'Are you asleep' - She asks.
I feign sleep.
She persists. 'Have you slept'?
It's our routine. Mine and hers. Every night. I tell her good night at-least an hour before her favorite soaps in the regional language are done for the night. I love to read and then fall asleep with my headphone still playing my current favorite tracks. I wake up somewhere in the middle of the night to settle for my proper sleep. And she knows this routine of mine, better than anyone else.
Yet, every single night, we replay the same scene.
She with her persistent questions which I know will not stop until I actually give the usual 'Ammaaammmaaa' (Meaning grandmother in the local dialect).
'Yes. I was sleeping. And now you have me wide awake.' - I crib.
And as is habit, she doesn't wait for my response, ever. She begins by telling me about the tormented daughter in law, the beast of a mother in law, the coward of a son, the innocent orphaned girl, the shrewd sister and every other single character in the relentless soaps aired on television night after night. The same spiteful, 'supposedly' heart wrenching story.
I tell her, every time - 'You sure have some great amount of patience to actually look forward to watching this lame excuse for a soap every evening. Sit with me one day and let us watch f.r.i.e.n.d.s. We can at-least have a hearty laugh.'
'Which friends house are we going to' - She questions me back. And I smile. My smile in the dark which only she sees.
'Stop teasing this old lady' - She continues.
'So what's our topic for tonight's midnight discussion'. - I ask her.
This was our game. when the rest of the world goes to bed in preparation for a tomorrow, this granddaughter grandmother duo use the time to reminiscence the past. Sometimes, even way back upto 60 years ago. It hasn't been long since we embarked on this.
Earlier this year, when I finally resolved to put into action, my big move, of the many things I knew was sure to come my way in life, I wasn't prepared for this renewed bonding with my maternal grandmother. Until then, she was grandmother. The grandmother who cooked and cleaned and swept and wept. The grandmother in her pale starched cotton sarees, perpetually loving to be in the kitchen and conjuring up dishes which could summon an army a mile away just by it's aroma. The grandmother who's still only slight grey hair, smells of the home made herbal coconut hair oil. The grandmother who impatiently checks the clock every five minutes past sundown to make sure she doesn't miss the beginning of the long line of soaps in her favorite channel.
So when I had the option to choose one of the two spare bedrooms in the house, I asked her hesitatingly if I may share the room with her. To be honest, the intention was selfish. It is the only room in the house with a direct view of the night sky (Read - the beautiful unpolluted star studded sky and the occasional full moon) from the bed. She was more than happy for the company.
I complained to her after the first night in the room. That she kept talking at length and didn't even let me get a wink of sleep. It was pure frustration on day one. Day four was acceptance and day seven was compassion. Compassion for this new woman I began to see. In a new light.
The woman who transformed from an old slow moving grandmother to the jumping-running volleyball star in her school days, the young blushing bride fighting against all the odds in her new life, the new mother totally unaware of how to handle a baby, the mother who spent all her days and nights toiling to feed and clothe her expanding family, her phase as a mother in law, the delighted grandmother holding her first grandchild, the widowed wife mourning the untimely loss of her pillar of strength and support. The stories never progressed after that chapter in her life. She admits unhesitatingly that she ceased to live from that day on. It's only been mere existence since then. Invariably, most nights she recounts how that one day disrupted and turned her entire world upside down. How since then, she hasn't even had a permanent roof over her head.
As the days passed and the night stories told and retold progressed, I began to realize the depth of the emptiness in her life. How the simple act of recollecting a life gone by is making her feel more of a person. How the only thing she ever really needs in life now is a listening ear. I tease, I probe and sometimes even accuse her in response to her narration. She smiles each time. Her response to everything.
By daylight we are what we are, generations apart with a long era separating her life from mine. And after sundown, we are the same. She, with a past she fondly remembers and a future she dreads. Me, with a past I repent and a future I look forward to. This perhaps, is the magic combination for night long conversations. And yet, I cannot start the charade without the usual drama of cribbing on being rudely awaken from my feigned sleep. By my ammamma.
*Photo courtesy - Google Images.