I DO not know if she is senile or healthy, living or dead. The woman I met during the summer vacations every year had ceased to exist in my consciousness. I was never overtly affectionate of Amma, my grandmother, and the feeling was mutual.
But of late, every toothless smile and wise nod reminds me of Amma. There is guilt every time I see an old woman carrying a load of vegetables back home or hobbling to board a bus. I feel responsible, in some measure, for their disability and helplessness.
The last I saw Amma, she was battling arthritis. She was scared of stairs and of walking around. She was nervous to the point of running to the bathroom every five minutes. Her seven decades had rendered her confidence hollow to the point that she did not trust herself to remember anything and considered the smallest task herculean.
From what little I know of her, she never really stood up for herself or for those she loved. Widowed early, she had developed a detached pragmatism. The only fun we had was when she made up bedtime stories for me or when I combed her thinning hair, trying my hand at plaiting it.
It was four years ago when we spent around three months together, cooped up in the same house. I had finished university and was at home pondering my future. She wasn’t there by choice either, jettisoned by my uncle and aunt — her younger son and daughter in-law — who wanted her to distribute her time equally between the two brothers — my uncle and my father. Amma had a daughter too, but daughters never count.
Her presence gnawed at my mother who had spent a good part of her life trying to win over my father’s family, an attempt she abandoned midway through bringing us up. With Amma around, each day started with an ominous note awaiting the beginning of the bickering session. What pained me were not the caustic comments which flew back and forth. But that Amma’s age and infirmity meant little to my own mother shook me up. The comments on Amma’s growing senility were the easiest to bear with and the worst came soon.
She was shipped to my aunt’s house when my uncle accused my parents of misusing Amma’s pension. Soon enough, the money and Amma were dropped off promptly at my uncle’s place. Not once was she asked where she preferred to live. She has always been a defeatist, Amma, and would fall in line with the decisions taken for her by others in keeping with their best interests.
She left and soon so did I. The excitement of moving to a new city, meeting new people, kept me busy. A year later, I thought of her and asked my parents about her. My father is a man of few words, especially when it comes to unpleasant discussions. It fell upon my mother to tell me how Amma was with uncle — taken care of and happy. That never convinced me but I had to believe it.
I had no news of her till my father went to meet her recently. Arranging a nurse and a house-help were the best he could do but he knows how hollow the explanation sounds. I hear she cannot drape her white unstarched saree by herself nor can she braid her hair on her own. Her arrival used to mean a year’s stock of pickles and jams making an appearance in the pantry but all she can do now is to sleep her medicines off and eat between naps.
I am scared of growing old all alone now. Does my mother see the ghost when she is struggling to navigate the stairs to the house, now battling her own arthritis? I cannot seem to smooth over the wrinkles and splotches on this facet of my life. It grins a gummy, foreboding smile at me, never forgiving my non-participation in changing the course of events for Amma.
Anonymous is 26. She is a journalist based in Hyderabad