Memories of My Unique and Amazing Grandmother
Many grandparents as seen from the eyes of grand children might look special and that is the perception of the most of them but there are some unique things about them which remain in our mind for life long. Now, when I have already entered the 68th year of my life, I have an acute rememberance of my grandmother who was almost in the same age group when I used to go to her in my childhood for my weekends or school vacations. My memories of her are so fresh in my mind that I wanted to pen down them before they fade with my ageing. This article is the result of that urge only.
Bisar (Bishar) village - near Pithoragarh town
Before coming to the ways of my grandmother, I will just describe about the village Bisar where she lived for a greater part of her life. Bisar is a village situated about 4.5 km from the Pithoragarh town in the state of Uttarakhand in India. It is a hilly region of alternate peaks and valleys at an average elevation of about 1500 meters. It is a village of Brahmin community and as per the understanding of some elders in the village about 300 to 400 years ago our ancestors actually came from the regions now known as Indian states of Maharashtra and Gujarat and settled here. It is also said that they got this big stretch of land from the Britishers who were much impressed by their knowledge of Sanskrit and Indian mythology.
There are many other villages in the nearby areas separated from each other by a few kilometers but their cultural heritage significantly differed from the these Brahmins who were more scholarly than being merely a farm or field worker.
I am talking of the time about 55 years back and at that time there was no motor road to the village and one has to walk on the zig-zag hilly route and it took about 1 to 1-1/2 hours to go to the village from the main town of Pithoragarh. There was no electric line and there was no water supply in the area. The water needs were to be made from the spring water at the base of a hill range just in front of the village down the slope. The spring water was available throughout the year and was consumed for drinking as well as for other purposes. For those livinng near the spring, it was easy to fetch water but others had problem in fetcing it to their house situated about half to one km from the spring. The name of the spring was Maghroo and its water was very tasty probably due to adding of minerals to it during its journey inside the rocks of the very large catchment area above and beyond this spring.
There was a small spring also very near to grandma's house but it only trickled a little water and it took long time to get a bucket full of water from there. Children often used it for filling their small pitchers with water.
Location - Pithoragarh
A town in the state of Uttarakhand in India
Grandma's early village life in Bisar
Due to some serious ailment my grandfather died at an early age and grandma took care of the family since then. The only job available to Brahmin community at that time was to perform puja in the house of a disciple or worshipper and get some money alongwith some raw food items. With the untimely death of the husband this source was gone for grandma. There was some agriculture land in the village as well as in one other village (Jakhpuran) which was about 7 km from there. As the Brahmins did not do the land cultivation, help of some other communities was taken for crop sowing and harvesting. The land in these hills is not very fertile and the only manure available at that time was cow dung which was stored for this purpose throughout the year. This land was sufficient to provide the grains for 1 year consumption and then there were some vegetables grown here and there near the water sources as a few rivulets flowed around the village. There was a cow in the house at that time which yielded some milk for the daily needs. Later when my father shifted to the town then cow was sold.
Grandma had 3 sons and 2 daughters. My father being the eldest took the responsibility of running the household alongwith grandma and with great financial difficulties he could do his high school. At that time (around the year 1938) even doing high school was a great achievement as that made one eligible to apply for jobs in the country under British rule.
So he was in a way very lucky that in that British period he easily got a job of clerk in the Post Office and was asked to join in the town Post Office in Pithoragarh. Subsequently, he was transferred to another town known as Nainital which was by that time developed as a favourite tourist destination in Northern India.
During all those years Gradma had a tough life and each of her days was complete with household tasks that never seemed to end and being a robust and healthy person she carried out massive jobs from morning to evening without any domestic help. It was only after receiving the first salary of her eldest son working in Post Office that she got some reprive from her busy schedule.
She used to bring water from the spring, kept out the grains to dry under sun, washed the clothes, cooked food, brought wood from the nearby jungle, went to village temple routinely and many other household jobs without complaining and without having any irritation. At that time she had only wood stove for cooking and a continuous supply of wood was essentially required for that. Occasionally, she got some coal also from the town which was used in coal stove for cooking. The amount of wood for wood stove and grass for cow which she was bringing on her sholders from the jungle was unimaginable. The other women in the village always vied grandma for this.
During evening and nights she had kerosine oil lamps and lanterns which she used optimally and was able to carry out many petty things in the dark to save the precious kerosine oil.
In fact, there was a special wood in the jungle, small sticks of which burn like just a candle in the hand. In local dialect (local hill language) it was known as 'Chhyoola' and grandma kept a good inventory of that with her to be used like a torch light whenever required especially outside the house in the night.
My recollections start only from the year 1960
My memories of Gradma start approximately from the year 1960 onwards and whatever I have written for the earlier events is as heard from my father and two uncles. So, before 1960, many things happened in the family. Two daughters had been married in the far away Brahmin villages. My father took over the family finances and was taking care of education of his two brothers. He was transfered back to Post Office in Pithoragarh town in the fag end of 1959. By that time I had a younger brother also who was 3 years younger than me. Due to his long duty hours in Post Office, my father, my mother and we two brothers shifted to the town in a rented house and we two brothers were admitted in a local mission school in primary classes. My two uncles were studying in far off places and my father was supporting them. So, grandma was living in the village by herself and was managing the set up there quite successfully.
