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To everyone in the world, she was S. Lalitha, to those who were close to her she was Lallama, to me she was Patti (grandma). She wanted me to write this a while ago, and a pang of guilt hits my chest as I write these words, because she is no more. I owe her this small tribute, if not more.
My grandmother and I did not agree on most things, if anything at all. As I grew older the relationship between my grandmother and me grew further apart. Living more than 3,000 miles away did not help us mend our relationship. But she was so dear to me. I’ve decided to compile a list of characteristics from my memories that best describes my Patti—the ones I will share with my kids, my grandchildren, and the generations to follow.
Since the age of six, my grandmother has told her grandchildren every Amar Chitra Katha story that has ever been published. However, Patti did not need some colored comic book to tell the stories of our gods; instead she spoke from her heart, using facial expressions and hand movements to make the characters and situations come alive. As my brother and I flinched at the sight of Indian food, Patti would make us forget how much we despised the food in front of us by rolling the rice into balls and launching into a story as she put the spheres into our mouths. She had our full attention; we were entranced by the devas, the asuras, and the kings she spoke about who lived in such faraway places and times, yet seemed so near. She told the story in broken English, asking for help with words whose pronunciation she was not sure of. As we grew older, my father encouraged her to tell her stories in Tamil, but she did not want to lose our attention, and continued in English. By the end of my 17 years, Patti had mastered the language without any English lessons. Today I sit here, unable to recall the details to any specific story. Perhaps after concentration, and a bit of research, I can write one down to pass on to the generations to come. But the memory of those exciting storytelling sessions will never fade.
The Hindu religion has been preached to me since a young age, and I was forced to memorize and learn multiple bhajans and slokas. At seven I did not know why I was memorizing them, but with every phone call to India I was urged to recite the mantra I had learned in Balavihar class that week. Patti would burst with enthusiasm and, although I did not know the meaning or the importance of what I had memorized, it made me happy that Patti was proud.
On my visits to India, I noticed that Patti would walk to the temple, which was 15 minutes away, and feed the cows lined up along the wall with the leftover food from lunch and breakfast. My dad jokes that the cows knew when Lallama was coming and every time she approached they would begin mooing, as if they were cheering. Each time she went, she pleaded that my brother and I take our eyes off the TV and come with her, but it was hard for us to get enthusiastic about temple visits. Now I regret not going with her, but I’m glad my grandmother did what made her happy. I will always admire her devotion and faith.
As I’ve mentioned, Patti and I did not see eye to eye. I grew up in California speaking only English (with the exception of those bhajans and slokas!) and was au courant on all the fashion trends and hair styles. When I came to India, Patti would try to enlighten me on what a “proper” Indian girl would wear, but I would defy each suggestion. When I was younger, I was an obedient child, and prone to folowing her advice. I drenched my hair in oil, put a bindi on, washed my face frequently, put flowers in my hair, wore salwars for fun, and enjoyed pleasing my grandmother. However, as I grew into my teenage years, I became more rebellious, something I am not proud of today. I used a straightener instead of oil, caked my face with makeup, discovered to my horror that flowers attract bugs, refused to plait my hair, and thought baggy t-shirts and torn jeans were the most comfortable attire for the Indian heat. I still remember a time when I had an anklet on, a teenage statement of fashion. My grandmother saw I was wearing only one and was highly disapproving. I had to explain to her it was not a typical golusu but she insisted I wear another one on my other foot. I was annoyed by my grandmother’s oblivion to the latest trends and took the anklet off.
My Patti loved her children and her grandchildren with her entire heart. Her visits to the temple were filled with prayers for her family and I don’t believe she asked for anything but the safety of her family. The phone calls I had with her were filled with questions about the numerous activities I took part in. She was proud of everything I had accomplished, even though she did not always express it in words. During the trips to India when I traveled without my parents, Patti was the one who cooked, cleaned, swept, and cared for my grandfather. She did this all single handedly, with devotion and love. She always asked what my favorite sweets were. I would nod at any obscure name she said to me, but nevertheless, the sweet would be given to me after dinner. Once, Patti asked my brother and I what food we liked, and my brother automatically said “mattar paneer,” a North Indian dish that she had never cooked, or even eaten before. She was not able to cook such rich foods normally because of my grandfather’s diet, but she bought the materials and attempted to make the dish. When I offered to help, she told me it was my vacation and I was there to relax. I never offered twice, another regret of mine, and watched as she continued with her chores.
I could write pages about my grandmother, fill this entire magazine with all the memories I have of her, but nothing would compensate for all she has given and taught me. She kept all the drawings I made for her, from the age of three, and showed relatives and friends every time they visited. She told me one day I would become a successful writer, and always asked me to write about her. My Patti was an incredible woman, who lived for her family and God. She has engrained morals in my head, and has encouraged me to become anything I wish to be. She will be missed by the people who loved her the most, but my Patti will not be forgotten.
Ramya Kaushik is a junior in Irvington High School. She is the editor of her school newspaper and frequently visits India.