White locks of hair pulled into a tiny bun, often covered with a pallu. A toothless smile. White saree. That is how Dida has always looked ever since I can remember. Dida - the common grandmother – in our small but complete world of the neighbourhood, where I was born and brought up at.
Married at twelve, she had given birth to children one after another. Some died, some lived, some even got lost! Two sons and five daughters are what she finally was left with. Her early life was a rather busy and content life, with a husband that was a teacher, with a house that was big enough to house all of them well, with food and other necessities affluently met, with farmlands sprawling for acres just behind the periphery of her house which amply supplied her with homegrown rice, pulses and vegetables for her kitchen. Cattle and fruits home-bred, schools nearby, life was just like a normal life should be, uncomplicated and self-propelled. Until, it happened! The Bangladesh War!
She had just stepped into her forties when the war happened. Located on the other side of Partition, as the communal war broke out, people had to run for their lives. So, when her husband was stabbed to death right in front of her eyes, she couldn't afford to stop to mourn. Rather, she picked up the childen, packed all what she could and set out for an indefinite life ahead. She walked at a stretch - for seven days and nights, or more - with her seven little children. The youngest, a baby girl – she was merely six months old and feeding on her mother as they walked across the border.
“Those were the days,” Dida often recounted later on. “We walked through the dark of the night, and at times we’d spot a fox or a snake on our way, and freeze. When the sunlight showed up, I’d look around for food for the kids. I’d fast, but only until I could still milk enough so that the baby doesn’t go unfed…” – she would tell us, her cataracted eyes teary and gleaming with memories that were now but a nightmare, beyond which there has indeed been bright sunlight, no matter how long it had taken to shine back.
Days and nights spent in cantonments and tents set up to house the refugees that came from across the border, she had lost and found her kids quite a few times more until they found themselves, finally, a shelter. They never knew what had happened to their home there, to the fields and the farms. They just could save their own lives, and for then, for them, that was all they could ever ask for!
Life for her has been long and eventful ever since that time. Some lived, some left, and then, some died too. Life however moved on… Schools, colleges, mark sheets, jobs, marriages, kids, grandchildren, and much more. They said - the Muslims took away all what she had; she says – no, it’s just my fate. She never held a point of contention, a grudge of the loss. She wore her smile intact as she walked through life, gritted teeth, with the struggle for bare sustenance, and yet she saw to it that each of her children get the education and the respect they deserve, each of them stand up in life in their own chosen ways, each of them have as little left to yearn for in their upbringing as much as she could put together.
And, you know what the most surprising fact is? That all these, all these, she did not just bear through with clenched teeth and tight fists, no! She went through it, embraced it - embraced life with its many salts and sugars as it brought along - with a wide smile, the happy kind of smile that she always wore on her face.
Fifty years since the Bangladesh War, She passed away on a bright sunny morning last year, just shy of ninety years in age. No, it was not a tragic death. No condolence was needed. Surrounded by the people whose lives she had touched and blessed, her death scene was rather a celebration of life! Befitting her life, her death too looked so painless. She lay on the bed with a smile – a toothless, wide smile. A happy kind of smile! A heavenly kind of smile…
This was my ACB4 project, on "Emotions". This too got me a best speaker award. :)