I suppose of all Mercy’s grandkids, my sister and I are probably the ones who know her best; not only are we the oldest, but we also lived close enough for her to be an integral presence in our lives till our adulthood, when we relocated overseas. So I write this especially for my estranged maternal cousins, who may hold very different views of her thanks to their parents. I hope you each read this someday, to get to know this beautiful lady we all come from, as I have been privileged to know her.
Mercy came from a well-to-do family in a small Kerala town. A diligent and prize-winning student, she left the world she knew and arrived in bustling Mumbai as a 19-year-old bride. She had my mom at 20, and Son 1 at 21. The early years of her marriage were spent travelling through India wherever my grandfather’s job took him. They settled in Mumbai when my mom was six. A few years later, they bought the flat in the apartment complex she calls home to this day.
Along the way, she picked up the rough-and-tumble style of Hindi that is unique to Mumbai. Hearing this otherwise quietly elegant and dignified lady say “apun” has never failed to make me grin. The apartment complex they dwelt in is, like most such complexes in Mumbai, a microcosm of India with all its rich diversity reflected in its colourful residents. In a community like that, there were the inevitable spats between some people. But she managed to get along with all, with not an ill word to say about anyone. Ever the epitome of gracious hospitality, she became known for the clean, tidy home she ran, whose door was always open for friends and family.
She was a loving mother, lavishing her kids with the best they could afford on their modest income, without being wasteful. However, she was also a firm disciplinarian, enforcing strict curfews and pushing them all to finish their education with college degrees. My mom freely admits that she hated studying and in the brashness of youth, couldn’t see the point of college at the time; she only completed her education because of her mother’s unwavering insistence.
An avid cook eager to learn, Mercy traded recipes with her multicultural neighbours, and built a mouthwatering repertoire of dishes that extended well beyond her native Keralan cuisine. My grandfather too, was accomplished in the kitchen. Despite the differences among her children and their families today, the one thing we all have in common is our love for food, cooking and eating, which we’ve inherited from them.
My arrival made her a grandmother at the age of 45. I grew up as much in her home as I did in my own. She and my late grandfather were a haven for my sister and myself, where the bounds of discipline my parents maintained melted away, at least during those carefree days of our childhood. I took it for granted back then, but today I realise how blessed I was to grow up ensconced in the absolute love they bestowed on us, and wanted to give their other grandkids too. Except for the barriers raised by their own children.
She and my grandfather were a simple, God-fearing, hardworking couple devoted to each other and their family. They raised their four kids with love, discipline and a set of values that were ahead of their time. Amidst the busyness of their own lives, they made time to assist their families back in Kerala too. As parents-in-law, they were naturally caring, and even more so after my mom’s experience.
They were not materialistic people who hoarded for themselves; they counted the love and abundance of their family as their true wealth. Nor did they pride themselves on any claim to superiority; they valued only the reputation they had built as a decent family. All they wanted from life was to see their children and their families thrive in harmony with each other, and live with honour and integrity.
But this has not been the case. The extent of wrongdoing in her family, the loss of Son 1 and the tarnishing of the family’s name have reduced this once-vital lady to a shell of her former self. It doesn’t matter how much love and support we shower on her, it doesn’t make up for the lack of love from the rest of her family. In that way, she chooses to be negative, instead of focusing on what she does have.
She is an innocent in many ways, a ‘pavam‘ as they say in her native Malayalam. As with people who are this large-hearted, she always was quick to feel hurt when others aren’t as kind in return, but equally quick to forgive. No matter how much someone has hurt her, she remains magnanimous. Despite all the pain and suffering inflicted on her, revenge is the last thing she seeks; all she wants is for her family to love her as she still loves them.