“Anu, Nandini, anybody. Can you hear me? The sun is scorching my head. Come and move my wheelchair.” Grandma Gangamma hollered sitting under the mulberry tree in the front yard. She wore a white sari that covered her shaved head which offered little protection against the sun.
Widow Gangamma was about 75 years old. If anyone asked her age, she told different figures every time. “Who knows?” she said smiling, “who knows when Ganga was born?” She meant the Holy Ganges this time.
“Prakash, your mother, why she hollers like this? Our neighbors will think that we’re ill-treating her,” Anushka said while cutting okra in the kitchen.
“Anu, be patient. She can’t hear well and because of the immature cataracts, can’t see well. She gets tired easily so uses the wheelchair often. You know, people who are hearing handicapped usually talk loud.”
“You always support your mother. The other day she hung wet clothes to dry in the backyard and our pesky neighbor inquired whether we have a dryer. I felt bad.”
“Mother grew up and lived in a village in India and this is how she dried the clothes there. I’ll tell mother not to do so.”
Nandini, an eight-year-old granddaughter, a third grader, heard Grandma. She ran out, her two ponytails flying in the air behind. She gently patted Grandma’s shoulders and pushed the wheelchair inside and helped her to bed. She brought Grandma a glass of dilute buttermilk. “Drink this, Grandma, you’ll feel better.”
“Live for a hundred years,” Grandma blessed.
Nandini went to her room. She could hear the conversation of her parents in the kitchen. Children have that knack even while studying.
“Prakash, your brother, Krishna and sister-in-law in Bombay should share the responsibility for mother’s care. I need a break. After a couple of years, we can get her back. Why don’t you talk to Krishna about it?”
“Anu, I don’t mind asking him, but I know what the answer will be. They live in a one room apartment and a small kitchen with their two children. There is no place for mother.”
“Prakash, you’re spineless. Is it my responsibility to care for her always? Look at my friend, Vanaja. She placed her mother in a nursing home. Last year they went to Alaska, before that to Mongolia…”
“What is there in Mongolia?”
“We have horses here.”
“Stop it, Prakash.”
“What am I doing here? Washing this old lady’s clothes, cleaning her adult briefs, giving baths and cooking for her. What a life I have. It’s all my karma.”
“Anu, listen. I’m receiving a bonus this December. I’ll consult an eye doctor and get mother’s eyes fixed. I will buy her hearing aids. She’ll see and hear better. I’ll subscribe for Bhakti channel. That will keep her busy and she’ll be calm. What do you think?”
“All right. Let us see. This means I won’t have the diamond ear studs that you promised for Christmas.”
With the money he received as bonus, Prakash bought hearing aids and had his mother’s cataracts removed. She sat in front of the TV set and enjoyed Telugu movies and the Bhakti channel.
“Nandini, look, this is N.T. Rama Rao. He looks like God Krishna. When they placed his huge cardboard poster in front of the movie theater, hundreds of people came and prayed, and broke coconuts thinking that he was the real God. They lit incense sticks and danced. This happened long ago in India.”
Then she narrated to Nandini the great deeds performed by God Rama.
“Grandma, have you seen God? Does he really look like Rama Rao?” Nandini asked.
“In whatever way you imagine God to be, in that form He’ll appear to you. Now, go and do your homework.”
One evening while ironing the clothes, Anushka spoke to Prakash in the master bedroom. “Nowadays, I don’t get to watch TV. I used to enjoy soap operas and Top Chef Shows but now your mother practically lives in the family room watching Bhakti channel. She is teaching Nandini all sorts of religious things and rubbing her views on her. I don’t think it’s good. Dear, you should reconsider my suggestion to send her to your brother’s place for a year or two.”
Suddenly, Nandini entered the master bedroom. “Mom, Dad, I heard your conversation.” She looked straight at them. “I don’t know why you want to send Grandma to Bombay. Mom, unlike grandma, you hardly spend any time with me. You’re busy with your Woman’s Club meetings, knitting classes, watching Top Chef Shows and soap operas. Dad, you’re occupied with your private practice and have no time to spend quality time with me.
“Grandma has studied up to the eighth grade and knows some English and Mathematics. She helps me with my homework. Ours is a rich culture. She tells me stories full of moral values from the epics, Ramayana and Mahabharata, which I never knew. She talks about our heritage. She told me the events that happened to grandpa, great grandpa and other family members. I learned a lot from Grandma. Did you ever tell me anything about our ancestors?
“Mom, if you plan to send Grandma to Bombay, please get me a ticket too. I will accompany Grandma. I’ll be happy with her.”
Nandini, with tears in her eyes, turned around and walked out of the room.
Anushka and Prakash stood speechless.