grand parents forever
Most people have cats or dogs as pets; I on the other hand had a goat. I still remember the black, female goat that my uncle gave me. He had a small farm in his house; cows, goats and chickens. While visiting his 'ranch' one day, I stumbled across a goat and it was mine! This, however, is not where the story ends. The goat remains a legend because the way it died. I was so enthused about this new pet that I, along with fellow accomplice a.k.a. grandmother gave it a daily diet of shujir halua and porota. Needless to say, the diet was too much to handle for the herbivore and though goats are reported to eat everything, it eventually died.
An elderly relative, now a grandfather himself, shares his share of anecdotes regarding his grandfather. “My grandfather had always been a family man. But he ruled with an iron fist. Me and my cousins loved him, yet we were also very particular about not messing with him in any way. As the legend went, he was a born romantic. We couldn't be bothered less. It was not until the day when my grandfather caught me with a love note in my drawer, did I realize his true self. I was only seventeen and in those days affairs were frowned upon. But not by my grandpa! Soon we became a tag-team of letter writers. My dada literally proof read my letters, so that they were up to the standard for enchanting the damsel in question. And it did. I now stand married to the same person for long, forty and three years. Fate, it seems- my dada did not live to see his granddaughter-in-law!”
We all have our share of fond memories regarding our grandparents. What makes them grand is possibly the fact that they tear away the years that separate us, and befriends, never letting go. The birth of a child in any family is an occasion to rejoice. But it holds special meaning to grandparents as they stand witness to the torch being transferred to another generation, another time. The bloodline that runs across two generations now touches a third. Yet is this the only bond that holds all three, or is there something else, a greater power that adheres all?When my first child was born back in 1973, I was already a working lady. Times were difficult in those days and I remained busy with my newfound identity as a working mother. My mother took care of my son while I was away. Till this day, my eldest son and my mother share a special bond" says Lutfe Tahera, a mother of two.
If fiction, drama or any form of art is a reflection of society, we see a strong presence, and influence of these stalwart figures on the family, especially on the children. True, as times are moving ahead, the nuclear family concept has somewhat removed the physical presence of grandparents, yet the emotional presence is noteworthy. Even though most families have now opted for an urban lifestyle, the family elder still lives in a traditional rural culture. This absence results in a lack of impact on everyday life, but social gatherings like Eid, Puja or Christmas bears meaning to everyone in the family, not to mention the little one and his/her beloved grandparent.
Reflecting up on the urban scenario, we see a completely new outlook. While most parents work, the young child is more often than not, left with grandparents. In the western world where the 'nanny culture' is prevalent, in Bangladesh we see grannies replacing nannies. Fakhruzaha Begum, a grandmother of three, shares her nanny stories with us: "The whole idea of letting my grandchildren in the hands of the house help seemed ridiculous to me. My eldest grandson is now married but I used to look after all his needs till he left for the United States to pursue higher education. My daughter had kept a house help, or nanny if you say, and she did help me in looking after my grandchild but I was always in-charge. I loved my newfound job.
I spent most of my life looking after children. My parents died when I was young and I had to look out for my younger siblings. My husband died at an early age and I was left with my son and daughter. I single-handedly took care of them. When time came to look after my grand children, I volunteered” she further adds.
The idea of grandparents as nannies is not without pitfalls. Syed Mahbubul Haq, a grand father of two says, “Parenting is and should be role of the parents. It is possible that grandparents help in the process, but if a situation arises where 'parenting' is being done by grandparents, the child will not have a proper upbringing.” He further adds, “ A child needs to have the influence of both parents as they can be loving but also be strict on them as need be. When it comes to grandparents, it is rather difficult to control as they are not too keen on being strict."
True, parenting remains a job for the parents, but traditionally grandparents have played a pivotal role in the process. It is truer in the urban setting, where both parents face the challenge of mixing family life with career.
“My grandfather was a school teacher. Not anyone famous outside the small community of villagers in Noakhali, but people respected him because of his profession and personality. I always knew him an old man. No graying of hairs but frail, slow in movement. He taught me to read- Bangla and English. I learnt my first lesson of maths from my dada. Proficient in Urdu and Arabic, he opened up a new horizon of knowledge in front of me, then just a mere child” says Sabbir Ahmed, a writer.
How far has our outlook changed regarding the elders of the family? As nannies, they may be doing a good job, but are they doing the complete job. Another point that needs to be addressed is are we giving the grandparents an option for their newfound identity. Would they prefer to spend the last days of their lives in the village; if not, maybe with friends. Or maybe, they are not content with their role.
At the twilight of her life, my dear grandmother now approaching ninety leads a lonely life. Her younger siblings had passed away decades ago, leaving her as the sole survivor of the family. Sometimes she comes and sits in front of the television, tries to comprehend the news that the channel telecasts every hour. She hardly talks, even with her beloved grandchildren. On days when I get down, I often sit beside my nani. Sometimes she puts oil on my hair. We hardly talk these days, yet we share a lifelong friendship that will defy time and remain timeless.
Photo: Sazzad Ibne Sayed
Models: Naseem, Farzan, Llana, Nihal, Ribhu, Jishnu, Syed Mahbubul Haq, Kamrun Laila