Putting together a collection of memorable writing that would appeal to children, I couldn’t help but notice that at least three pieces were about grandparents. There was a story from Shankar’s all time favourite Life with Grandfather, and reminiscences about their grandmothers by Sudha Murty and Khushwant Singh. What a rich lode family relationships offer, I thought, for writers to draw upon! There must be hundreds and thousand of stories about grandparents, perhaps as many as the numerous collections titled “Grandma’s Tales”. Grandparents are a primary source for story, whether narrating them to their grandchildren or providing inspiration.
I must confess that I felt a little envious, since I did not have the privilege of my grandparents’ company, no memories to share in stories. As a child I puzzled about this a bit. But not knowing what it was like to be pampered by a grandparent, did not feel particularly deprived. Of course, I was curious about them. But my mother lost both her parents in childhood and didn’t have too many memories about her own mother. All she could tell me was that my Nani had hair that came down to her ankles, and that she came from Pune. Both pieces of information were mystifying. It didn’t seem possible for anyone to have hair that long. And how did she manage to marry my Nana if she belonged to a place so distant from our home town Almora? I feel sorry now that I didn’t probe further. It just didn’t occur to me while my mother was alive. I knew a little more about my Nana, my mother’s father. I was told that he was six feet tall, something very unusual in our area, and a worked for the government.
My father’s parents are much more clearly sketched out in my imagination. My Dadi’s photograph occupied a prominent spot on the walls of our drawing room, more prominent than my Dada’s. My father lost his mother while he was in medical college and that was the first time he tasted whisky, he said. He also mentioned that she was the best mother in the world, the best cook and that while he respected his father, he loved his mother. This created the image of a stern figure in my mind–a man who demanded respect but did not evoke affection. But that was what fathers were like in those times. All the same, my older sister did share a scant memory of our grandfather once–of his playfully pulling her back with the crook of his walking stick just as she was about to pluck one of his precious roses. And a cousin recalls finding him in a room surrounded with baskets of apples from which he selected a juicy one and gave it to her. I remember the bower of roses–it survived him for many years, as did the apple orchard.
I have some facts about their rather eventful lives too. My father’s parents came from backgrounds as dissimilar as those of my mother’s. Dada was a rebel who converted to Christianity as a young boy and was consequently cast out of his community. But again, I don’t know where he encountered my grandmother, the daughter of an indigo planter and a Nepali lady, and how he got married to her.
So many question marks, no tangible memories of my own…but enough material, I felt, to base a novel upon…the novel I have titled “The Hanging Tree”. Because, when you’re writing a story, I feel, too many facts can sometimes hamper the flow of your imagination.
But how have family memories worked for you? I’d love to find out.