go by.
I just wanted you to know that that last part? You had nothing to do with it.
Your granddaughter, GOtB