My grandparents passed away when I was very young. I have hazy memories of plaiting my grandmother's hair, telling my grandfather to put 'dottle' (that's how I used to say 'dettol' when I was four years old) for mosquito bites and he used to come with a bottle of dettol in hand and pretend to dab the bites with it :D
I was too young when they passed away to understand what was going on. I remember carrying the wreath to put over my grandfather's coffin, and when I looked down that 6 feet grave, I trembled thinking that I would slip and fall in there, I didn't have an idea that it was my grandfather lying down there.
I didn't even realize their absence at that time. Though there were several instances when my friends would talk about their grandparents who were still with them, and a pang of sadness would shoot fleetingly through me. It's only now, since the past few years that I think of them frequently. And I've been wondering why I suddenly think of them so much... and then one day I realized - this was all because of P* Aunty.
P Aunty was one of the aunties who lived at the old age home for women, adjacent to our hostel. I shall never forget that old age home - it had [and maybe still has] this depressing air to it and smelled utterly disgusting. I have no idea how the old women lived there. I ventured inside one of their rooms once with P Aunty and was appalled at the state they lived in. One of her room-mates [an old lady] would pass urine and faeces in her bed as she couldn't reach the washrooms fast enough and the bai's [servants/attendants] were busy taking care of other women and other duties. The stench was so bad that I almost threw up right there.
I dashed away as soon as possible, I couldn't bear a second longer in that place, and I have no idea how the old women were staying there - left by their families, some choosing to live there, living on a meager bank account, with rude attendants, and hardly any friends.
So, when I met P Aunty for the first time, she was sitting in her wheelchair, with her round and slightly wrinkled face, smiling brightly at every girl that entered or left through the hostel gate. As I walked past her, she smiled at me with happiness and never having seen somebody smile at me with such purity before, I just nodded my head a bit and walked on, feeling a bit queer for lord-knows-what-reason.
Everyday, while we would rush out the gate to college/work, she would call out a genuinely cheerful 'Good-morning' with her ever pleasant smile. We would wave at her, smile back or yell a hasty good-morning back at her and rush out of the gate. When we would return, we would always find her on the porch, in her wheelchair and she would ask us how our day went, what we did etc. etc.
This went on for days, then weeks, months and well, it was an everyday affair. It felt good to see someone like her everyday. She would smile at everyone, even at the nasty attendants and she would laugh at their incivility like it was the biggest joke on earth. I had read about people like her only in books and newspapers, I always wondered if I would ever meet such a person in my own life. And now here she was, child-like, optimistic, forever giving hope and joy to others, when she herself was and had gone through crisis.
She had lost both her legs a long time back and she was a diabetic; her parents were no longer there, her brother [whom she dearly loved] took care of her for sometime but then shifted her to the old age home due to problems that arose in his home. So here she was, living off a bit of her little amount of finance, with hardly any of her close ones around her. She had us though, and we had her.
She was the most popular woman here. Every girl who returned from college, work, party, or any other errand would stop by, some of us would sit/stand by her side and talk about this and that and everything else. She was an agony aunt for many of us, and she would always pray for us, and make us smile when we were down or homesick. Being human, there were times when she would break down and cry... we would pat her, clasp her soft wrinkly hands, or murmur soothing words to her.
When she was touched by some news, she would grab us and plant a wet kiss on our cheeks and smile delightedly... you could almost feel the bubbles of tenderness bursting in her :) In some ways, she filled that void of a grandparent in my life. A constant friend, a patient listener, an understanding guide, and a gentle soul.
As she was a diabetic, our Matron had warned us not to pass any food that would make it worse. Still, being P Aunty, she would try and convince one of us to give forbidden food stuff to her. :D "After all", she said, "I will die one way or the other."
When I face tough situations that seem to break me completely, I think of P Aunty, sitting in her wheelchair and smiling a real smile at everyone - even at her life. She put all her faith and trust in God, God knew what he was doing, she felt. According to her, He had a reason for her life to be this way - I personally think, that maybe it was His way of showing us how to live life even when it seems like there's nothing to live for. P Aunty was His example of how to face life when it seems to have beaten the hell out of you, when everyone seemed to have turned their backs on you, and when you are left on your own - alone.
P Aunty with her faithful bunch of us girls at her feet and by her side, showed us that faith, trust and a smile is all you really need to live life - whatever your circumstance. It's very difficult I know, it takes time to build up such a strong character, for some it is easy - if they already love themselves for who they are no matter what and are honest with themselves.
P Aunty gave me so much love, care, happiness, wise sayings, sensible thoughts and an optimistic outlook - I'm grateful for having met her. She is just - She.
I still wonder though, how it would have been if my grandparents were still alive, would they have been like P Aunty? [I'm not comparing, just wondering], would they have taught me the same lessons as she did? Would they have listened to me? Joked with me? Played with me? I know I won't get anywhere with those questions, but somehow, I can't stop them. It sometimes feel good to just let the mind wonder and wander like that.
God had beckoned to my grandparents when I was a tiny tot, but then, He also gave me P Aunty.
*Name is undisclosed to protect privacy.