“Are you crazy, aunty?” screamed my niece when I announced that her grandmother was planning to attend a family function at my native place, Hyderabad.
“How on earth is she going to travel all that distance? Do you think she can stand the strain?” piped in her brother.
“Why not?” I exclaimed. “I agree that your grandmother, who also happens to be my mother-in-law, is on the wrong side of 80. But you forget that she is hale and hearty at her age because she is always active and young in spirit,” I said, stressing every word.
I could see that my mother-in-law, who was sitting in her favourite high-backed chair, busy with her embroidery as usual, was enjoying every bit of this conversation without batting an eyelid.
“Are you taking Grandmother by flight, Aunty?” my nephew wanted to know.
Before I could reply, I heard my mother-in-law say, “Even if your aunt wants to take me by flight, I shall not go by plane. I will go by train like the rest of them.”
The two children still could not believe their ears. “But Grandmother, how are you going to walk the full length of the platform with people jostling you? You start gasping while walking in the house itself. Do you think you can climb into the train?”
Their concern was obvious. With every question I found my confidence ebb away a little more! But having decided to take my mother-in-law to Hyderabad, and not one to give up easily, I booked tickets for the whole family.
Finally, we found ourselves boarding the train with the old lady in tow. She refused to get into a wheelchair to reach the coach and insisted on walking the whole distance. Once in the train, she settled herself with her paraphernalia using her own sheets and pillow refusing to touch the bed linen provided by the railways. She was disappointed that the airconditioned coach prevented her from enjoying the breeze and scenery through an open window . The overnight journey was comfortable and uneventful and just before dawn, we reached Secunderabad.
Our heart missed a beat when we found we had to climb the over bridge to make our way out. A wheelchair was summoned and my mother-in-law reluctantly sat in it to be wheeled out of the station by the porter through a circuitous route. As I followed her, I noticed a train standing stationary on the tracks and the guard all set to give the green signal. I gasped for breath and to my relief saw the guard suddenly tucking the flag under his arm. The engine driver and the guard were smiling and waving their hands vigourously at someone in front. Even as I wondered who their object of attention could be, there was my mother-in-law gleefully waving back to them from her wheel chair and thanking them bringing her hands together for allowing her to pass.
“You must be tired after the long journey, why don’t you rest for a while?” entreated our hostess, addressing my mother-in-law.
“Oh, my, not at all. I have not come all the way from Chennai to rest. Let’s all get going with preparations for the function,” she said and got busy after refreshing herself. Her enthusiasm was infectious. From centrestage, she made all those much younger than her run on different errands for the big event.
By evening, all of us were exhausted, the heat making its own contribution to draining our energy.
But my mother-in-law looked fresh as a daisy and was making plans to visit an old friend (literally and figuratively, as the lady was nearing 90) who lived a few miles away.
Faced with no alternative, some of us accompanied her and her delight at meeting her senior had to be seen to be believed. The two of them slowly walked towards each other with stars in their eyes and embraced with the utmost warmth and affection. They looked like two long lost teenagers meeting after several decades.
And what did they talk about? Not about their health, as is wont with people of their age, but about their younger days and the nice times they had. A tired me could not help being stunned at their abundant energy. On our way back, we could hear only one voice, telling us how much the meeting with an old friend meant to her.
We could visualise a similar scene at the place we had just visited. Do I have to say how successfully the function in our family house went off? Can you expect anything else when old people, young in heart and spirit, set an example by doing what they say and motivate others to emulate them? May their tribe increase, is all that I could wish.
Her travel to Hyderabad which coincided with that of Clinton’s visit to this place in the year 2000 made greater news in our family circles !
N Meera Raghavendra Rao