I have spent the last three days in the comfort of my grandmother’s presence. I have learned more about my history by sitting in her room than I have by visiting the elaborate palaces in Rajasthan or traveling the Punjab countryside.
Today I awoke suddenly, unsure of where I was, and for a brief moment I panicked. But as my eyes grew accustomed to the darkness, familiar forms began to take shape—the hand-stitched tapestry draped on the wall, my luggage on the floor, my aunt snoring softly beside me. I am in my grandparents’ home in Haryana, India and my phone says it is 5:00 am. My grandmother will already be awake, I think to myself. She rises early. Her mind is most receptive in the early morning, she once told me. Even when the world outside her door lies dormant in a deep slumber, she can feel life all around her. So long before the street vendors have opened their shops, before the noise of autorickshaws and scooters punctuate the morning stillness, before the hum of the city can penetrate the concrete walls of her home, before all of this, my grandmother wakes and she prays.
I slip into my chappala and cross the veranda to my grandmother’s room. I was right, she is awake. She’s sitting cross-legged on her bed, strands of rich silver peeking out from underneath her chunni. Her hands are clasped together in her lap and she is silently mouthing the verses of Sukhmani Sahib. She sees me in the doorway and beckons for me to join her. When she smiles, it is a kind one. It reminds me of my mother’s smile.
I crawl into the bed next to her and she tucks her blanket around my feet. Her hands are experienced, her touch is tender. And we sit like that, side-by-side on the bed in silence, both steeped in our own sacred thoughts.
I have spent the last three days in the comfort of my grandmother’s presence. I have learned more about my history by sitting in her room than I have by visiting the elaborate palaces in Rajasthan or traveling the Punjab countryside. And now, everything in her room from the cracked stucco walls to the marble floors have meaning to me. They resonate with more stories of love and strength and uncompromising faith than I could have ever imagined.
Like, for example, that old photograph sitting on the shelf of my grandfather, his dhari twisted in a tight knot underneath his chin. Even when he was well in his 80’s, he always began his day with a three-mile walk to the Gurdwara. Then one day he was struck by a motorcycle and he spent the last two years of his life in a bed, unable to even walk to the bathroom without my grandmother’s guiding arm. He was only a shell of his former self when he died seven years ago. But through it all, my grandmother was tethered to her husband, bonded by love and a commitment so deep that in my grandfather’s darkest moments, when he would cry in despair and call out for death to take him, she would sit by his side and recite Ardaas, praying that her husband would be blessed with shaanti, peace of mind. And when my grandfather finally left his shattered body behind, she continued to recite an Ardaas for him every morning, without fail. Where do I even begin to describe this devotion, so strong that it endures long after death.
There’s also that picture of Sri Harimandir Sahib that hangs opposite my grandmother’s bed. When I first arrived I didn’t think twice about it. But now I can’t help but wonder what my grandmother sees when her eyes come to rest on that holy shrine. Does it remind her of her heartbreaking first journey to Amritsar sixty-five years ago? Of being violently torn from Lyallpur, the only home and town she knew, and forced to resettle in a strange land? Of the friends and family she lost in the bloody strife that tore her India apart? Or maybe when she gazes at the picture, she is reminded of the countless times she has returned to Amritsar since then to seek solace in her Guru’s abode. Maybe it reminds her of her own strength to carry on despite her harrowing past, to accept her earthly experiences as hukam with both courage and grace.
Then there’s that bag my grandmother keeps by her bedside, filled to the brim with candies and other sweet treats. It’s for the children, my grandmother explained to me during my first day in Haryana. As soon as school lets out for the day, children from all over the neighborhood converge in my grandmother’s room, searching for the treats in the folds of her white suit. My grandmother generously shares her wealth with them. She laughs and hugs her pothrea, because that is exactly who they are to her; they are her grandchildren. She treats them as though they are her own, she loves them as though they are her own, because to her, they are her own. Her philosophy is simple as it is powerful.
So when my grandmother finally breaks her silence and pulls me into a tight embrace, I take stock in the wisdom she is quietly sharing with me. It is the same message revealed to me when I look around her room of sixty years. And like my grandmother, the message is a humble one.
There is strength in love. There is courage in faith.
Don’t give up on either one.
ਪ੍ਰਭ ਕੀ ਆਗਿਆ ਆਤਮ ਹਿਤਾਵੈ
One who, in her soul, loves the Will of Waheguru,
ਜੀਵਨ ਮੁਕਤਿ ਸੋਊ ਕਹਾਵੈ ॥
is said to be Jivan Mukta – liberated while yet alive.
ਤੈਸਾ ਹਰਖੁ ਤੈਸਾ ਉਸੁ ਸੋਗੁ ॥
As is joy, so is sorrow to her.
ਸਦਾ ਅਨੰਦੁ ਤਹ ਨਹੀ ਬਿਓਗੁ ॥
She is in eternal bliss, and is not separated from Waheguru.
(Photo above from Express Tribune blog)