This book is a collection of 25 short stories written by their grandchildren about their Indian grandmothers who were born around 1900. The stories are written based on the memories that these grandchildren had about their grandmothers and what they had heard about them from other members of the family. The book covers stories about women belonging to India’s varied regions, religions and income status. Initiated by Dr Subodh Mathur in 2004, the Dadi Nani Foundation Charitable Trust (DNFCT) has been making forays into the virtually unexplored domain in which grandmothers live—and die. The focus has been elderly Indian women in general and grandmothers in particular and the case studies presented in the form of stories showed that the grandmothers born around the dawn of the 20th century played extraordinary role(s) in generating a change-chain of children and grandchildren who have shone, all over the globe, in their own lifetimes. These stories also show that the grandmothers were often the backbone of families, and often played a critical role in guiding families through difficult times.
In most of the stories the authors have tried to give a glimpse of the extended family system that prevailed. While reading it, you often get lost in the Indian relationships of mama-mami; chacha-chachi; grandparents and their brothers and sisters, and many other cousins. It sometimes even gets confusing, but that also makes you realize how much we have lost over years, as we have moved away from extended families to the smallest possible of nuclear families. Thus for the present generation the stories convey a message that it is through these relationships that the traditional values get passed on from the grandparents to their children and further.
Another special thing to note is that although the authors are not linked to each other, and belong to different regions and states of the country, their experiences are common and the things each one has tried to reflect in their stories is woven around the same thread—a thread of love, tradition and sacrifice. Still it’s amazing to find, that each of these grandmothers had been intelligent, understanding and decision makers or at least had the capability to influence decisions whenever they were linked to the welfare of the children and household. This was true irrespective of their being formally educated or belonging to a rich society. On the social front, the stories have highlighted the religious nature of Indian woman; life revolving around the kitchen, her first aid also came from the kitchen by way of home-made medicines. It is heartening to read these grandmothers’ life stories, how they were married at an early age, widowed young, and had to carry the burden of running the families. Since many of those women had dreamt of studying but could not, they had always encouraged their girl children to be educated. The stories talk about the women of pre-Independence era, and also show how the fire of freedom struggle had influenced each household.
A word of caution although the stories talk about personal experiences and feelings, the way they are written also have the flavour of historical and social facts, thus the reading is not as smooth as fiction. I picked up the book as I was attracted to the cover—it reminded me of my grandmother, suddenly all her memories flashed back. At every point when you read through the book, you get connected to all those events that had happened to you at some point in time. While reading through these stories it felt like a morning cool breeze that keeps you fresh all day long.
Surabi Mittal is Senior fellow at ICRIER, New Delhi.