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Letters to the dead

May 19, 2009

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

16 Comments leave one →
  1. May 19, 2009 4:42 pm

    wow..this was intense..did you find this piece cathartic?
    hats off to your pa and you for putting your mom on a much deserved pedestal. she is indeed a brave and strong lady to have defied her parents and not give in to their insensitivities.
    i loved the way you concluded your letter.
    a mama’s girl indeed!

  2. May 20, 2009 2:38 am

    A beautiful piece.

    I am sure you are so proud of your parents and your mother especially for following her heart.

    ‘Success’ comes in many forms but I believe your mother is proof of true success 🙂

  3. girlonthebridge permalink*
    May 20, 2009 4:43 pm

    I have to caveat this and say it’s part fiction, part autobiography. Thanks Sukanya and Silvara….I’m not half as nice to my mom in person, so I keep trying to compensate for it 🙂

  4. May 20, 2009 7:07 pm

    As I was reading it I was hoping there would be a disclaimer at the end about it being fiction. The ‘part’ autobiographical part doesn’t do much, GoTB. Hugs. So sorry you and your parents had to go through this.

  5. May 21, 2009 11:31 am

    Big hug.
    I saw my mum in the simple cotton sari amongst the sandal-scented mandaps.
    If the dead could shudder, they just did.
    And that bit, where you say, adults can choose their own memories, so true. Just sums up all my pain.

  6. Medha permalink
    May 25, 2009 3:09 am


    Just wow! I really am at a lost for words.
    This was soo beautiful because it was just so honest. I could feel it. I think we all can.

    Simply wow!

    First time here. So, Hi! 🙂

  7. May 29, 2009 3:46 am

    Raging against and disapproving of marriages is probably one of the most short-sighted things to do. I often observe this in cousins who defied the “norms” of caste and religion to get married, but are now much happier than a lot of the “sanctioned”matches.

  8. May 29, 2009 11:05 am

    First time commenter here.

    This was powerful stuff, GoTB. Hope it helped to write it.

    A very good reminder that we can’t really “see” anyone’s life by peering in through their living room windows.

  9. May 29, 2009 7:47 pm

    This was a wonderful honest and intense post. By the way, you have an award. Pliss check my blog.

  10. June 2, 2009 1:16 pm

    wow… and hugs…

    I loved the last line…

  11. June 3, 2009 7:50 am

    Hey, GOTB; I left a comment on this wonderful post? Did it get gobbled up?

    Anyway, just wanted you to know that I loved this piece of writing!

  12. girlonthebridge permalink*
    June 8, 2009 10:55 pm

    So not only do I not blog, I don’t even approve comments (I don’t know why i have to moderate to begin with) so I’m delinquent and I apologize.

    Mom gone Mad: sorry, it’s me who’s mad for not checking my own blog but thank you for submitting twice and not giving up on me

    Medha: Welcome 🙂

    Anu: Who me, couldn’t be!

    MM: Who you, couldn’t be!

    Sukanya: Lastly, I wanted to reply to you but didn’t. I am not a Mama’s girl at all. I have a contentious relationship with her. Not in a complex, layered way (there is no one thing or incident), we are just very different people. And i grow more different everyday. I love her and respect her but she’s not my role model and I don’t desire to be like her which is tough pill to swallow for both me and her. So I guess in a way this post is a reminder of her strength to me – something I don’t always credit her with.

  13. girlonthebridge permalink*
    June 8, 2009 10:56 pm

    And Anamika – jeez, I didn’t even see. Thanks so much girl 🙂

    NM: really? I didn’t expect to find you relating to it…how much we think we know and how little we really do.

  14. Orange Jammies permalink
    June 22, 2009 6:24 pm

    And sometimes life, or a blogger, throws answers at you. Thanks, girl.

  15. July 31, 2009 3:01 pm

    This was raw and poignant. Hope you can travel light now! 🙂

  16. May 14, 2010 7:18 am

    First time here. What an intense piece of writing. Glad that you got it out…atleast the autobiographical part of it.

    Like thought bubbles says, may the journey ahead be lighter 🙂

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