I must mention one important thing here that very few people in our village were having employment at that time so my father had a respectful position in the village and people looked up to him for help in one matter or other. The financial condition of the family also improved significantly and grandma was also very delighted to see these developments and during her prayers to God always thanked Him for this good luck bestowed on the family.
Incidentally, my father bought a manual gramophone along with some song records and when he first used it the whole village was in our front yard to hear that music and song so clear and loud. Villagers were for a surprise to see a machine singing so nicely. For each song we had to hand crank the machine with a handle. Then, after every song we had to change a small needle in the moving head for clarity of sound. It was manual machine - no batteries, no electricity. That was a big entertainment asset at that point of time.
As there was no electricity at that time we used to have a kerosine glass lantern and it was used for lighting purposes. Grandma had a small kerosine lamp with a thin wick without any glass or holder and gave little light along with some smoke and she used it mainly in the kitchen. Matchbox was also a precious item at that time and it was one of the valuable thing in grandma's small cupboard in the kitchen.
I started to go to village frequently
My father used to go to village on most of the Sundays and if required, also in the evenings on weekdays to help and monitor the things in the village. This went on for some years and when I turned about 15 years of age my father told me that during vacations or short leaves I had to go to village to give some common items like jaggery, tea, sweets, and other household things to the grandma. It was the year 1965 and then for me it became a routine to visit the village on days as specified by my father.
My visit to the village was not only eagerly awaited by my grandma but also by some other children of the village who were always looking up to me for some sweets, chocolates and other goodies.
Living with one's grandmother
Did you ever lived with your grandmother? Did she like you?
My interactions with grandma started
I liked to go to village as it was a good change for me and I also enjoyed the company of some children there. If it was more than 1-2 days I used to take my school home work with me and used to complete it there itself. Grandma's house in the village was a three storeyed house (ground plus two) and the ground level was meant for the cattles. The first foor had 4 rooms of sizes 8 feet by 10 feet and a small lobby from where a wooden stairs was going to 2nd floor where 2 halls were there one for the kitchen and other for storage. The roof on the 2nd floor was slanted one and had a ventilation window for letting out the smoke at the time of cooking. At that time there was only a small raised platform in the corner of the kitchen for cleaning the utensils. For bathing and toilet purposes one had to go to the corner of the front yard about 100 feet from house. It was a manual toilet with a pit on the downside of the hill slope. That is all we had as there was no sewage line or anything like that in those days in that part of the country. That was not a problem for me as even in the town we had similar arrangement.
For taking the bath we had to go to the water spring and while returning bring back a pitcher or bucket of water for drinking purposes. Then in the evening we had to go again to bring another pitcher full of water. This was the toughest thing for me and as grandma was also bringing it she told me to bring water in a smaller bucket. She also suggested me to alternatively bring water from the nearby smaller spring. As the water in the smaller spring was very little and it took considerable time to fill a bucket, I disliked to go there. I always went to the main spring though I knew that her suggestions were fool proof in their nature and whatever she advised was based on enormous experience gained in her life.
We had a few fruit trees around and grandma was very strict that no child should take fruit from the tree. Children were very afraid of her as they knew how she will treat them if they dared to do so. She used to pluck the fruits and sometimes was calling the neighbour children and giving them a fruit each.
Grandma used to grind her own wheat floor or rice flour in the hand grinder made up of stones where moving the upper disc with a wooden rod by placing it in a groove made it to work like a powerful grinder. It was a common task for her to grind the grains in that grinder. In my curiosity I had also tried to run that grinder but I found myself tired in no time.
To keep the potatos, colacasia etc fresh for a long time she used to make a pit in the front yard and lined it with wet soil and cowdung. After keeping the potatos in it she sealed the mouth of the pit with a cover made up of grass and bamboo and put some soil on it to hide it underneath. Once she opened it to take fresh potato to feed me for dinner. Later, I came to know that it was something akin to keep things in airtight containers in limited air environment. She did not know this theory and academic part but might had learned this skill from others.
One more thing that I noted that time was that she generally did not talk much but when it came to banging a mischievous person in the village she was very aggresive and vocal contrary to her affectionate mannerism in the house especially with me.
Grandma's routine as I had seen
There was no official record of the age of grandma but she kept a record of it on yearly basis and as per Hindu new year falling sometime in the month of March, she simply added 1 to the last year's figure. So simple a way to remember ones age in those times. Later, with my own calculations I could roughly deduce her year of birth as 1906. Anyway, during that time when I started to go to the village grandma's age was around 60 years and she was a healthy woman and the whole village acknowledged this fact. The immediate neighbour, my grand aunt was confind to indoors due to some problem in her knees and whenever I happen to encounter her she always praised the outdoor activities of grandma.
