My grandmother used to always say, ‘Don’t go eating here and there before you travel’. In fact, she used to stand on the veranda stamping her feet and tell me the devil would curse me to highlight her annoyance. (She was a bit mad towards the end).
She was right.
That day I went around visiting all our extended family, up the hill, down the hill, furthest down the hill (to my great uncle who had his toes amputated due to poorly controlled diabetes), to the left, to the right. It was a large clan of cousins, second cousins, aunts, uncles and extended once and twice removed-ites.
I was served the finest collection of food a girl could dream of. All my favourites, with no regard to whether this was breakfast, lunch, dinner or indeed dessert.
Chicken biriyani, aubergine in variations on a theme, banana chips, chakka chips, banana plantain fried, okra, poote and chickpea curry, pickle (oh so much spicy pickle), poppadum, paisum (oh sweet semia paisum) and chai. You cannot, must not, should not and could not refuse a cup of tea, ever.
I said my sad goodbyes and headed to my maternal grandparents’ house, a 3 hour drive away minus the tea breaks.
That night I suffered. And the next day I would be flying back to the UK. Why did that old lady have to curse me? All I was doing was visiting all the people in the world who love me, and want to show it by pouring their love into their humble ingredients.
My maternal grandfather was a commanding man. Gentle with me, never raised the voice of his infamous short temper. Never expected anything from me.
He was the first person to spark my interest in medicine.
I was 3.
He showed me the scars on his leg and his chest from his bypass surgery. He explained how they plumbed his vessels together to help him live longer.
I was in awe. This man was a walking Frankinstein.
But with seniority comes respect. And in India one does not disobey your elders. With status, one does not cross question them.
He made a cardio thoracic surgeon family friend of ours prescribe me something to help me last my travels.
What does a cardio thoracic surgeon know about diarrhoea and vomiting?! I now recall the look on Uncle’s face – oh god, I’m making this up.
In any case, it worked. I was plugged up for a week and survived until my stop over in Dubai (more family you see).
That was one of the last times I ever saw Ammachi – my grandmother. She died of cancer just over 2 years ago (and my Frankinstein grandfather, of heart and lung failure). She was riddled. ‘Secondary’ they said. I cried and cried the day my mum told me. My mother did not understand its meaning. My father had suspected it from googling ’causes of low sodium’.
I went to my father’s house twice within 6 months. Once, immediately after one of the biggest job interviews of my life. I missed the funeral. I had no choice. ‘What took you so long?’ their eyes inquired. You don’t understand, I couldn’t come sooner.
I didn’t get the job.
I stayed 5 days. I could not afford to stay longer. I had an exam to sit.
Needless to say, I did not pass.
The second time after I’d spent 3 months travelling around India, alone. 18 days trekking to Everest Base Camp and 4 weeks working on an Adolesxent Sexual Health Programme in North India. I snaked my way back to Kerala. My radar was going off. I feel like they need me, but I do not know how.
Emotions were high. My Aunty in particular seemed to be struggling. She off loaded on me in a way one can only assume she had not spoken to anyone else since Ammachi (her mother, my grandmother) had passed.
There is more. More to be said on how her husband treated her. More to be said on how he treated me. It is hard to formulate words, but having spent so much time travelling solo and preaching gender equality, I just could not hold my tongue.
So I lost it. I admit, it wasn’t my finest moment. But I had to say something. She was suffering and I could not just sit and watch it and do nothing.
I left the next day. I could not stay. I did not want to. I did not see the point.
That was 2 years ago.
2 years ago I went to give support to a grieving family, to nurse my own grief. Instead I broke everything.
I have heard since, that he treats her better. Whether this is true or not I do not know. I do not want to go there and destroy everyone’s equilibrium again.
But there are murmurs of problems, of illness in my second cousin. Of issues that need support. What am I to do? How can I be there and be here? When there is no running water and electricity, Skype is not even fathomable. What should I do?
I do not yet have the courage to return. What if I yell and scream again? I do not forgive as easily. I do not forget the words that he called me.
There is more.
I started this whole thing. This blog, this journey because of a very specific purpose.
Today I can tell you, the obstacles are no longer in the way.
It is so surreal that I can’t even write or speak or acknowledge it any clearer than that. For that, I’m sorry. I guess all I can say is, I’m still working it out. Working out how I feel. Working out what this means. Working out, for the first time ever, what I actually want.
I have no idea.
But for now, I leave you with another something I always remember from Ammachi – ‘Before you do anything, always remember to thank god and chase the devil away’.
And sometimes, I actually do.