“Who is there?” I rushed down the wooden stairs towards the open door. It’s still dark outside. I ran out into the front porch.
“Oh! You are up. Are you heading for a bath or would you like some tea first? The helper might be still asleep.”
“Granny,” it’s you! What are you doing sitting on the front porch at this hour? Why aren’t you in bed? Why are you chanting your prayers now? I thought someone broke in.”
Granny, ignoring most of what I said, continued, “Good to see you up so early. This is a nice time to start the day. I wake up every day around four.”
This is not a time to wake up. This is the time to finish the rest of the sleep, so annoyingly interrupted by a bursting bladder, I thought to myself.
“O granny,” I am going back to bed and you too go inside. It is not safe to sit out on the porch at this hour! It is not even four.”
I started walking back to my room, but something struck me, “and by the way, who takes a bath now?”
Granny looked up in a sheepish grin, “you have become a city dweller.”
My day finally began with the brightest streaks of sunlight darting through the cracks of the timber blinds. The newspaper looked read but neatly folded back again. Turning the pages along the right folds kept me more preoccupied than the news of the world events unfolding, as I sipped my morning tea topped with a bubbly froth, the thing that feels fuzzy and desirable on top of the coffee and yet somehow out of place in a cup of hot tea.
“Breakfast is ready. When do you want it served?” granny came and sat at the kitchen table with a basket of shallots in her hand.
“Don’t you worry granny. I will get it myself or ask the helper to serve. Is she taking good care of you? I met her on my way down here. She was leaving for the market. She looked fine.”
“Yes, about that, do you think you could give her some money?” granny continued as she searched through the leaflets and handouts lying on the table. “She has some free time during the afternoons and wants to start doing some tailoring work. She needs a sewing machine for that. She took some training a long time back and could use that now.”
“Yes. Sounds like an excellent plan.” I kept aside the newspaper and went and sat next to granny at the kitchen table.
By now granny wore her glasses and started peeling the shallots. Her eyes began to well up as she wiped off her watery eyes with the end of her saree.
I bent forward to help, “why do you need to do this?”
“There will be your favorites cooked for lunch this afternoon. You came after such a long time. Since your dad retired, I get to meet your parents often but haven’t seen you in such a long time. I wish you could stay for a few more days. Who comes to visit for a day!”
“Can you please stop fretting about my favorites and please let me help?”
“I do this every day. By the time my morning prayers are over, the tea gets made. Then I take a walk around the garden. Bring in some flowers, fill a small basket with some greens and one or two other vegetables that have come to ripe. Enough for the two of us. After the helper returns from the market, I cut and keep the vegetables ready for cooking on this table. In the morning, I scan through the paper fast and sit with it again later after lunch. I have stopped taking my baths very early morning these last few years. I wait until the sun is up and warm.”
“Yes, about that. What’s with this night out on the front porch? Isn’t it dangerous? Leaving the main door open in the middle of the night?” my frustration seemed to amuse granny somehow.
“This one time, someone did break into the house.” The knowledge of this confirmed and valid reason for fear was rather unsettling as granny continued, “I was alone in the house. The helper had gone to attend a wedding in her village and would be back the next morning. It was around three in the night when I heard something and came out with a torchlight. I started calling out all my children and grandchildren’s names, giving the impression that all of you are in the house. I even name-dropped a few of your mom’s influential cousins living nearby. Just in case the thief is a local.” Granny’s classic grin was back again.
Sensing the deepest fears on my face, granny continued, “don’t worry, nothing happened. I couldn’t even see the face. I saw just the shadow of a figure run towards the back of the house and was gone. I wake up early and come and sit at the front door.”
At this point, my concern for her safety was overshadowed by the hilarity of her self-devised maneuver to counter the next break-in attempt. “So, you open the door and wait for the burglar to visit. Why don’t you serve him some tea as well? And why wake up at three? You could perhaps sit on the front porch the entire night and keep guard. Why sleep at all?”
Granny could sense the sarcasm in my tone and smiled and began to leave the table. “I need to make a few calls. It’s time for the annual temple fair, and I have raised some funds. Need to let the temple committee know.”
I finished breakfast and was walking towards the ornamental wooden staircase that looks carved out for a child’s treehouse but instead of landing on some wooden shack up in a tree, it leads to a full-sized first floor of a house. I always wondered during my visits, even as a child, about why they would have such a tiny little toy house size staircase as a conduit between two fully functional floors of a regular size house for full-grown humans. During my summer vacations, I used to play pretend as characters from Alice in wonderland on these stairs with my cousins. Across the main hallway, I met granny chatting with her neighbor. They have been friends for years, from times, even before my mom was born. She has come to invite us for Iftar but was disappointed to know that I was leaving the very next morning.
I had dozed off after a sumptuous lunch. I woke up to the chatter of kids’ voices downstairs. Granny was sitting on the front yard chair and intently reading the newspaper while two kids played around in the courtyard.
“They are from a neighboring house. They stay with me after school till the mom comes back from work. The dad is back even later”. Granny went back to reading.
“Where do you go to school?” I enquired.
“To the school near the jackfruit tree,” replied the older sister as she took a bite from the plate of snack left on the parapet where the younger brother was stacking some pebbles.
Not a line of information in the paper has missed granny’s eyes by now. No wonder even before we manage to flag ourselves safe on social media, my mom gets a call from granny enquiring about my brother and me when disaster strikes in one of the countries we live in or visiting. Even a small, obscure picture of a sinkhole in some random location warrants a call on mom’s number, as long as it mentions the name of a familiar place or country.
She again goes for a stroll after evening tea. I joined her. We ran into the local women’s association president. She has heard a lot about my brother and me from granny and expressed great pleasure in finally meeting me. She quickly discussed the next women’s meeting schedule, usually held at granny’s front yard. She informed me how very thankful the association was to granny for so graciously allowing the space for the meetings, especially because so many women feel so much more comfortable assembling for a chat at granny’s courtyard than some community center with a more formal setting. Almost embarrassed by all the attention, granny hurriedly waved goodbye to the lady and started to walk, grabbing me by my arms.
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Author: Staff Contributor
Illustration/Photograhy: TDLM Design Team