Kumud Mohan is a grandmother of 4, and the wife of a retired Air Force officer. She has lived all over India during her husband’s service and became a successful mompreneur during the 1980s, when she set up her own cosmetic wax business, a secret recipe passed on to her by her cosmetician mother. She discusses her role as a grandmother, how it has been different from motherhood and how the role of a grandmother has changed over generations.
The word ‘grandmother’ usually invokes an image of silver hair, gold-rimmed spectacles and a walking stick. Growing up, I had only one grandmother, my mother’s mother who stayed with us along with my grandfather. You see, their village in North Kanara was too far away, and so they had moved to be with us in Mumbai. This grandmother did not have silver hair, nor did she wear gold-rimmed spectacles. She never even walked with a stick. On the contrary, she did all our household work. She would make buttermilk without a mixer, grind masalas on the rolling stone and cook delicious meals for us on the kerosene stove that is nowhere to be seen today.
My grandmother sang beautiful bhajans while performing all these tasks, besides on all the innumerable fasts she kept for each deity every day of the week. She would invite a panditji to our house to perform special poojas for her fasts which she performed with immense fervour.
I had a working mother, and so my grandparents were our guardians in her absence. Yet, we never needed to be given explicit instructions on our conduct. I don't remember my grandmother instructing me to return home by a certain time, or giving me any other order for that matter. The rules of the house were understood, and we didn’t dare defy them. When I was little, I remember my grandmother didn't like that I went for dance classes. I don’t know why. But my mother insisted that I continue, and not long after, I started training for stage performances.
My grandmother wore a cotton nine-yard saree and the mangalsutra on her neck was never missing. She would chant stotras right from the first toss of water on her head all the way through to the end of her bath. Now, people would call it bathroom singing. I am telling you details about my grandmother because they are a direct and striking contrast to my role as a grandmother; fifty years later, about three generations away.
My four grandchildren are like the four directions on this earth; amazingly different from each other. My eldest grandchild is full of chatter, cheer and smiles, whereas my next oldest is as silent and cool as the ice cube in my refrigerator. You can never tell if he is present in a room. When he does speak, his words descend like precious gems that we ought to store in a time capsule. My youngest two grandchildren were born within six days of each other and are somewhat alike; only one is a boy and the other, a girl. The boy is like a little gentleman, always tiptop and the epitome of etiquette. He is happy to be on his own. My granddaughter, who is six days younger, is the kitchen queen, a deft master chef at barely 18 years old. She sings, dances and lives life to the fullest. My grandchildren never appear bored in our old company; on the contrary, they revel in the discussions we have with them.
Though my grandchildren are two generations away, they honour our word. I still remember an incident when my grandchildren were here on a vacation and they planned to go for a late evening movie show. My husband and I were concerned at the timing of the show, particularly because my granddaughter was also going. When we told them that we didn’t think it wise or safe for them to go, they immediately cancelled the tickets. In contrast, when my grandparents were our guardians, there was only one law and one law alone, for everyone in the house.
The greatest difference in having graduated to become a grandmother, is that my relationship with my grandchildren is softer, more tender and caring than it was as a mother to my children. As young mothers, we are often short of patience and find our kids demanding. As we grow, we learn to forgive and become more lenient. With grandchildren, we ease into pampering mode.
The greatest happiness in bringing up a grandchild is reflecting on your own journey as a young mother. It is a flashback that I’d love to relive over and over again.