27 July 2014

Remember your grandparents, child?

'The greatest gift you can give your parents is to help them look after their grandparents,’ my father told me this about 19 years ago.  At the time his mother, afflicted with Alzheimer’s Disease, could scarcely recognize anyone.  It was not easy to take care of her for she had lapsed into a state where she could not match object with use and we all fretted that a moment’s negligence might see her doing herself grievous injury.

She didn’t spend a lot of time with us.  She had decided to spend her last years in Kandana, where she had brought up 5 children before she forgot herself, was unburdened of memories sweet and tragic and had to inhabit the realities that others believed she preferred. 

Before forgetting set in, however, she was Archchi Amma. Grandmother. Lucid.  Caring. She pampered her grandchildren as though that’s what her assigned task for this lifetime.  It was the same with my maternal grandmother. Pampering was her business.  I never met my paternal grandfather but by all reports he was all about loving and giving. My brother was the only grandchild he saw and he is supposed to have showered him with gifts. My maternal grandfather was not given to cuddling.  He told stories. 

I remember what my father told me whenever I see children with grandparents.  There was a time when grandparenting was an inevitable part of growing up.  Children escaped from their clumsy and by and large incompetent parents to the loving, caring and knowing arms of their grandparents.  Grandparents, for their part, were able to become young again for although they would never relate to their children, they were totally at ease with their grandchildren. 

Parents can’t teach their children. It’s not that they are poor teachers.  They probably haven’t lived long enough to know what to teach and how.  Grandparents seem to know these things; they seem to have acquired with age the art of saying without saying, teaching without instructing, admonishing in ways that almost seem as though it is part of a game. 

Grandparents tell stories.  What are stories if not reservoirs of culture, heritage, values and insights that will make the difference between making and breaking a child when confronted with those moments of truth all human beings have to contend with?  Grandparents are an integral part of a societies continuity; they act as binder but not in sticky-yukky ways. 

Grandparents are rewarded for all this. No, not in a bartering kind of way; not payment in kind. It is not about trade.  Children give by being; by being insistent, by being demanding, incorrigible, lovable, exasperating, impossible and so eminently ‘possible’ and in ways no adult ever can hope to be.  They guide the elderly gingerly back across the lost decades made of broken hope and compromised forevers, opportunity that got twisted and the joys that were so fleeting that they alone remained. Children are not in a rush.  They have all the time in the world, as do their grandparents.  They know infirmities because they’ve not lost their memory of crawling, experimenting, trepidation and bruised knees. 

When grandparents go, they take with them a century. They turn once vibrant ‘mahagedaras’ or ancestral homes into places that might as well be inhabited by bats and other such creatures.  I lost my last surviving grandparent on the 1st of January 2008.  It was just past midnight when I got the call.  I remember driving to my aunt’s place in Battaramulla-Koswatte.  I remember sobbing.  It was the trauma of a child whose favourite toy had been left outside in the rain and taken away by a stray dog.  Something like that.  Gone-forever sorrow.  The-world-end-right-now desolation. 

My parents and teachers drew for me the map of my country.  My grandparents contoured it, drew in the rivers and lagoons, mountains and plateaus, histories and personalities, tyrants and jesters; they peopled my country and my life with stories. 

I am not sure if I have ‘gifted’ my parents enough. I tried. 

Here, today, among the living, there are grandparents, parents and children.  Of all ages.  I am thinking of the myriad conversations that are taking place right now between all grandparents and all children.  What a beautiful tapestry the threads would make!  How poor I am that I do not have the threads nor fingers for such a weaving!  



Dileeni said...

Thank you Malinda for a nice artile. Since I have a grand daughter of 6 yrs old, I sent this article on to my son & daughter.

Anonymous said...

My mother is a strong believer in the philosophy that grandparents are always up to pranks they couldn't afford to play with their own children! Beautifully written Malinda

Anonymous said...

If Only are indeed the saddest two words...

Anonymous said...

In the hopelessness of life’s twisted tales and ‘must be done’ things, the utopian love and care towards one’s parents is usually unattained. The only tangible pure ‘next best’ gift one can think of becomes their child’s pure unadulterated love towards their grandparents. It is beautiful if it flows uninterrupted, and is received with neither clutch, nor rejection. Your fathers words are beautiful.