My grandmother died last Friday. She was about 91 years old. The past couple of days has been a whirl with funeral arrangements, family dramas and the slight adjustment of our daily lives for the next 2 weeks of the funeral rituals. It wasn’t till I was told that I was going to be speaking at the funeral on behalf of the family that I thought about my relationship with my grandmother. In all honesty, we were just connected by the horizontal and vertical lines of our family tree on paper. She was never the doting granny and neither did I ever bother to be a caring granddaughter. There are just some relationships in life that we don’t take the time to build. She was my father’s mother and I was just one of her 25 grandchildren. If I had to define the relationship in one word, it would be ‘civil’. We were both civil and courteous towards each other. And the same could be said for the many of the 25 grandchildren especially the ones born after me.
A good chewing later when I was still stuck for words, I resorted to asking my cousins for their fondest memory of her. After I got “All I remember is her is sitting and doing nothing…” and “she was always coddling xyz…” I decided to turn to my dad. Bits and pieces of my funeral speech below.
My grandmother was born in the interior mountains of Valley Road…She married my late grandfather when she was 15. Probably her biggest adventure in life was her own wedding procession (barat) It took 3 modes of transport to bring the bride home. The barat left the Upper Valley and came to Nanderi by boat. From Nanderi, the procession then continued by road all the way to the old Sigatoka town….and from there, she was put on a sugarcane rail truck for my grandfather’s village on which she finally arrived at her new home for the next 75 years…
My grandmother was illiterate. She had 9 children. Apart from the excruciating domestic duties in rural Sigatoka at a time when the house roofs were thatched and floors were caked mud, she was also expected to do back-breaking work on the sugarcane farms. She was one of those many child brides married during the Colonial times in Fiji.
I am now twice the age at when my grandmother was married. I dread long-term commitment and have personal space issues. My travel plans revolve around my comfort endurance. I am awkward around crying children and my mummy still chases me around the globe trying to rein me in.
So imagine being married at 15?
Imagine your entire life uprooted and placed smack-bang in the centre of another family?
Imagine that the very reason for your existence was to be of service to another new household?
Imagine the only time you got out of the homestead was once a year when you were pregnant only to walk 5 kilometers in the sun to the hospital for Panadol?
Forget knowing how to be a grandmother, she probably forgot what it was like to be a child. For years I have been reading about child brides but never really realizing that my late grandmother grew up grappling into womanhood in the very same extreme conditions. What life must have been like for her, I cannot imagine.
What I do know is that our life experiences turn us into the persons we are however we always expect our relationships to be model ones like we see in Saas Bahu serials. I always expected my grandmother to behave a bit like the rosy-cheeked grannies of my Enid Blyton tales and it was always the expectation of other grandchildren that she behave like their friends’ grannies (These kids went to elite private schools whose grannies could read.) It is because of our expectations that relationships don’t weave and something like that happened to us. For my grandmother to be anything like our expectations was just beyond her. My grandmother was from that lost generation of young girls and women on whose backs we have stepped on and built this country. The quiet, unsung heros of our families.
And I failed to see this. By the time, I did get around to understand my grandmother and why she was who she was – I suppose I am a little too late.
Goodbye Aajima. Thank you for the battles you have fought, the silent struggles we’ll never know. I know you didn’t have the easiest of lives but thank you. Thank you for soldiering on and not giving up. Without your sacrifices, there would have been no us today.