They are strong, fearless, and have lived and learned so much. In sunlight, their silver, stringy hair sparkles from underneath their dupattas. When people see them, they cannot help but stare: wheelchair, cane, or wobbly limbs of gold, they are an attraction. Their slaps as firm as iron, their numerous gold bracelets and earrings as awe worthy as Amitabh Bachchan in “Silsila.” Their roti making skills are unbeatable, and their prayers always dosed with sincerity and love.
Within the first couple of lines of this paragraph, an image has appeared in your mind of a woman you either irrevocably love or seriously hate. She complains about your weight, cannot wait until your wedding, and her penchant for paan is often too overbearing. But through thick and thin she is your grandmother, and you love her.
Indian grandmothers have a special place everywhere: from framed photographs on the wall and our hearts to villains in soap operas. But still, they are characters to learn from and appreciate. Below are skills and tips our lovely grandmothers have taught us—usually the hard way.
1. Two words: coconut oil.
You are on your way downstairs and the strong aroma of coconut oil penetrates your nostrils. You are then greeted by the sight of your grandmother in front the television massaging her scalp with glossy palms. She invites you to sit before her, and when you resist, she insists more. Next thing you know, your blowout is soaked in gloppy oil and you are only mildly devastated. The next morning, you are working your hairdo like a woman in a Sunsilk ad—maybe nani does know best.
2. Our dads/moms are not everything they say they are.
“When I was younger, I never asked for these faltu iPhone megabytes and things,” your Dad reprimands when you very sweetly request an upgrade. “I never did anything rebellious! I was so obedient. No nakhre, final.”
Your mother agrees. As you glance around for witnesses to repudiate, you see a head of silver curls against a pillow. “NAAAAAAAANNNIIII!” you begin. Your mother sighs and quickly realizes what lies ahead.
3. Stand up for justice.
When I was a child, I remember my mother often casually flicking my forehead when I refused to finish my Parle G biscuits. And like they say, “the apple does not land far from the tree.” My grandmother recalls my mother completing the same feat, so she stands up for me to my mom when I ditch salan roti for an In-N-Out burger.
4. Red lipstick goes with every sari.
How many times have you walked past the MAC counter at the mall, noticed an obnoxious shade of red, and then remembered your sweet grandmother? It seems to me that within the past fifty years, India only sold a bright, chalky red lipstick—and it has come to be the staple of every fabulously aged grandmother. It is a red as bright as the Indian flag, I suppose.
5. How to give an amazing leg massage.
When many American children think back to their childhood, they are reminded of Sunday cartoons accompanied with bowls of cereal or pancakes. Us immigrant children can only partially relate, as “Dragon Tales” just would not feel as complete without a couple of elbow rubs and dadi’s occasional sighs of relief—and let us not forget the $5 she slipped you afterwards.
6. The meaning of sacrifice.
As the child of immigrants, I often become saddened at the thought of the sacrifices my mother and father had to make in order for me to live a comfortable lifestyle. However, when I think of the sacrifices my grandparents have had to make, I resort to tears.
Imagine raising your own flesh and blood, then spending your life’s earnings to send him or her off to a foreign promise-land with nothing but well wishes and prayers. The amount of cultural protection, strife, and resilience these women have depicted and experienced is truly inspiring.
7. Dramas are truly for everyone.
I remember when my addiction began—I was young, perhaps only 13 or 14 years of age. Dadi was lounging on the couch watching a soap and I had come back from school. She motioned for me to join her and I casually strolled over, not realizing the lifelong problem I was creating for myself. Papa returned from work, and he too sat beside me for an episode or two.
It was not long before every Tuesday we were wrestling for spots on the couch and dying to know what happens in the latest episode of “Diyaa Aur Baati Hum.” I remember things getting really out of hand when my Dad sneakily watched the latest episode at work—we then expelled him from our post-episode discussion sessions over chai and croissants the following morning.
Grandmothers have truly done so much for us. Although we are often baffled by their orthodox mentalities and antiquated ideals, they have taught us to preserve our culture and identity. They have served as mothers of our Indian nation and have carried their lineage on their backbones. No matter how many leg massages and coconut oil rubs we perform, it is not enough to repay them. They are queens, and yet they have worked as servants to create a better tomorrow for us. They have taught us so many things, but most imperatively, they have taught us to defend and respect ourselves, no matter how many thappars it takes.