My first grandchild- a beautiful, healthy, cheerful little girl named Nylah by my daughter and her hubby—with “Bano” affixed by me as a salute in remembrance of my mother who is also known as Bano (her nickname)—is now two months old.
I’ve been traveling in grandma— or should I say glamma—‘hood (given my penchant for the glamorous-which she has inherited 😂 !)—and its a kind of travel that is raw and new on so many levels that I’ve had a hard time grappling with how to write about it.
My own mother, who though alive, is in the clutches of the sad disease known as Dementia and hardly knows us any more. Like me, she was a professora of English lit, became Principal of a well known women’s college in Lahore, raised three kids, with me being the eldest and the only girl, one of my two younger brothers born with Down syndrome whom she raised with much love and grace, never once complaining either about that or about the blow she must have experienced when my beloved dad landed up with a (luckily for us), non-malignant brain tumor that nonetheless left him, as a young man, with young kids and a much younger wife, partially paralyzed for the duration of his life as a result of the operation to remove the tumor.
I find my mind traveling in an internal landscape that is full of complicated feelings of love, anger, resentment, sadness and self-critique resulting from my difficult relationship with my own mother who seemed to me distant and self involved in a way that I coped with only by running far far away, all the way from Lahore to Boston to New York where I’ve lived for longer than in my birth town.
My anger toward her bubbled up strongly when I became pregnant with my daughter and I blamed ammie for the norms I had internalized, needing to marry and then to produce children, all to please her and the heteropatriarchy of which she was the grand matriarch. She, who should have been encouraging me to fly and be the Someone I wanted to be, felt destined to be—instead had such ordinary hopes for me, that I would marry and “settle down” (oh how I hate that concept, how I’ve rebelled against it all my life, in confusion, in sorrow, in hurt I’ve caused, in glorious moments of excitement )—and, produce babies. What about my career, mom, what about your own career? Why was the life of the intellect, of thinking beyond societally approved gender roles (even as you drove that red car very fast, bossed my dad, screamed and yelled at the servants, yes, even as you loved and served us)—whywhy was that “elsewhere” life never a dream you could allow to take shape, a hope and a life you might have imagined for me, your only daughter? Or did you? Am I now here because you were there?
And now, and now, my wonderful kids all grown up, my challenging relationship with my husband in a better, less fractious, more loving place, I feel for Nylah Bano aka my little kinnoo (yes, delicious fruit sprung from the womb of my womb, from the daughter I traveled with in the land of the naranjos, remembering the myth of Demeter and Persephone)—I feel, I don’t know how to put it in words- I feel, such overwhelming love. Such joy and contentment just holding her, cooing at her, laughing along with her gurgling smiles, my beautiful brown grandchild.
Reading the 3rd book in the Ferrante quartet, I came across the following passage that expressed so precisely, so amazingly in sync with what I’ve been struggling to understand in the whirlwind of emotions that have been my journey these past couple of months, that I want to share here, so I can re-turn to savor Ferrante’s deep insights into what it meant, what it still means, across time and even different cultural contexts, to be, to become, to be in process of becoming, a certain kind of woman.