21 Jan

I cannot write about my Grandmother’s death as yet, it is too soon and more painful that I imagined it would be. It is still hard to believe she’s gone. My mother forgets sometimes and thinks to call her about something before remembering. Every other thing reminds me of her, and suddenly, of my grandfather, who passed away in 2008.

Chowmein, for instance. My mother brought some back from her office canteen today. She sat wrapped up in a quilt and I at the foot of the bed, eating, and Didu popped into our minds at the same time. My mother’s because she had one of those moments when she was thinking to call and ask how Didu was doing with Calcutta’s cold (like most old people, my grandmum hated the winter and wore several layers at home) and I because of ‘chow’.

My grandmum was an awesome cook. Most summer vacations, when we visited or they did, we had a ritual where she’d weigh me before and after the visit. Her feeding up would inevitably add about five pounds to my skinny frame by the time it was time to go back. She’d be planning meals all the time and talking about how I was too thin, and at times I’d get irritated and make fun of her one-track mind. One of my demands of her used to be her chowmein. This was in the days before it was available commonly and cheaply on the streets (and anyway my grandmum was so good at replicating restaurant delicacies at home that the question of ordering in rarely arose). She would call it chow and it was a staple whenever we visited. My brother loved it as well, if I remember correctly.

When I was even younger, it wasn’t enough that she prepared delicacies for every meal; I used to demand she feed me and tell me stories. Both grandparents were awesome storytellers and I grew up associating grandparents with the function of storytelling. Even when I’d snuggle in for a nap with either Didu or Dadu I’d demand endless stories. Golpo bolo.

Their old house had a kitchen on the first floor. It was huuuge, had a separate storeroom, and contained a dining table as well. I’d hang out there with her as she cleaned and cut fish (this she did till she was 80; she’d never trust the fishmonger to do it for her) on the bonthi, demanding, what else? stories. And the occassional piece of tamarind. I first tasted tamarind in her kitchen. She’d make a rad shingi magur’er saloon. Ilish maach, kosha maangsho, chicken’er jhol, kaakra’r jhal, chingri…I’ve never eaten better.

Just a couple of weekends before she died, she came over and brought us Dhakai porotta. And she ate a slice of pizza I’d sent to her through my mom the day she had her stroke. Whilst she was in hospital, in a coma, I told her I’d be baking a cake and saving a slice for her. I did; but in the end, like always, she ensured I ate it.


4 Responses to “Chow”

  1. Peter Wells aka Countingducks January 22, 2015 at 5:58 pm #

    This is so moving. Grand parents can add so much richness to a child’s life, and it is clear you were very lucky with yours. I can well-understand your sadness, because the friendship a grandparent can give is like no other, but she has left you with a very rich store of memories and love and values, and few gifts are as important as those. My thoughts are with you. Blessings

  2. klarapopkin February 4, 2015 at 12:27 pm #

    I have re-read this post many times and tried to think of something to write, but it’s hard because it’s something so sacred, the passing of a grandparent… in some ways, your memories of your grandmother are so much like my memories of mine. The obsessive feeding, the wonderful stories… I loved the Sheikh Chilli stories she told me, I would beg to hear them over and over again. I have never heard them from anyone else so I can still faintly see her expressions and hear her say the words in her dialect, in her beautiful accent. I don’t let myself look for those stories online or elsewhere, for fear of losing what little I remember from her narrations. I remember being fussy about my lunch one day and my grandmother made me finish what was on my plate (even to the point of embarrassingly hand feeding me in front of my Aunt) when I was as old as 17. She passed on when I was 18. I never thought that event would ever be “so long ago now”… And when you talk about other things, like what your grandmother cooked and how your grandmother always cleaned and cut her own fish, it is such a beautiful reminder to me of how each home is different and how the memories you share with your grandmother will never be the same as mine or anyone else’s, because they are yours and they are preciously unique. I have memories of my grandmother that are uniquely ours too. Such as my fascination with her asthma inhaler, the way she folded clean laundry, our games of cards before bed, her love for TV soaps and her belief that the reruns were a little bit different each time… and this is probably why I was hesitating to comment for so long. I sound like I’m just waffling on about my own grandmother, but what I’m really trying to do is celebrate the special memories that live on even when grandparents are gone. I don’t think it will ever not hurt. But it will also never only hurt. What is beautiful when someone is around will remain beautiful when they are long gone. And what I didn’t learn from my grandmother when she was with me, I learn from her by looking back and interpreting my memories of her with the experience of just growing up in the world. It’s a blessing to have memories of her. I don’t have very many of my grandfather, who passed on when I was 7. Okay I’ll stop now. Love to you.

    • astudentinkolkata February 15, 2015 at 7:23 pm #

      I read this more than once. Thank you 🙂 What you say about learning by looking back resonates deeply with me, in the context of my maternal grandparents. I do not have very many memories of my paternal ones, who died when I was younger.

      I treasure the gift of ‘second sight’ which comes with the passage of time, and their passing on. And it is also a gentle reminder to me to actively practice this second sight with people while they live. That is not something I am able to do as frequently as I would like.

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