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The pinched skin around her eyes and her mouth is telling of frequent crinkles of pain, grimace, mirth and laughter. I was not around for when she giggled merrily – softly – at her husband’s idiosyncrasies; her children’s innocent questions; her in-laws’ spirit. Her second child, my mother, describes with a distinct proudness of her sacrifices, her sophistication, of being her darling. “Despite her simplicity, my ammi* never believed any of the stories the villagers concocted about me. She knew my child won’t do such a thing,” my mother spouts in one of those gushes of nostalgia. I did not witness her fierce protectiveness. What I did notice was her pliable, but sturdy spine that stood only slightly battered, a relic of the battles fought and the victories begotten. She had gentle, yet strong features: almond shaped eyes, high cheekbones broad forehead and a well-defined jaw. Her long hair was a light brown, may be a hazel, colour that morphed into a shade of blonde or a diluted maroon in the sunlight and after a shower when wet.

She was slim for her age with bony arms and protruding collarbone. When we visited for the vacations, she would stand at the door to greet us: hug us or put a hand on the cheek or the forehead and ask about our trip. She would scold us if we partook in any sort of mischief in a voice that would turn shrilly when she raised it. Otherwise, she had a particularly soft voice that would ask about our life, studies, and ensure we were fed. Progressively, her diabetes enervated her and accelerated the aging process.

And on our later visits, we’d find her absent at the door to welcome us with those sparkling eyes and lit face. She would sit on a charpai either in the shade or out in the veranda in the sunlight soaking up the heat. Her face would now more often hold a somber expression that smiled but through the eyes, which would only be appreciable sometimes if one paid attention. Her eyes remained alert and maintained a footing in the household. She remained popular and entertained guests, who solely visited to meet her and ask after her health and life. The sort of things borne out of friendships between neighbours or acquaintances of many years.

Her strength, beauty, flexibility, unschooled sophistication, wisdom and simplicity reflected all the years of her life and founded a place in the hearts of all she met.

*ammi: mother

Note: Nanoo is what I called my grandmother

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