Being the son of an Army officer, I never got the chance to experience my Grandparent’s love like most of you must have. And when I finally got a chance to cherish their presence, it was very short lived. My grandfather left for his heavenly place in October of 2019. I thought it would affect me personally, but to be honest, it didn’t. It did bring some differences in the family, but that is a topic for some other day. In here, today, I want to write about how beautiful and amazing my grandmother was.
My grandmother passed in July 2021. She was the patriarch of the family ever since my grandfather left. My oldest uncle should have ideally taken up this responsibility, but he was least interested. We called her Maa, everyone of us. Even our distant cousins. I don’t know how or when she took over this name from our great grandmother, but she carried it nicely. Ever so loving and caring.
Her birth name was Chandro Devi, born in a small village in Haryana, she was the daughter of a widowed woman. Along with two other sisters, Maa didn’t have any brothers. Generations after Millennials may not understand what kind of hidden connotations, not having a brother or father had on a rural woman, but there were many. From working fields at an early age to support the family and to shunning off delinquent men from the village, Maa did it all. All her sisters were married off to undeserving men at early ages. Maa being the youngest one, was married off last. But this was a task in itself for Maa’s mother.
See, Maa actually had a dark complexion skin, although it never stopped her from winning at her roles in life but was proving difficult for the wedlock. Until, my grandfather Dharam Singh Rawal, a 6’1 hunk, came along. The interesting thing to note here is that one of my grandfather’s Uncles was a famous Daku (Bandit?) of the area. This was proving fatal for my grandfather’s marriage dreams. So, he compromised and married a woman underneath him, one with a darker complexion, one who did not have any brothers or a father. Who would’ve known that this would be the best decision he ever made and cherished to his deathbed.
Maa was 15ish when she got married. Sorry for the estimate, nobody knows how old she was actually. Apart from her duties as a wife and a daughter in law, she was also a breadwinner. Working our fields, taking care of the farm animals, bringing log wood for stoves from the nearby protected forest, stealthily, she did it all. Maa used to tell us that she once saw a black panther just a few kms away from our ancestral home near Sonipat, while cutting a tree down in the forest. Luckily, both the Panther and my Maa were scared for their life and ran off. Another badge of courage, one of many, on my Maa’s chest.
Maa gave birth to eleven children in total. Three of whom were stillborn and one died a few days later upon birth. Out of the seven that survived, 4 boys and 3 girls. Can you imagine carrying a life within you for more than 8 years?
There’s this story of Maa and a female horse of ours, that is an example of how courageous she was. Maa was 7 months pregnant with one of my uncles when she walked/ran 20+ kms to get back this horse in pitch dark. Whenever Maa narrated this event to me, she wasn’t supercilious like most would be after doing such a feat.
So the story goes like this, it was 9 in the evening when a neighbour lady came to my Maa and told her that one of our fillies had run off from the stable. Since no males were present in the house, she went to find it. Wearing her silver jewellery, in her traditional dress, she kept walking in the direction of the sightings. It was just after midnight, some 10 kms away from our home, that she was able to locate the horse and bring it back. And what’s unbelievable to me is that the Filly was pregnant too. Just one word, Courageous.
When we used to visit our hometown in our summer holidays, my dad always bought fruits (usually mangoes) to take home. He gave them to Maa when we reached home. Maa used to slice up the fruits and divide them amongst all of us equally. This was beyond me. Why didn’t she give us the full fruit? Like my mother used to do back in our Cantonment homes. Now that I look back at these small instances, I understand what it meant to come from humble beginnings. Due to our military rations, we never saw a lack of food at our table. But Maa had seen bad times. She knew how to share.
In 2010, my father was posted out in Gangtok, Sikkim. We stayed with him.
We were in school one day, when my father came to bring us home. Upon reaching he told us that one of my Aunties got severely burned in a gas stove accident and is in critical care. My parents along with my sister left for our hometown immediately, leaving me behind.
So what happened was my aunt caught fire, and couldn’t put it out on time. My Maa heard her screams and ran to save her. In the process of dousing the fire, Maa too got severe burns on her face and hands. Although Maa survived, my aunt couldn’t. She succumbed to her burns in the hospital. Maa carried the burn scars as another evince of her bravery.
After this incident, maa couldn’t use her hands to cook her delicacies like she could before. But she never complained.
There are endless stories about Maa. But there is only so much I can share. She passed away in July of 2021. Even though she used to say that she will live for another 15 years.
Someday, I will write part 2 of this memoir and include more. Till then let’s keep her in our memories. My Strong and Kind grandmother, my MAA.