Yet my childhood had been spent playing in your lap. I used to accompany you everywhere. Despite your age, you used to carry me around, for as a baby I had this aversion of letting my bare feet touch the floor.
My younger brother and kid sister took up much of my mother's time. They came when I was still a toddler. She did not have the time, nor I think, did she particularly care for me - for I was an ugly, awkward child, embarrassingly tongue tied in the presence of others. So I became your responsibility - a burden you willy- nilly took on.
In that war, households are subject to, I saw myself caught in the harsh and painful crossfire. My mother blamed you for things that had happened before my birth. And she thought too that I was on your side.
It was only much later that I pieced together some of the story. But even before, in an effort to win my mother's appreciation, I became hostile to you, called you names, was eager to pick a fight with you for no rhyme or reason.
I know it is far too late to make amends. But I want you to know that I am sorry - sorry for what went before; and even right now as I right these lines in pain, contrition and …..expiation.
There were times, I found myself rushing to your defence. Relatives from my mothers' side, held you responsible for her continued ill health. But I knew that was not the case. And so I rushed knightlike to your defence, that cold winter's day. It was an occasion for rejoicing, a family reunion, yet I spoiled it all. For something in me could not bear the harshness, the cruelty that lay behind the accusations, and I could not take the look of vulnerability in your eyes, the way you hobbled back painfully to your room, seemingly unable to fight that barrage of accusations hurled at you in raucous, angry voices. I matched them, word for word. And mother grew even more distant and aloof.
It was a conflict within myself that I have never been able to resolve. So after mother was operated on, you were told politely that you had to leave. For mother could not cook for you. You always did insist that your meals be cooked separately, away from "impurities" and other tainted stuff. You left with my aunt, and was it because I really loved you, that I felt that numbing sadness deep within.
Mother and I made our peace. She looked relieved without you around. And to my eternal shame, I felt thankful that you were not around. For now I could be as untidy as I liked, not observe niceties - you had always been such a stickler for cleanliness, and most of our arguments centred around this. For my unkempt, tomboyish ways invariably irritated you and you wanted me to become the ideal, decent well brought up Bengali girl, schooled in all the fine arts. But I would have none of that and became a determined rebel.
You appeared a person of immense stamina, and never even looked your age. I always thought you were immune to the other illnesses that struck other people your age.
It was quite a shock when I was told that you had fallen seriously ill. They said you had suffered a stroke. They said you had also gone senile - you talked of irrelevant things, babbled nonsense, drifted back to long ago events of a forgotten past. They said too that you did not have long to live.
I did not cry when I heard all this and I wonder why my eyes as I write this to you, should fill up now. Is it because of guilt, remorse, of so much having gone by, so little said.?
When father talked of bringing you back, I was shocked at mother's hostility to the whole idea. She had had enough, she screamed. She had spent more than half her life, pandering to your every demand and she was not going to live through it again.
I did not want to lose mother or that fragile relationship that we now shared and so I kept quiet. . One part of me wanted you back, but I maintained a nonchalant silence.
When you returned, you were thin and weak. That first day, you seemed tired. You muttered incoherent, strange things. The others laughed yet I found my eyes brimming over with tears.
Mother made your life miserable, those few months you were with us. So father was forced to send you back. Maybe you realised that you were no longer of importance, tossed as you were to and fro among our relatives. Maybe that was why your health deteriorated, the second time. Our omniscient relatives prevailed on father to bring you back. We looked forward to your return, in anticipation but with a greater dread. We expected an invalid, and there was this unwillingness to accept you as one. For we did not want to take on ourselves the burden of caring for an invalid.
Father engaged someone to look after you. And we washed our hands off you with relief.
Soon after I left home, bright and eager to conquer the world for I had dreams in my heart. I spared not a thought for you. And yet when I bent down to touch your feet, and heard your feeble voice bless me telling me to come back soon, those treacherous tears were not very far away. I cried bitterly.
These days I find myself involved in shallow concerns , flitting from one thing to the other, much like a butterfly. Nothing claims my heart. Very little too interests me. There is this restlessness within.
I remember to dutifully ask after you, the times I ring up home. In every letter home , I put in the mandatory two lines when I enquire about your health for that is what is asked of me as a conscientious grand daughter.
I deliberately shut you off from my mind - deliberate because I know I do not have the time for you , in this rushed for time, mad mad world.
When the going gets tough, I long to put my head in your lap as I had once done. Now I know you no longer have the strength. Besides, you remember very little. There is a lot that you have forgotten. Probably that is a blessing. You will never see what I write to you. Even if father translates this to you, you will not know what I mean. But, grandma, I feel desperately tired, there is this feeling that I cant go on. I know I have given you nothing much in return for the affection you so unselfishly showered on me. But the reason today, I feel compelled to write to you would suggest that maybe I 'm not yet beyond redemption. There is a part of my shallow, selfish self that belongs to you.
Listen, grandma, I care..