Dear Grandparents, Thank You for Becoming Our Whole, Wide World

(Published in The Quint: http://www.thequint.com/blogs/2016/04/09/dear-grandparents-thank-you-for-becoming-our-whole-wide-world )

I remember the day like it was yesterday. The morning my Dada (paternal grandfather) breathed his last just as he put a spoonful of porridge in his mouth.

I’d been the only one with him at the time. It was 13 years ago. I was 17.

My Dada had been suffering from a disease that was acutely suggestive of Parkinson’s – but could also have been Alzheimer’s. The doctors could never arrive at a precise diagnosis. Nonetheless, they’d taken their toll on him, slowly but surely.

Dada was always my hero. I’d never met my maternal grandfather who was a brigadier in the Indian Army (he died the year I was born) – so Dada was the only grandfather I knew.

Some of my fondest memories with Dada go back to our school days when we would frequent our flat in Shimla during the summer holidays. Indulgent, intelligent and ever-enthusiastic, sporting his infectious grin, he would stride alongside our horse rides on the Mall Road. Sometimes, we’d find him lounging on his favourite lazyboy chair listening to KL Saigal – all the while singing jovially as he called to us to have a listen with him.

The Invaluable Things We Learn From a Grandparent

The bond with a grandparent is just as inexplicable as it is unbreakable.

There is so much to learn from our grandparents. Stories of their time – an era that you might otherwise find ensconced only in history books – heartwarming anecdotes. Sometimes they’ll tell you tales of an ancestral lineage you knew little or nothing about – and occasionally, hidden in their many stories, there will be a valuable life lesson. Often, there’s so much more to learn from a beloved grandparent than a parent or a teacher.

My Nanna (paternal grandmother) helped us with our Hindi and Punjabi essays in school. Not to mention extracurricular activities that involved a fair amount of knitting and sewing! But most of all, their involvement was in the daily routines of our lives – ones that are indelible childhood memories today. (The frequent night stays at my maternal grandmother’s are memories I cherish to this day.)

Little wonder that experts tell you how the more involved a grandparent is in a child’s life, the more mutually rewarding a relationship it is.

If ever I would be thankful for technology, it would be for linking my Nanna to me. Even halfway across the world, we still email each other with news and updates.

How Nanna Fought for My Dada

There’s much I have personally learnt from my Dada and Nanna.

Nanna taught me to be brave in the face of adversity. I watched as she lost her younger brother to cancer and continued to be brave. I watched also as she fought for 7 long years against the illness that was determined to snatch Dada from us. If anyone could find a way to fight and bring him back, it would be her, I believed.

She would sit at her computer for hours, tapping away, trying to find a doctor in some other land – some new medical medical information that would help turn his life around. She’d spend an hour every evening with Dada making him listen to audio tapes and then asking him to repeat the words he’d just heard to improve his coherence of speech.

She had no life of her own for 7 years. Or perhaps it was inextricably linked with my grandfather’s.

The Heroes That Are My Grandparents

For an impressionable 17-year-old, this was a lesson in life that has stayed with me…

The lesson of perseverance and never giving up.

When I was getting married, Nanna called me to her room one day in the weeks before the celebrations were to begin. She sat me down and said one powerful thing to me: “Never do or say to others what you wouldn’t want done or said to you.”

A lifetime’s worth of education in that one sentence.

As we approach her 80th birthday this year, my thoughts go back again to that sad morning of 2003 when my grandfather breathed his last. I knew there be no more KL Saigal ghazal nights, no more evening walks with stolen moments of joy with my hero.

But then I think of both my grandmothers and the heroic lives they lead even to this day. The loss of losing a grandparent is colossal at any age. It is a reminder to make more time for them and spend as much time in communicating with them as we possibly can.

For time waits for no one.