21 January 2015

Goodbye, Ba.

This past Sunday, my lovely grandmother passed away. We call her "Ba," in my family.
She was my last living grandparent. She lived to 92. She was an amazing, tough, loving woman, who lived through WWII, and the struggle for independent India. Her parents died when she was really young. She worked hard to get educated - incredibly rare for a woman in her time. She had 5 kids. Her first baby died as an infant. She adopted an extra kid, because raising 4 kids was hard, but the fifth kid needed help.She had a love marriage, which was so rare in her time, it was almost radical. She raised strong, tough, loving daughters - my mom and my aunt - and we loved her. We loved her so much.I feel so grateful that she got to meet Jonti, when we visited in August. We'll always have the hilarious memory of her being super-concerned about Jonti's coffee and breakfast needs. "Nija, did you warm up his omelette? Make his coffee. He'll want coffee. Does he want toast? Make him some toast."I didn't know quite how to tell her that Jonti usually makes me coffee in the morning, and that he knows a lot more about cooking eggs than I do - he always cooks his own eggs... He was sad the day we left DC and he teared up saying goodbye to her then. When she was younger, when my grandfather (my Dada) was still alive and for some time after he died, Ba used to spend the year traveling between her children's homes - a few months at our place, a few months in New Jersey at my uncle's, a few month in DC at my aunt's, a few months in India with her kids who stayed there. I'll always have the memories of her lying on our living room floor and watching Bollywood movies with me. She would fast forward through the songs and the fight scenes, thereby making every 3-hour Bollywood flick about 1 hour long. She got through a lot of movies.One summer, my mom and dad took us, along with my Ba and Dada, on a 6 week road trip around America, in an Astro Minivan. We saw the Grand Canyon and Carlsbad Caverns and Yosemite National Park. 
She loved sweets. She was very sweet about how poor my Gujurati was. A few years ago, I recorded a long audio interview with her, about her life. I dug it out the other day, only to find the files had been corrupted - 1 hour and 45 minutes of interview, all chopped up into 700 12-second files. I spent all day yesterday reconstructing the interview, and it was a wonderful way to remember her, listening to her voice.She had a long, incredible life. To go from her tiny village, her home with its dirt-and-cow-dung floor, to being an American citizen and travelling the world. She saw her homeland go from colonisation to freedom. She sent 3 of her children off to live the immigrant dream in America. My mother was the first to go. She told me, when my mother left, that she wondered when she'd ever see her again.She lived to see all her grandkids married, except one. And that one is a doctor. You probably couldn't ask for more. She met so many of her great-grandchildren; my niece and nephew have had a great-grandmother for 12 and 10 years, respectively. That's 12 and 10 more years than I ever had, and it's such a gift.  Her funeral is today, in DC. I can't be there, because my passport is with the UK Visa office, and I couldn't get an emergency passport from the US Embassy in time. My mom can't be at the funeral either - she is in India right now, on a trip that she'd put off for years... in case something happened to Ba, ironically. (Please don't correct me if that's not actually ironic. I just can't right now.)Last night, I was scheduled to co-host a celebration of creative non-fiction... a live literature event, launched by The Real Story (I'm co-editor of it). We'd been planning this night since November last year.And when I learned I wouldn't be able to be in DC, I thought going along to this event might be good. I'd see friends. I decided to read a story about Ba, which I'd written a few years ago, as a tribute to her. I read this story Last night, I said goodbye. It was a good night. Today, I'll be joining my family in DC and my family in India on Skype, so we can all witness her funeral and pay our respects. (That's a funny turn of phrase, isn't it? When else is 'respect' plural? And why are they 'paid,' as if it's some sort of obligation or debt? Hmm.) I'll be thinking about her strength and bravery for the rest of my life. I'm honored to be her granddaughter. I'm lucky to have known her. I only hope I can live up to her amazing life.Goodbye, Ba.

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