Sharmila's grandmother was married at age 12. Despite a life of hardship, she exemplifies generosity and loving kindness.
“I often wonder, how can a woman so deprived of love throughout her lifehave so much love to give to others?”
I dig my face deep into his shirt, trying to pick up even the faintest scent of my grandfather. No matter how hard I try, all I can smell is fresh detergent. My grandmother must have washed it while he was sick; she always did everything for him. She washed him; she fed him; she clothed him.
“You have a life full of sorrow to look forward toKancha; this woman will give you nothing but sorrows.”
This was one of the first things my grandfather’s mother said when my grandparents married.Not once, not twice, but on repeat, over and over throughout the years.
Little did my great grandmother know that sorrow was the last thing my grandmother would give to my grandfather. In the past few years, as my grandfather’s health deteriorated steadily, I have been a close observer of how my grandmother’s life revolved completely around the needs of her husband. A close relative’s wedding? Missed. A trip to the temple she really wanted to visit? Never happened. She sat by his side for hours on end and stayed awake for nights when he was ailing; she gave her all to take care of him.
My grandmother lost her mother when she was just 2 years old. After that, her father remarried multiple times. Each of his wives died in childbirth or due to illnesses that they had neither the resources nor the knowledge to combat. My grandmother, then, had multiple stepmothers and had no choice but to grow up under their supervision.
Her life was a Cinderella story. Just like fairy tale character, she felt unattended and uncared for by her mother figures. And a prince did arrive in her life. However, unlike Cinderella, he didn’t promise a happily ever after. Instead, he brought misery and darkness with him.
Twelve, that tender age when girls just begin to discover the shine in their eyes and the rose in their cheeks, was my grandmother’s age when she had to marry my grandfather.
At such a young age, she was forced to do an enormous amount of housework. Day in and day out, the tasks never stopped. Cook for the family; get fodder for the cattle; fetch water from a faraway tap; collect firewood from the forest; go to the fields to plant seasonal grains—she toiled more than what her tender feet and hands could muster.
The grandmother I know, however, is not a woman who is bitter and broken by years of mistreatment. Her eyes are deep set and kind. When you rest your head on her lap, she will gently caress the strands of your hair. She exudes heaps of love, warmth, and kindness.
I don’t know her as a woman who was lashed by her stepmother for the tiniest mistakes, or the woman who was treated like gum on a bottom of a shoe by her in laws. I know her as the woman who dropped me off at school every day and waited hours until school got out to pick me up. She is the woman I ran to when I was scolded by my mother, a woman who always saw the beauty in me, and who made me feel loved and cared for. She is a woman who, with strength and endurance, held the household together and raised her five children with nothing but love.
I often wonder, how can a woman so deprived of love throughout her lifehave so much love to give to others?
I do not know whether time has healed my grandmother’s wounds, or if they are still raw and vivid in her heart. Life gave her a fair share of hardships, but she has refused to let her heart wither under their strain. She is a teacher of love, care, and kindness.
My life has been very easy compared to hers. I didn’t have to fall asleep next to the grinder while preparing kilos of rice. I didn’t have to walk hours to the forest to fetch wood. I wasn’t forced into marriage at age twelve. Knowing about her life has instilled in me a deep sense of gratitude for all the comforts that have been bestowed upon me. Knowing her has made me greatly value the opportunities I have been given.
Every day, I hear her soft voice in the back of my head nudging me to be more kind, more giving, more caring, and more grateful.
“Make sure your actions never hurt anyone,” she always said.