Grandparents are important in our culture. They sit sturdy like rocks in the center and no matter how many directions the children go in, how far and how entangled the lines get, their presence is like a magnet. When weddings, funerals, births, Eids and summer vacations come tumbling down the pathways of time, the grandparent’s house lights up.
America is struggling with an aging population. In the midst of individuals who lose all connections in their passionate struggle to be independent, climbing up a mountain of freedom to realize there is only room for one person at the peak and at the end of a day, it is a terrifyingly empty and lonely place to be, in the midst of anti-aging products lining shelves upon shelves in an explosion of consumerism, small red bottles of magic potions and green bundles of money, red, blue and white plastic credit cards, in the midst of a manic fear of growing old and weak, live an ever increasing number of older adults. Nursing homes are a priority, and the over here, importance our culture attaches to grandparents and older relatives shimmers like a cobweb in sunlight – faint, transient, is it really there?
I think of my grandparent’s house in Islamabad as a place of magic and memory. After both my dada abu and dado died, the walls were repainted, my chachu and cousin moved in and the furniture was revamped, photographs were replaced. Eid dinners are a more quiet affair now, some say it’s because all the cousins moved away to study, marry, live and be but a part of me thinks it was an inevitability that was curled up in a corner since my dado died a few years ago, slowly unfurling into reality.
There are memories in every part of that house. Sometimes it feels like falling into a never-ending pile of photographs, sometimes it is like time travel, one minute you are opening a door to hang your wet towel in the sunlight and the next you’re ten years old and holding a cricket bat, wondering why the neighbor’s cat is so fat, the memory vanishes in a second but the aftertaste lingers and I stand in the cold late afternoon light of a winter sun for a moment too long, my fingers growing numb as they hold onto the corner of a blue towel. Sometimes it is like watching a silent film and the images flicker by, one after another. My cousins trying on my grandmother’s thick bifocals, laughing with delight at the way our eyes would become big and round like a bug’s, sprawled on the carpet in the lounge and watching Blair Witch Project, upset and a little awed at the number of times the word ‘fuck’ was used, terrified of the carrot-haired Chuckie in Child’s Play, the smell of rain that would waft into open rooms and the monsters that Arshia would create in the shadows of her room, sending us screaming and giggling into the blankets. The house lit up on weddings, and cars would block the driveway on Eid, and we would all pile out and stand in the pretty, warm light to take family photographs – do we fit in a frame, no, squeeze together…
Grandparents are important in our culture, they stand like rocks. They are the books we keep on the four corners of posters that have been rolled up for too long and need to be straightened out, they are the pegs that hold down flapping tents in the wind, they are the center point where we all come back at the end of the day, month, year like Hansel and Gretel following a trail of bread crumbs. They have stories to tell, memories they are steeped in. They collect photographs from all their children all around the world, they are like astrology books we can look up to connect the dots in the heavens and see which stars we belong to, what our history is, what our future will be.
I miss my grandparents. I hope they're happy in heaven.