This post has been in the making for a really long time now, since my grandmother’s death to be precise…
I started writing a post as I boarded the flight to head back home for her funeral. But that was lost. And ever since then I’ve been writing this in my head, and it has been evolving constantly. It’s as if my whole perception of this experience called life has changed ever since I bid her farewell. Everything I have been feeling since then somehow links back to the moment I saw her for the very last time, in the crematorium, her body being engulfed by flames that rapidly consumed every last fiber of an entire generation.
My grandma was the last surviving grandparent on both sides of my family. My mom’s parents passed away a long time ago. My dad’s dad, whom I was very close to, passed away over a decade ago. So for last several years, my grandma was the last standing pillar steadfastly supporting the weight of a generation, the “elders” as I call them. With her, that generation is gone. And as I sat in the hearse next to my dad and his brother, staring down at the body that was once my grandma, I realized that now my dad and uncle have become that generation, they are the elders. Consequently, I have become their former generation, the adult; I am no longer the kid in the family.
I was also the only grandchild present at my grandma’s funeral. My sister, and my uncle’s daughters, are all in the US. It was neither practical nor possible for them to travel all the way on such short notice. Before I delve deeper into my own thoughts and sentiments, I must make note of couple of things. Firstly, India is a predominantly patriarchal society so all rituals involve sons and grandsons. My family, however, going all the way back to my grandfather, never conformed to such traditions. Secondly, sons and grandsons set the funeral pyre alight as a symbolic adieu to the departed into the afterlife. In modern times cremation units have taken the place of a tradition pyre. Going back to my grandmom’s funeral, I did everything that a grandson would have. As I stood next to my dad and uncle, with tears in our eyes, hands gently resting on the handles of the gurney, gathering the strength to roll it into the cremation unit, I was overcome by the idea that I am more than an adult – I am the only adult who is around! In that moment I was more thankful than ever for the journey I’ve had over the last couple of years that led me back to India, and to that exact place and time where I could stand shoulder to shoulder with my dad and uncle, sharing this responsibility. There was another responsibility that dawned on me that day. Being the only grandchild there, assuming the role of a grandson, all of that also made me feel responsible for the future of my family’s name. There is a certain sense of narsissism associated with starting a family. I’ve always known that but it was never more evident than on that day when I felt the weight of this responsibility upon my shoulders – the responsibility to carry forth the legacy of my family’s name. Of course I have a sister and two cousins, but they are away. Their children will also be away. I am here, and I must keep this name going.
I was overwhelmed with all kinds of emotions over the next few days. As I spent many a evening with my parents and aunt and uncle, sticking together as a family, I started feeling a certain sense of sadness for them. They are now what my grandparents were. And yet, all they had was me. They were happy to have me around, they constantly kept saying it. But shouldn’t they have the joy of having a grandchild or two running around too? A generation had passed but where was the new one? I felt selfish, and yet helpless. I wished I had someone I could marry and have kids with. And the emptiness of my own life made me sadder still.
I was back in Goa after a week and change, and the sadness lingered. Then something strange happened. Someone I had known for only a little while asked me if I would marry him. I felt like jumping and saying yes! I didn’t. My fears were still bigger than my sadness, and this couldn’t have been love or my fears wouldn’t even exist in the first place. But the entire experience has left me thinking about what I want from life. Suddenly I want to get married, I want to have a family. Not for myself but for my parents. I want to make them happy. I want someone to take my family name. I am not ready to be a wife or a parent, but I’m ready to be an adult. It doesn’t even make sense, but that’s more or less my state of mind – it doesn’t make sense!