I haven’t met your grandmother, but I bet she’s a tiny, wrinkly old dear whose neatness, attention to detail, lie-spotting skills, no-manual attitude toward electronic gadgets, DIY living, love for junk food and pickling chops have you wishing she were around all the time, if she isn’t already. I bet you love your grandmother a little more than you do your own mother, you wicked but entirely justified person.
Grandmothers grow frailer, and yet more resilient with every passing year. When the body is battered, the strength is more visible, the effort that much plainer to see. My grandmother has bad knees, vicious migraines and horrible vertigo, but she’s quite the soldier. I hope your grandmother is, or was a strong person. These things have a way of skipping a generation, and Added Strength is as desirable in one’s constitution as it is on a jar of prescription pills.
My grandmother will soon be here on her annual descent from the Himalayas, where she lives a bit like the Good Witch of fairytales- pointy wool cap askew on silvery head, growing herbs and flowers with strange, magical smells, brewing pots of tea spiked with said herbs and flowers, and beloved of all the creatures in the Wood, snot-nosed children and wild dogs in particular. I cannot wait for her to be here. Here is a list of what I plan to do with her.
- eat a large Thai dinner
- eat a large Sino-Ludhianvi dinner (that’s what Vir Sanghvi calls Indian Chinese; my grandmother loves hakka noodles )
- eat at McDonald’s- she loves their fries
- cook halva together
- get her to teach me how to make my own butter, and herbed salt
- take her to the darzi to get a new salwar kameez stitched
- take her to the beauty parlour for a nail job; she loves a good mani-pedi, and a near-invisible shade of pink nail paint
- take her for a drive
- take her to a movie
- show her pictures taken at my brother’s graduation; she missed all of it
- take lots of pictures of her; she got many clicked with RonaldMcDonald last year
I’m a poor judge of people at first contact; it’s hard for me to ascribe motivations to their behaviour when I barely know them. I know people who are good at this sort of thing, and they frighten me; my husband and my mother are two. My way is to put them through the Grandmother Test – a ridiculous but entirely reliable invention that makes up nicely for my lack of insight. You just ask yourself the question – Will this person make a good grandmother?- and you wait for your brain to go into delightful hyperdrive. If you’re imagining a surly, ‘judgy’ old lady who makes you uncomfortable, there’s a real chance that the person before you isn’t a very nice person. I worked at a newspaper many months ago, and when I joined, I was told terrible stories about a certain editor, stories that inevitably started and ended with her throwing a loud, potty-mouthed tantrum. She terrified people. My first few meetings with her were no go’s, and I almost gave in to the schoolyard gossip. But then I put her to the Grandmother Test, and she did surprisingly well. Once I knew she wasn’t going to have Hansel and Gretel for supper, things went well. She turned out to be a wonderful, warm person, looking for friendship in a country determined to slot her into one of its many stifling stereotypes. Thanks to the Grandmother Test, I know that I’m justified in my fangirling of Mindy Kaling, Usha Uthup, Lena Dunham, Lupita Nyong’o, Caitlin Moran, Tina Fey and Kristen Wiig. To my own surprise, I’m on the fence about Amy Poehler and Meryl Streep. Both are delightful, but I imagine their old selves with all their extant edges, and you do not want a grandmother who gives you the nasty because you mispronounced ‘chateau’, or thought George Eliot was a man. I cannot imagine them benign, edges rubbed into pleasing, grandmotherly roundness. I imagine them troubled by the burden of their genius, irritable and impatient at a world grown incomprehensible, and fiercely protective of their standards.
My favourite grandmothers on television are Maggie Smith (Downton Abbey) and Zohra Sehgal (practically every Hindi movie with a deficient/ flawed parent character) You could put them through an inverse Grandmother Test, and reach the reasonably correct conclusion that they would’ve made great twenty somethings.
And now, off I go to call my grandmother, the Good Witch of the Wood. She’s probably wearing colourful wool socks and sipping noisily on her favourite postprandial beverage- hot milk. She’s going to tell me she hates Delhi, and I’m going to agree carefully, not letting her know that I plan to kidnap her and get her to extend her stay. I hope she doesn’t catch on.