Thursday, July 21, 2011

Deaths In The Family

a Sadhu in Vârânasî, India.Image via WikipediaMy grandmother, greatgrandmother and greatgrandfather all died within a span of two years, in that order. A few years later my grandfather one morning left home without telling anyone to become a sadhu in the holy places of India for the rest of his days.

The Mourning Period

My greatgrandfather had been the Founding Father of the family. His had been a rags to riches story. He was not born a landlord. But he worked hard and, ably helped by my greatgrandmother, saved well to end up with more land than anyone else in the village.

I was a few years from finishing high school far away - overnight bus ride - in the capital city when the deaths happened. They each happened when I was home for vacation. I would be home three times a year.

I did not realize at the time but over the years I realized as I do today that those deaths were like there was an umbrella over the family's head, and suddenly that umbrella vanished. My father acutely felt their absences for long years. He likely still does.

My maternal grandfather died when I was much younger, but I still remember. Actually my earliest memory is the pair of shoes my parents bought me when on a trip to my maternal grandfather's village.

Years later I was in the same village because my mother's youngest sister was getting married, and so of course there were all these women in the village with all their jewelry, and at night the alerts were sent out: bandits were out in the fields trying to enter the village. Men pulled all nighters. Jagte Raho - Stay Awake! - was shouted from the rooftops for the rest of the night. I was whisked to a nearby home of a less well off family. In the event of an attack, perhaps the kids would stay out of harm's way that way. It was summer. Summers in Bihar are hot. My teeth were teetering.

My mother's mother died when my mother was really young. And so she ended up with a second mother, who also died early: I never got to meet her. So my mother has siblings from two mothers: they are three brothers, four sisters. Her mother having died when she was rather young has had an imprint on her personality and world outlook. I have noticed over the years.

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The lingering feeling ends up being that you wished you had spent more time with the people who are now gone forever. But I am thankful for the strong, picturesque, vivid memories I have. I can watch them like a movie on the screens of my mind.

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To the funereal feasts to when my greatgrandfather died people from 13 villages were invited. It was the grandest feast anyone had seen in the longest time. He was considered a great man. During his final years people would come to see him, mostly old people, claiming he had lived for so long that he was by now like a god.

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