Conventional wisdom would have us believe that grandmothers lead dismal lives. If they are not being preyed upon by wicked daughters-in-law or turned out of home by heartless relatives, they quietly go about their tedious lives suffering from age-related ailments, with the only bright spark being their precious grandchildren.
All that is changing faster than you can say geriatrics. While earlier generations of grandmothers were expected, and even preferred, to settle into domestic old age, today's grannies are having none of that. They are equally comfortable at an office or at a granddaughter's dance recital. They juggle multiple activities, from sport to voluntary work, lead active social lives that involve meals, movies and travelling with friends and spouses. Many are even at the peak of their careers.
"There are so many things to do, and all the opportunity in the world to do them. I just love that my life is so busy," beams Sarita Bhowmick, 65, an Odissi dancer-teacher and grandmother of four. When Bhowmik is not at her classes or travelling to the US and Europe for shows with her troupe, she volunteers with the Spastics Society of India. "What is wonderful is that I'm not an exception," she adds.
Bhomick belongs to a generation that had a high percentage of women who worked while raising their kids or took up work when the kids were older. They have also benefitted from more relaxed social mores, better education and globalization. "My mother was not educated and was dependent on my brother for every small thing and always worried about pleasing him," says Mumbai resident Savitri Ramachandran, 64, who has two grandchildren aged six and four. Ramachandran worked for 20 years at the US consulate, even looking after her son when her first husband died. Retirement and her second husband's death did not dim her zest. Instead, she discovered a new passion: golf. "My second husband was a golfer. After he died, I made use of his membership at the Bombay Presidency Golf Club in Chembur." Ramachandran now tees off five days a week, playing one round that lasts around five hours each day. "My son lives in the US, while I live alone here and visit them for a
couple of months every year. They have their lives while I'm free to pursue my interests here."
That's not to say that the emotional experience of being a grandmother has shrunk. For instance, Vasumathy Srinivasan, 60, is closely involved in the daily activities of her nine-year-old granddaughter, who also lives in Mumbai. Over the years she has ferried the child to classes, helped her with studies and homework, and even accompanied her to the occasional birthday party. But that doesn't keep this loving grandmother of two from doing voluntary work for the women's wing of Matunga's Shanmukhanada Hall, where she helps organize talks, workshops and art competitions. Or for that matter hasn't prevented her from going for movies with her contemporaries, or travelling extensively with her husband. Incidentally, Srinivasan and her husband celebrated her 60th birthday this year with a trip to Cambodia and Thailand.
"We are financially better off now than when we were raising our children, and mentally more relaxed. So I enjoy my grandchildren much more," says Srinivasan. "I would feel guilty about not giving my children enough attention because we used to live in a joint family and I was caught up with other things. I get to do things all over with the grandkids."
Yet, as many of these women insist, the joy of being a grandmother is intensified by the fact that they are enjoying the other experiences life has to offer, be it work or play.
"My son knows that he can't take me for granted and that I will not be a nanny to his two-year-old twins," says Raksha Seth, 55, an investment consultant who lives in NOIDA. Seth works five days a week besides doing yoga and working out three times a week. "We usually meet on the weekends and being so busy makes me appreciate the precious time I spent with them." Bhowmick says, "However much I have on my plate, I plan regular outings with my grandchildren to make sure I get time with them."
Physics lecturer Nandini Menon, 67, couldn't agree more. "When you get to my age, you know that time goes by quickly and you want to make the most of every minute." And so the Bangalore resident often takes off with friends and family for treks and overnight trips into the neighboring hills. "My oldest grandchild has even come with me on a couple of trips. It gave us something in common and, I think, raised me in his esteem. He realized that just because I'm his grandmother and in my sixties doesn't make me 'old'," she laughs.
The message doesn't get clearer than that. "I've learnt from my mistakes. I'm much more relaxed now and enjoy every moment," says Ramachandran, who recently visited a golf course in Scotland with her buddies. Srinivasan adds, "I have more freedom, more time, more money and no worries. This is the best stage of my life." So, for those who are worried about growing old and believe that grandchildren are a sign that it's time to pack things up, here's some inspiration.