We were living in the town and we did not have much work there except cooking and some housekeeping. Water was available from a nearby municipal tap. In comparison to that the life in the village was very difficult. Grandma used to get up early around 4 to 5 AM and had her hot drink immediately. She did not take tea but used to drink a hot drink prepared with black pepper, ginger, basil leaves, milk, and water. She used to call it Merchani in local language. Whenever I was there she used to give me a cup of that and also prepared the normal tea for me. Grandma had learnt from someone that animal bones are used to manufacture sugar. Being a strict vegeterian she stopped taking sugar and instead took jaggery in its place. She gave me a piece of jaggery now and then which I liked much.
Grandma strongly believed in the doctrine of first thing first. So in the morning she went first to the water spring and washed herself and brought fresh water for drinking. Then, she went to the puja room and for about 1 hour worshipped in her own ways chanting some mantras learned by her so far. In the fields, where crops were sowed grandma used to sow some vegetables along the sides of the field and occasionally brought the grown up vegetables from there. It was mainly green leaf vegetables, cabbage, potato and radish. Also, in the small land pieces near the house, some more vegetables were sowed. There were two peach trees on the back side of the house while in the front one plum tree, one peach tree and one lemon tree were there.
In those times many widows took food only once in the day. Grandma also followed same thing rigorouly and had her breakfast, lunch and dinner around 2 to 3 PM. Whenever I was there, I also took lunch alongwith her. She gave me some breakfast in the morning. Normally it was a hot chapati with some curd and jaggery etc.
Grandma was very considerate on me. She always cared that I should not get more work in the house. She was very happy seeing me studying and motivated me for more studies by offering me goodies prepared by her. Later my family members told me that she was not like that to all and it was my respectful and attentive behavior that won her heart. Sometimes I obeyed her blindly. Moreover, I was also taking the regular supply of jaggery etc to her from the town! Later I also realised that she had extra affection towards me.
More about Grandma
Grandma knew many things and was very close to the nature. That particular time there was no cow in the house but earlier when cow was kept, grandma used to go alongwith other women to the village jungle and brought a large quantity of grass and wood. She kept it in a corner of the courtyard. She had an accumulation of one month inventory of these items in the house.
By this time my both the uncles were married and were gone to their respective service places. So, there was no other person staying in the house with Grandma. She was on her own in the village. She had a good expertise in drying of vegetables (like calocasia stems and leaves, fenugreek leaves, whole yellow pompkins etc) and fruit seeds (like pomegranade, peach etc) under the sun which were used during the winters or rainy season when you can not go out and bring fresh vegetables from the fields. During my many visits in winters and rainy season I enjoyed eating these dried vegetables.
Grandma did not throw away the seeds of fruits like peaches and kept them in one side. On one occasion I saw her taking out the sweet seeds out of the peach kernels and then grinding it to fine form with a round stone and then squeezed it for some time and I was astonished to see the oil oozing out from this oily paste. She produced a big cup of oil from those seeds. She used it for massaging and sometimes even for frying. I used to think that she had all the solutions of the world. Whenever I had itching in my ears she put a drop of mustard oil in each of the ear and I got immediate relief (today I know that we should not do it as it would harm in case there is some perforation in the ear drums).
Grandma had her own natural medicines in her kitchen. For stomach disorder she used to take caraway seeds, for cough and cold she used to sip hot water and black pepper and ginger in her hot Merchani drink. For sore throat she did saline gargles and took honey. If she got wounded she put some paste of turmeric powder on it and forget about that.
Grandma was taking food only once in a day but her work output was very high and it may surprise many of us as how her body was able to do that.
My visits to village stopped
After passing my class XII, I joined for my graduation and then my father asked me to concentrate in my studies and stop going to the village. So, my interactions with grandma ended abruptly and subsequently when I left the town for doing my post graduation from some other place, I did't remain in touch with her. I knew she liked me much and must be missing me but I had to then concentrate for my career and look ahead for employment.
After completing my post graduation, I got some job and left for the new place. In fact for a long period I was moving from one place to another in pursuit of my career. Time flew like that and I could not go back to my village for quite long and then I came to know from my father that grandma had developed some tumour in her feet and was shifted to the town in the house which my father got constructed at the end of his service in the Post Office. This was a bad news as it meant immobility for her as that was never her temperament to remain idle. The house in the village was given to a poor neighbour who started to live in that and also took care of it. The photograph of the grandma's village house as depicted in this article belongs to the later period.
After a few years she died at an age of 87 years closing the extraordinary active chapter of her village life. Today when I close my eyes and imagine about her, I see the same glow on her face that I saw when I used to visit her in the village.
The sketch made in this article is based on my perception of my grandma as I saw her during my childhood and still residing in my mind as a thing of yesterday. Her dedication and devotion to an ordinary life without any complaint or allegation on anyone was what intrigued me much and I get a positive energy in my life just feeking about that time.