When Grandma Comes of Age

Anima Nag, 68, swims and plays badminton regularly. She can also shake her hips to disco beats and belt out a few numbers. The retired primary school headmistress dabbles in this extra-curricular activity in the twilight of her life, all for the love of her grandchildren.

"Such things were an anathema to me during my youth. My time was devoted to studies or work. Now, I have acquired new skills, like dancing, to give company to my three grandchildren. With working parents, they have no one else to turn to but me," says Nag, a resident of the Bagha Jatin area in Kolkata.

Also consciously adapting lifestyle changes to keep up with the grandchildren is Mukti Mitra, 65. Mitra agrees that "double income parents don't have the time to take their children to singing classes, or escort them to friends' birthday parties or join them for swimming lessons. At the same time, it's risky to let these young children go on their own for such things. Grandparents are automatically roped in." Mitra, who hails from North Kolkata, has learnt to take down musical notations on behalf of her three-year-old granddaughter, Bristi Rakshit. 

"I am tone deaf but my Bristi is naturally inclined towards music. Learning the notations was the least I could do for her. I also get to spend time with the young child, who would have otherwise been left with a nanny," she says. But music is not the only activity she has been exposed to: gymnastics and frequent birthday parties are part of her schedule, too. "The young mothers at these parties often dance and sing with their children and I don't hesitate to join in. I don't want my granddaughter to be ashamed of me at any stage in her life," resolves the grandma. 

Noticing the change in her mother over the last three years, Mitra's daughter, Shampa Rakshit, recollects, "My mom's family came to Bengal as refugees from Bangladesh. I remember her being very strict and forever saving for a rainy day. She never indulged my sister or me. But she is completely different with my daughter. I think she realizes that money is not an issue for my husband and I and doesn't hesitate to indulge every whim of Bristi," smiles Rakshit, an IT professional, who clarifies, "Bristi has a nanny. Hence, it never becomes physically tiring for mom." 

To keep up with the young family members, the new-age grannies even sport a more 'happening' look. "My 15-year-old granddaughter, Oindrilla, is very conscious of appearances. She insists I wear skirts and tops or other western outfits when I escort her for group activities. I have also cultivated a taste for pizzas, burgers, soft drinks and mocktails - which the young crowd swears by," laughs Nag. 

Improving incomes have helped to gently steer grannies towards the great new world. When Bandana Mukherjee of South Kolkata received a courier for her two-and-half-year-old granddaughter Aarshi, she was horrified to learn that the 16 books that had been couriered cost Rs 25,000 - the equivalent of what she had spent on the entire education of her two children. 

Now that the initial amazement has worn off, Bandana makes the most of the books. "While helping my granddaughter browse through them, I add to my knowledge too. I had only completed my final year at school when I got married," explains Mukherjee.

For the erstwhile traditional housewives who now globe trots with confidence, the transition must be even more Armstrong-ian - what may appear a small step to their little ones, is actually a giant leap for them. 

Banalata Si, in her eighties, would know. After all, she moved from Barrackpore in North 24 Parganas District of West Bengal to New Jersey, USA, when her daughter delivered twins, around 26 years ago. "I couldn't speak a word of English. I had no clue about the lifestyle in a metro let alone in a foreign country like the US. But I learnt," recollects the octogenarian. "One of my first experiences was of ordering from room service in a hotel in Singapore en route to India, when I was alone for a short break. I managed and have continued for the sake of my grandchildren. From simple Bengali fare, I learnt to cook Continental, Chinese and Italian - everything for my grandchildren. Today, they are well-settled and I am a globetrotting, English-speaking, modern grandmom," states Si. So, what does she enjoy most in her adapted lifestyle: a meal in some of the world's best restaurants - when it's a treat from her Harvard graduate grandchildren, Sonali and Piyali, she promptly says. 

Madhavi Pillai, 73, also shares a loving bond with her son's children and travels twice a year to the UK from Kolkata to be with them while her son and daughter-in-law are on their break. Pillai, a retired Indian Railway officer, takes a bit of India with her and tells the children about life back home, how to feed a cow, wear a 'ghagra-choli' and even how to perform Bharatanatyam! "I have travelled with my son's family to places like Scotland, Malaysia, Sri Lanka and then even take my grandchildren sight-seeing when their parents are engaged in professional assignments. In return, they have taught me to speak English with a British accent," she claims with a smile.

Yet, despite the devotion, these grannies know how to put their foot down. While Mitra is reluctant to travel without her husband, who does not keep well, Nag, a former headmistress, emphatically declines to teach her grandchildren: "Teaching is the parents' responsibility," says Nag, whose husband, a retired postal employee, is content pottering about in his garden. 

A new dress code, adventurous taste buds, a ready-to-move packed suitcase and a widening circle of friends - these new age grandmoms have bridged the generation gap with their enthusiasm and love for their little ones. 


More by :  Soma Mitra

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