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In Loving Memory of The Grandmother who Scared the Living Daylights Out of Me

My grandmother married a man 18 years her senior in an age when India was still under the British Raj. Anyone can guess how things were back then. I have heard stories of other grandmothers who never spoke a word to their husbands unless it had something to do with the family or the household in general. But from all I can gather about my grandmother, the age difference never came in the way of getting a point across to her husband. Nothing came in the way, as far as I can tell. I never had the good fortune of meeting her husband, my grandfather, about whom I've only heard positive things. Everyone told me stories about how kind, benevolent, level-headed and smart he was, about what an amazing father he was to his children while maintaining his stern and strict father-like demeanour that was very common among most Indian fathers back then (and sometimes even today) and the rest is evident from the way the faces of his children light up every time they talk about a man they all loved and looked up to as a hero.

So this story told by my grandmother somehow never made sense in my little brain, although it's a story that I love to retell. A story I'm sure all of my future kids and grandkids will hear. A story about how this woman from the 40's locked her husband (who was 18 years her senior) outside their house over a tiff they had in the morning (something unimaginable even in this day and age considering the patriarchal system we follow back home). According to her story, she and her husband disagreed about something and he made the characteristic brooding face that my father makes till date, one where his entire lower lip disappears into a single straight line, showing that he's utterly and irrevocably pissed off. Whenever I see a single straight line replacing what used to be my father's perfect lower lip (one of the many perfect features on his perfect little handsome face which I did not take after), I know that a storm is brewing and everyone needs to get the hell out of his way. Apparently he got it from his father who got it from his mother. Any guesses what my grandmother said to her husband when his lips "disappeared" on that fateful morning? She said, "Oh wow! There goes the lip. Now you remind me of my mother-in-law and she's one of the people I don't like getting reminded of." or something to that tune. When I heard this, even I exclaimed, "Grandmother, YOU DID NOT SAY THAT TO HIM! How? Weren't you supposed to be all respectful of your husband and his family in those days? Especially considering how he was literally old enough to be your father? How did you even get away with that?" to which she said something along the lines of, "Oh, who gives a fuck?". Turns out that he left for work that day with the thin straight line for a lip, leaving my grandmother even more sore about the whole thing. While she walked around the compound of their house, she came across a snake. Now when normal people see a snake, they freak out a little bit and get help. Or if they're like me, they flee the scene to never return. But my grandmother happened to be one of those people that you call for help when you see a snake. She has, time and again, scarred my childhood with many episodes of systematic snake-murder. She'd call me to the place where she'd found herself a treat in the form of a snake and make me watch as she either killed or paralysed it by jamming a giant wooden rod into what might have been the neck of the snake, further proceeding to tie a rope around it's disabled neck (because merely killing it wasn't enough torture) before casually flinging it to an empty burial spot. So when a woman like her finds a snake to kill when she's raging mad at her husband (who was generally suspicious of anything that didn't walk on two or four legs), she did what any normal vengeful psychopath would do. She locked the front gate of the house and fastened the dead snake to it so that when he returned from work, my grandfather would have to actually wait outside for his wife to come his rescue. Her plan was to remind him of how dependent on her he really was, and according to her, she was successful at it. Never again did that poor man dare to let his lower lip disappear. At least not in his wife's presence.

I don't know how many parts of this story were embellished by her but in the very least, I want to give her credit for her imagination and for her success at managing to feed the restless, food-loathing child that I was, day after day by playing this story on repeat. Surprisingly, no more embellishments were added to the story with each repetition. It remained constant and managed to permeate my psyche with immense clarity and probably even convinced her that it was what actually happened. She was a truly modern woman who lived ahead of her times by being open to inter-caste/religion/sect/region/blahblahblah marriages, love marriages, adoption, abortion and women empowerment among other things. If she saw me in a traditional Indian dress, more than once has she asked me if I'd run out of comfortable clothes. If a set of parents couldn't find a suitable groom for their daughter, I've heard her say to them that their daughter should just find a man for herself when the time is right. I wish that at least some of the women (and men) today would learn a lesson or two from her. Widowed in her 50's, she still ran a garden business and repeatedly told her youngest grandchild who was almost always around that girls don't cry.

"Why are you bawling your eyes out, you silly little brat?"

"That poor doggyyyyyyyy in that movie diiieeeeeed. Poor poor doggyyyyyy..."

"So what? Dogs die. People die. I will die soon and so will your parents. That's how it works. You can't just sit and cry about it. Because girls don't cry."

^ early life lessons that probably turned me into a paranoid maniac who needs to call her parents five times a day to find out if they're still alive. Moreover, I can't for the life of me, control the waterworks when I watch sad doggy movies or even when I read about dogs. I have called up my dad at his office multiple times, saying, "May I plis speak with my father? I'm Ankita.", expecting the person on the other end to figure out who my father was based on the name of his abnormally polite and slap-worthy child, simply because I couldn't stop sobbing about a certain doggy that died on TV. I had an episode this morning when I read about someone who had to give away her dog to a shelter because she couldn't take care of it any more. It broke my heart and I cried yet again. I'm sure my grandmother sent me mental slaps from wherever she is, wherever it is that people go when they die.

But when I cried for that poor dog this morning, I got reminded of her and her "girls don't cry" sentiment. I don't know if I can ever be like that especially considering how I come from a family of children who have consistently chosen their dogs over their parents on more than one occasion. But here's the deal. Some day, when I overcome my fear of snakes, I might just tie a dead one around The Husband's neck when he snores like he's about to suck my entire being into the giant nostrils on his abnormally giant nose.

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