Last lesson from my grandmother

I went back to Chennai, my hometown, and visited my grandmother in December 2022. It had been a long four years since my previous visit and this was my wife, Daljit's, first time meeting my grandmother and extended family. We had planned this trip for the March of 2020, but had to be postpone because of the pandemic. 

As we entered her room, her face lit up and so did mine. She greeted me fondly and then quickly chided me for losing weight and asked me to eat more and exercise well, instead of dieting. She complimented Daljit as "beuuutiful" multiple times and even conversed jovially in English. She asked me how long it's been since our marriage and then assessed that it's now time to have kids. 

She was a few days shy of her 90th birthday and she seemed noticeably frailer compared to the last time, but in good spirits and lucid as always. 

Then I asked her how she is doing. 

She smiled, brought her hands to her chest, closed her eyes slightly, and replied, "Ellame romba soukyam", emphasizing each word. 

Everything is very good. 

It is a routine answer to a routine question, but I distinctly remember feeling that her response was anything but. It carried an unmistakable air of heart-felt serenity and peace; a deep and authentic contentment.  

I simply smiled. I was in the presence of someone who seemed to have attained what most of us struggle with and chase all our lives, but I didn't think to ask further. 

But thankfully, she offered it to me on her own; as if she knew she was onto something precious that had to be shared.

She pointed to her wrist and said, "Look here. I'm wearing two brass bangles now. This is okay. There were times when I was wearing many gold bangles. That was okay too." 


In a simple and unforgettable way, my grandmother had articulated the profound message of most spiritual and religious texts. Don't get attached to an ever-changing reality. Accept, appreciate, and focus on what's in your control. 

I recall more now about how my grandmother had embodied this all her life. She was always cheerful, fearless, and didn't hold on to displeasure or bitterness. She was quick to laugh at the silliest of jokes, often uncontrollably until her stomach hurt. She was ready to play games or watch movies with child-like enthusiasm. She was a gifted and humorous storyteller, and popular with adults and kids alike. I remember her animated tales about growing up in a large family with 11 siblings, her adventures during her first stay in a foreign country in her late 60s where she had made close friends without knowing the language, about my late grandfather that mixed equal parts of affection and teasing, and an endless supply of fables and mythological stories, and real-life ghost stories, that she covertly narrated despite my mom's disapproval. Even more impressive is how she artfully combined her easy-going ness and zest for life with responsibility, diligence, and hard work. She took pride in maintaining a routine and doing her own chores even as she grew older. Non-attachment didn't mean abdication or apathy to her. 

A week after we returned to the US, we received the call. She had passed away peacefully, just a few days after turning 90. I don't remember much from my previous time visiting her in 2018, but I vividly remember this last time. I'm so thankful for that last visit and the last lesson that's going to last me my entire lifetime. 

Photo 1: Selfie from my last visit with my grand mother. She was hesitant as she was self-conscious about not wearing a nightie, but I'm so glad to have this photo.
Photos 2 & 3: Photos from my trip in 2018. I'm glad we went to a movie, one of her favorite pastimes.