In Memory of my Grandmother, Suseela.
Updated: Dec 12, 2022
Today marks twelve years since the passing of our ajji/paati. Paati is mother-in-law's mother. She was addressed as Suseela even by her nephews and nieces. My husband addressed her as amma. To my son and I, she was paati. I lived with her for so long that I find it difficult to call her the grandmother of my husband. She is mine.
Paati was born during a time when educating a girl, especially a widow, was considered blasphemous. She was 9 years old when she married and 18 years old when she became a widow, with two daughters. The eldest child was my mother-in-law.
A year and a half after the untimely death of her husband from cholera, paati travelled to Sagar for a temple festival from her village Thygarthi, leaving behind her daughters with her extended family. The younger one fell ill suddenly and passed away. Paati was unaware of the tragedy that had unfolded at home because there was no means of communication. She returned home two days later to learn of her demise. It broke her heart that her young daughter was also cremated in her absence. She was devastated. It took a long time for her to recover from the loss.
Paati's mother, Vishalaththe (deserves her own post), was her source of strength. She was determined that her daughter should not spend the remainder of her life in a village and also dependent on her brothers or sisters financially. She insisted that paati complete her education. Paati completed her training as a teacher after her tenth grade, which was the minimum education requirement at the time. She taught Geography and Kannada in government schools in Karnataka until her retirement. She was exceptional in Geography. She would have an answer to any question on the topic.
She was transferred to many villages as part of her job but the place that was close to her heart, was a town on the outskirts of Bangalore, called Yelahanka. She owned a big house in Thyagarthi, Sagar district. It was called the Shanbogh’s house, and was well known in the community. She gave it away to the local Rama temple when she realized she would no longer go back to living there. Paati was an independent woman, a respected teacher and a stoic person. The adversities she faced, made her philosophical. She saw everyone pass away before her. Her daughters, siblings, niece, nephews, cousins, sons and daughters she brought up as her own- she called it the curse of having a long life.
She was an ardent reader of Kannada newspaper Prajavani, collecting a lot of tidbits from it which she found was interesting. She would wear her mother’s glasses, which was short of one ear, to read the paper. She would consume all the news, from politics to sports. Nothing missed her eye.
Six months before her death, she suffered a mild stroke. She lost the ability to speak coherently. Her hands shook with tremors. She recalled our faces but not our names. She realised she had suffered a stroke. Kannada was the one thing she did not forget. She requested a pen and paper one day (everything was in sign language) and began to write the Kannada alphabet. She kept the slate by her side and jotted down the words she recalled. She would ask us to read it aloud to ensure that it was legible. Each day she persisted. Concurrently, my father also passed away. Usha, my husband's sister, came to assist us during that difficult time.
Paati sort of recalled that she had to sign a life-certificate in order to receive her pension. She had forgotten how to sign but tried to remember it so hard. If she couldn't to she wouldn't get her pension and that worried her. I would show her the cheque book and other documents containing her signature. She began practising and gradually regained it. Lest she forget, she would practise signing on a paper every day. The month of November arrived, and at my request, the bank manager visited her to obtain the signature. She confidently signed the certificate. The manager was moved to tears listening to her story. The next day she refused food. She sort of prepared herself to leave the world. 15 days later, she passed away.
The image of her meditating in the garden speaks volumes about who she was and is one of my favorite photographs. She moved like a river and merged with the ocean. A few days later, when I gathered her belongings, they all fit into a bag. However, what she left behind for us was a priceless legacy of life lessons.