Vacations are fun; isn't it? We all have fond memories of winter or summer breaks spent with our loving and affectionate grandparents, like I have of the times with my maternal great-grandmother, Biji as we called her, at her 150-year-old British colonial era bungalow, Petlands 15-A, Charring Cross, tucked away in the garrison town of Dagshai in Himachal Pradesh.
Born in an aristocratic family, she was her parents' only child. Petlands was just one uber luxury property of the many she had inherited from her father. Come June and the entire family would congregate in Dagshai and the air will be filled with celebration and euphoria. All my grandparents, parents, aunts and uncles, cousins and their pets, the entire jing-bang would be together and all hell would break loose.
When she left us just a few months before her 101st birthday, she had witnessed more history in the making than most people read in books. She monitored its each milestone with keenness; a sharp brain was her hallmark till the very end. She would tally daily sundry accounts with her manager and be updated on the latest happenings in world politics. She was ahead of her times, yet very traditional. The determined and indomitable woman with an unwavering zeal never gave up before the challenges of destiny.
Young when she lost her mother, she was brought up by her father like a "son". A woman's strength is measured not by the strike of hardships on her but by the extent of her refusal to let the pressure dictate what she becomes. My maternal great-grandmother was an embodiment of the never-say-die attitude, a free-spirited soul a lot like the modern-day woman. Her scientific temper and rational mind was remarkable. She liked to live on her own terms, and she questioned the community's stereotypical customs and traditions. She was rather young when married into a patrician and noble family, of an erstwhile chief of Punjab, but she questioned its practice of 'purdah' with her in-laws.
Her knowledge of Sikh history and religion was unparalleled. Even at 100, she would wake up at the break of dawn to recite the Japji, Sikh morning prayer, without fail. Her special ability was to keep the family as one unit, in spite of the differences between different generations. Everybody got together for her 100th birthday and celebrated it with gusto and fervour. She loved flowers and adored the bouquet of 101 crimson dew-kissed roses we gifted her.
Many long words bring tears to the eyes but the simplest are the saddest. "Goodbye!" said Biji, a legend who will be alive in our hearts forever.
The writer is a freelance journalist based in Chandigarh