The Memory of My Grandmother

Amazing Grace! how sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me
I once was lost, but now am found
Was blind but now I see
John Newton

The memory of my maternal grandmother holds profound spiritual lessons for me. I choose these words with some care. She did not produce miracles. She was not at all famous or widely reputed. No one sought sage advice or counsel from her. Enraptured crowds did not hear lectures from her. She did not express religious faith in extraordinary ways. She was literate, but not highly educated. She excelled at homemaking, at the harmonium, at carom and at card games, but she was not a prodigy. She did not die a martyr. I have lost and grieved other loved ones and not thought this of them.

Perhaps I am influenced by my cousin, who referred to her as devmanus (saint) after she passed away. Perhaps I am influenced by my mother, her daughter, who said in recent years that “she had no ego.” Perhaps I am influenced by the writings of Eknath Easwaran, who honored his own grandmother as his guru, in the strongest sense of the word. Perhaps I am influenced by the sentiments of Swami Vivekananda, who felt that the spiritual treasure of the world is held in the hearts and lives of India’s ordinary citizens.

Perhaps she was a perfectly ordinary woman, as loving and as beloved as countless others.

Who among us has conquered anger? Certainly not I. It is remarkable, then, that I never saw or heard her express anger in any way.

We lived far from her, but I spent months as a child in the joint-family home called Devgandhar, and more months when my brother and all the cousins were children. We all had our tantrums, our incidents of mischief, misbehavior, and stubbornness.

She might distract us. She might laugh to embarrass us. She might tell us “no,” persistently. She might threaten to report us to our mothers. She might even try to scare us with the “boogeyman.” (I thoroughly disapproved of telling children such fictions until very recently.) But she would not raise her voice. She would not lay a hand on us except to pull us onto her lap or into her embrace.

Perhaps due to the early loss of her firstborn son, she lived what Khalil Gibran wrote,

Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life's longing for itself.

I saw every person in the household express everything from mild irritation to rage, whether at each other, or at people outside the family. But when any complaint was brought to my grandmother, she would persistently say, “Oh? I don’t know about such things.” She would offer food or drink or words of comfort, but she would not utter a negative word about anyone. We would think her inexperienced or sheltered. When we pointed out her naïveté, she would merely laugh at herself, covering her mouth like a child.

Some might question my recollection of what I saw—and was allowed to see—as a child. But doesn’t a person’s ability to at least imagine an incident suggest that it might have occurred? I even knew her sisters and can recall or imagine anger on their faces, but I cannot imagine it on hers.

She would call me her bedana (raisin) or saakharphutana (sugar pop), after those rare delights from her own childhood. She would pinch my cheeks. Her fingers were always rough with housework. Old age rendered them thin and bony, but her affection remained delightful.

She was generous to a fault, but she always gave something more than sweet edibles or a packet of cash. As a youth, I questioned it and even rolled my eyes at it, as youths tend to do. But as a young man, I learned what it could be, and grew to treasure it. What she gave was unconditional love, and it graced the lives of all who knew her.

These qualities transport my memory of her beyond the natural, mortal world. I shall strive to grace the lives of others—my grandchildren if not my children—just as she did.

In her last months, she was nursed and cared for like a child, with the utmost labor, love and kindness, by her children and daughters-in-law. Anyone familiar with the difficulties of dying remarked at her good fortune for getting such care. But is it any wonder that someone who has conquered anger should attract the best people? Is it any wonder that someone who embodies unconditional love should bring out their very best nature?

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Updated at: 26 March 2019 12:03 AM