Redo Your Exit, Grandma

A Deathbed, or someone’s Karma playing its card on them?

Pachai’s paternal grandmother passed away a week back. In the four years we have spent in our marriage, my acquaintances with the eighty-six-year-old lady dot rather scatteringly. Except for the past six weeks, when we brought her home to take care.

Paatti, as we called her, which incidentally in Tamil means granny, was diagnosed with degenerative Alzheimer’s. A condition that loosens the brain’s elasticity. Along with a detailed list of antibiotics to help control the pace of her advancing state, paatti’s other prescription was comfort care. Over days, we helplessly watched her lose touch with humanised conducts and mores. Each of us had braced ourselves to face any circumstance for we did not know when were we to be hit with the worst. Faithful to the prescription, paatti’s need for comfort care was evident. As a result of her brain’s indisposition, veins in the temporal lobe that are responsible for creating and retaining memories began rupturing. While she had no troubles recalling long-term memories especially those from her childhood, she had her blues while recuperating her grandsons’ names. Sometimes even her offsprings’. Her short term memories whizzed past like an occasional breeze on a hot afternoon, no more. So much so, that she was unable to fathom the food laid for her in the later stages of her mental discomfort. As paatti’s state of imbalance progressed in phases, she became increasingly unaware of the orbiting ecosystem she belonged to.

The Wall of Fame.jpg
Wall of Fame, or a Wall of Frame?

It was as if she had detached herself from the human territory of instincts into something above and beyond. She neither emoted nor displayed sentiments of attachments. She breathed, ate, peed and shat. A few relevant tokens of existence, except which she defied signs of belonging to the mortal world.

Paatti no longer identified the place she was living in or the people in there that took care of her. Except for her eyes, she could pilot her sensory organs no more; not even for her needs. She didn’t know she needed to go to the bathroom to bathe, urinate and defecate. She failed to react anyhow whenever any one of us addressed or spoke with her; we didn’t know if she was listening. If she listened, we weren’t sure if she could comprehend. If she comprehended, we didn’t know if she’d respond. If she’d answer, we knew we had to besot her reply with a benefit of the doubt. Every single time. When we fed her her meal, she lost the sense of processing it. A morsel would dance at the tip of her tongue, sometimes a grain or two kissing her lips. She did nothing to wash either of them away. She couldn’t. Her brain refused to send her signals about the course she had to take next. Paatti did not register the act of chewing, excreting saliva and swallowing. Even if we instructed her to do so. She forgot that her jaws were a ready weaponry to help her devour, ingest and gulp. All she had to do was command them to move. Sadly, she felt astray from any control. As if she had shed her powers even if to work her body.

As a ray of light barges through the window, which colour do you choose?

Paatti might have had a light or a ray of sorts approaching her — an inhibition her observers sensed a few times in these six weeks. For she began to tangle herself into arguments with an invisible energy at times. An energy that only she discerned. About how He must be merciful and pick her up at the earliest. About how He was being inconsiderate by not beckoning her to join Him in His land already. The tussles began with a request followed by periodic pleading. She moaned, wept, brawled and admonished the energy for being ruthless and a brute to leave her in a state of limbo. She was angry and relentless. She kept mumbling throughout the day. Criticising. Reprimanding. Rebuking. And scolding. Traits she was least associated with when she belonged to a rising generation.

At certain junctures, paatti may have lost her will to live, but she didn’t share a similar sentiment on all days. She avoided sleeping at every single cost. She tried with her might and limbs to stay up whether in daylight or darkness. Irrespective of the clock striking one after midnight or midday. At such times, she sought solace in kith and kin. Though her senses of recognising near and dear ones had failed miserably, a gesture of humanity nevertheless, reassured her otherwise. The inducing warmth of placing a hand over hers, or while taking hold of her palm encouraged her to lay her eyes to rest. To shut them and sleep. A simple touch of the fingers dispelled her worst confirmed fears of having been taken away to a different world. Of having slept permanently.

Paatti may have chosen to depart in Pachai’s company in her final days, but that was all I needed to know about her. While there were bouts of convalescence courted with the medicines she was on, it was bizarre getting to be with her at the stage I’d gotten to know her. Her chapters of initial existence unfolded in bits and phases as Pachai’s parents reminisced one incident after the other. What had she been like as a mother when she brought Pachai’s father, her firstborn, into the world. What had she been like when Pachai’s mum entered their household as a newlywed. That was all there was to know about her. It took one look at her helpless frame of fragility for any cacophonic vibes to vanish. For, she was one of the first people who opened up to me with chit-chatters of kinsfolk adding a postscript, everyone has their reason for doing things the way they do, every time. For, she was one of the first people to support me while I learnt the mannerisms in Pachai’s household.

When she invited me in before marriage, I was the only granddaughter to have been urged by her to sit on her lap. Moments in advance to her passing away, I was the only granddaughter to have served her a sip of milk before she left behind her mortal remains with us. The two incidents I am content to have been a part of and recollect at any given point in time. Bearing the prerogative of having been the one granddaughter in paatti’s introductory and showdown scripts.


When she passed away, little did I realise that feeling distressed would turn out to be an understatement.

Photos: Kochi Muziris Biennale; Kochi, Kerala

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