Grandma with swagAt 11 am sharp every morning, a voice resounds through our quiet Kupondole neighbourhood, disturbing all our neighbours from their daily chores.
At 11 am sharp every morning, a voice resounds through our quiet Kupondole neighbourhood, disturbing all our neighbours from their daily chores. My grandmother—sitting on a wheelchair in the terrace, with her legs resting on a chair and a pair of sunglasses to protect her beautiful eyes from the winter sun, like the queen she’s always been—is singing in her best Mala Sinha expression, “Na maana laaj estari, ki jhumcha jindagi mero, na aau saamu yestari, ki adcha dhukdhuki mero, na aau saamu yestari.” The self-proclaimed nightingale demands an audience.
And although her voices echoes in the neighbourhood, her audience is limited to just five people—her nurse, two caretakers, beloved pet Cookie and me. “If 1950 was as modern as today, I would perhaps have been one of the most celebrated singers in Nepal,” she says, blushing, covering her mouth, and then goes back to singing other classics.
My granny’s biggest achievements are the two awards that are on display for everyone to see—‘The oldest citizen of the community’, twice in a row. She takes pride in these awards and relentlessly points to the wall as soon as any visitor arrives to pay her a visit.
“Another seven years and I’ll mark a century,” she laughs.
Ready to turn 94 this year, Granny is bored with her annual birthday parties. Surprises don’t amuse her anymore and neither does the staple pineapple cake that she has to cut every year. The only thing that she awaits, and that too eagerly, is the annual award the community confers on her. Granny likes to believe that apart from the imported chocolates, anti-aging creams and her matching clothes, she has awards to boast about to her few friends who remain alive.
Last year was the most memorable birthday of her life—she got to drink her favourite amrit—Baileys—after 20 long years and she received the best gift she’d ever received—a smartphone. Her wish to become a tech-savvy, modern woman had finally come true. The phone has everything that she’s ever wanted—a touchscreen, a camera to capture her beautiful self, YouTube to listen to her favourite songs, and WhatsApp and Viber to connect with all her ‘bidesi’ children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. As modern as it could get for my nonagenarian Granny, someone presented her with a JBL headset, just so she could listen to her classic songs without having to compromise for her hearing loss.
Granny’s morning begins by applying a liberal amount of her ‘bidesi’ anti-aging cream on her flawless skin in an upward sweeping motion to avoid wrinkles, while often telling me that I need to look out for my skin. One fine morning, while Ghulam Ali’s Gajalu ti thula thula aankha played on her phone, she gave me a disapproving look and said, “This dry weather will bring wrinkles on your face every day. If you want to look as young and beautiful as I do, you have to try my tactics, listen to songs that boost your confidence and apply cream as much as you can. Otherwise, you’ll start looking older than me.”
Apart from being a self-proclaimed nightingale and beautician, Granny likes to believe that she is an expert in astrology too. Her favourite hobbies are to wear matching clothes every day and read out the newspaper horoscopes of all her well-wishers through her large magnifying glasses every day. If, according to the horoscope, she looks to have a bad day, she will conveniently change her star sign for the day. Granny doesn’t like to be bogged down by anybody: it’s her way or the highway.
I often wonder to myself, where does she, the Queen G, garner all that confidence from? It doesn’t come to me naturally, and I bet not even to her kids. One instance, she bluffed her dentist. Refusing to believe that old age has kicked in and not taking the dentist’s word of advice to avoid chocolates, she couldn’t give up her guilty pleasure. Despite her teeth, which are slowly starting to fall, she slyly ate chocolates before going to bed.
When the dentist visited Granny and asked about her indulgence, she charmingly brushed it off.
“Even at 93, I have to take orders?”
Her tantrums and demands may be irrational at times, but she can get away with it all. It’s because of her confidence that she gets everything done with a snap of the finger.
“Hajur katti bhagya maani, hai?” I ask her. You’re so fortunate.
“Bhagya baliyo banauna ko lagi mitho mukh banauna parcha ke, bujhis?”Muwa snapped at me. You need a sweet tongue if you want to get things done your way.
Granny is arguably one of the luckiest women alive and if anyone ever needs to get things done, they just need to apply her advice: Be a charming conversationalist and all will be sorted.