The morning rays just began to peek through the cloudy sky. But Arundhati was already up and about in the kitchen, bustling around with her usual efficiency. The rest of the household was slowly waking up to yet another day.

Arundhati smiled to herself. It was her birthday today. She had turned all of seventy-five years.

Her thoughts stretched back as they often did these days, reminiscing about the then and now. It amused her, this nostalgic frame of mind where she lived between the past and the present. Thinking back to her childhood, marriage, children, grandchildren, it seemed like her life had this recurring pattern from then to now. She watched her sambar simmering on the stove, where she began as a young girl to learn how to cook from her grandmother, mother, and other members of the extended family.

Widowed about five years ago, Arundhati now lived with her eldest son and daughter-in-law and helped them out by managing the household for them. Both her son and daughter-in-law worked in big corporates in important positions. Neither found time to attend to their home and children. This is where Arundhati stepped in and restored some balance to their lives. And they were very grateful for her unwavering support.

Arundhati’s routine every day was fixed, born of a discipline that came with years of following the same schedule. She woke up by 4 am in the morning, bathed and went for a walk to the nearby temple, combining both her physical and spiritual doses of the day neatly and efficiently. She often remembered the massive temples back in her village, where simply going around the deity thrice would take care of your morning walk! Through these routines, she continually tried to find a slice of that peace and calm in the hustle bustle of this city.

She would get back home by 5:30 and busy herself preparing the breakfast for the day as well as organizing lunchboxes for her family. A full-time caretaker took care of cleaning and other housekeeping chores, leaving Arundhati with a few hours of free time during the day when the rest of the family were out. She usually spent this time saying special prayers or listening to her favourite music pieces or religious chants. Her grandchildren had also hooked her up with an iPad and a smartphone so she would also play games or chat with the family and catch up with everyone.

Arundhati’s eldest son had two children, a boy and a girl who were in their tweens and teens. Both adored their grandma and could be seen whispering for days now, planning something special for her seventy-fifth birthday. All her grandchildren from her two sons and two daughters were in touch over WhatsApp, planning a big reunion and tons of surprises for their beloved Paati. The whole family was expected to visit today on her birthday and a big party had been planned by the children and grandchildren to celebrate this lovely lady who they had the honour to call Amma and Paati.

Yes her family loved and adored her and she had no complaints on that front. But for a few months now, she had been lost in some intense thoughts about her life and how things had worked out. Her entire life could be summed up in one word – care. It started with caring for her younger siblings, moved on to caring for the husband, then the children. She also spent a fair amount of time taking care of her own parents and in-laws when they were too old to manage on their own. While she did all this without complaint and with love and joy, she couldn’t help but feel that somewhere along the line, she had forgotten herself. On the one hand, taking care of such a big family kept her on her toes as well as sticking to her routine ensured that even at this age, she was of clear mind and fit body without any major ailments. On the other hand, life had slipped by while she was engrossed caring for everyone else.

She had recalled her hopes and dreams, the things she’d promised herself she would do but never got around to doing. Everyone else somehow always came first, and life just flew by. Six months ago, she had finally stopped thinking and decided to take some action.

And so a plan was born. She had finally decided to do something for herself, something she had promised herself to do years ago.

She told her family she had joined a new bhajan group that met in the afternoons and sang bhajans. It was a very believable cover-up, and no one questioned this new pastime and soon it became one more routine in their mother’s life.

Today’s routine was no different. After a brief siesta, Arundhati dressed up in a simple cotton saree and set out on her secret mission. She took an auto to a place a couple of suburbs away. She had deliberately travelled to another suburb so that there wasn’t any chance of her children or grandchildren running into her and discovering her little secret.

On the way to her destination, her mind went back to the first time she met Balraj. She had gone into his office to enquire about how she could go about fulfilling this dream of hers and he was the first person who met her. At first, he was completely taken aback by the request, having assumed that she was there to enroll a grandchild! But her steely gaze and determination silenced him quickly and she had his full attention.

“Aunty, are you sure you want to do this at this age? It is not easy. You need to learn so many things, will you remember all the steps involved? Sorry Aunty, please don’t take me the wrong way but I never had a customer of your age!” he had spluttered to her amusement.

“Balraj, leave the learning to me. Can you teach me how to do this? I see today’s generation doing this so comfortably and here I am with absolutely no clue! This is one of the things I had promised myself I would do in life, and by the time I turn seventy-five in a few months I want to be able to do this.” she had replied, firmly and with confidence.

And so it began. Every day he taught her the moves, the steps, the sequence. When to stop, when to start. And little by little, she understood the turns and the twists of this new activity.

And today, she was on the way to collect her certificate of achievement. She had done it!

Author’s Note: Catch the second and concluding part of Grandma Knows Best here


Illustrated By: Dr. Anisha Kumar (catch her work at ignitingmypassion.wordpress.com)