I had to write this because I did not mention one stellar person in my last post (Let’s Help “The Help”). Probably because I never did consider her the help. She has been around for such a long time that she is part of our family. When my friends came home I always introduced her as my ‘other’ grandma. Her name is Vijayalakshmi. My grandma called her Thankam. I call her Ganga. All the kids who came after me adopted the same name – Ganga – and so it stuck.
When I said she was around for a long time, I mean a really long time. Like right from the time she was a kid of say 9 or 10. She came from a well-to-do family. But tragedy struck, taking her father away and leaving her mother with a house full of kids to fend for. Ganga was pulled out of school even though her teacher thought it was unwise to deny such a bright child an education. Her mom simply couldn’t afford it and sent her off to work in my great grandmother’s house. My grandma was just a girl then and a couple of years older to Ganga. Ganga almost instantly took a liking for her and wanted in her heart of hearts to follow my grandma wherever life took her. Her wish was granted and she became my Dad’s nanny. My Dad is the son she never had. In the queer way that I was raised by two grannies, my Dad was raised by two mommies. One doting and fussing over him, while the other was disciplining and demanding.
By the time I arrived my grandma was widowed. She had moved from Bombay to Guwahati and then to Barauni and finally to Madras (after grandpa died). With Ganga always in tow. She shared my grandma’s love for me, dogs and entertaining. She is an excellent cook and could dish up a feast in a trice that would put the chef at Taj to shame. She loved gardening and single handedly managed my grandma’s garden. All grandma had to do was make regular visits to the nursery. Grandma went to work and dropped me off at school. Ganga packed lunch and took care of me when I got back from school. You get the picture right? They were a team.
Every night my grandma would talk to Ganga about her day and she would add her two cents’ worth to it. Such was their relationship. They had been through thick and thin, untimely deaths to joyous birthdays and celebrations. From the village of Kollengode to the plush bungalow in Barauni and then to her cozy two-bedroom home in Madras. I’m sure if she had to, Ganga would have laid down her life for my grandma. One time she almost did.
After a long day working at the gas agency, my grandma would come home with a bag full of cash earned from the sale of gas cylinders. Ganga usually opened the gate and stood there waiting for her. Or she would sit on the porch telling me stories. One night when my grandma got off the car, a man came charging and grabbed the bag of cash from her. Ganga quickly grabbed the bag from the man and held onto it tightly under her arm. The man proceeded to beat her with an iron rod he had. But she did not let go of the bag. By then, the driver got out of the car and charged at the man. The robber gave him the slip and disappeared into the dark. Ganga had a few bruises but was otherwise unharmed.
Things have changed since I left Chennai. Ganga retired and left for Kerala. She would come running to Chennai everytime I visited. Her sisters children are in Kerala but she hardly bonds with them. Her heart aches to be with my Dad, with me, with her true family. My heart yearns to be near her and take care of her, the way she took care of me as a child and as a mother (after I gave birth to Anjali). Maybe God will grant me my wish, maybe he won’t. But I will always be grateful for my ‘other’ grandma – my Ganga.