Society

‘salt & pepper & silver linings’ has tales of grandmothers from around the world

Mariamma Xavier

Mariamma Xavier   | Photo Credit: SEEMA KRISHNAKUMAR

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‘salt & pepper & silver linings: celebrating our grandmothers’, edited by Abhirami Girija Sriram and Babitha Marina Justin, has 44 woman writers reminiscing about their grandmothers

Grandmothers, call them by any name, evoke memories of another day: of childhood, vacations, stories, food, unbound love and much more, not all necessarily sweet and mushy. So, in 2016, when poet, artist and academic Babitha Marina Justin happened to read translator and mediaperson Abhirami Girija Sriram’s Facebook post on her grandmother, it revived images of her own grandmother. She realised that although grandmothers play such an important role in our lives, not much has been written about them and their stories. The loss of grandmothers is often the end of an era, of many precious memories, as they are our link to our past; one that would be lost without them to keep it alive for us through their stories and anecdotes.

Perceiving the valuable, shared space that we inherit from our grandmothers, she decided to get 44 grand-daughters to write about their grandmothers and the result is salt & pepper & silver linings: celebrating our grandmothers, edited by Abhirami and Babitha.

“We got in touch with writers and academics that we had met at different places or through contacts. What came as a pleasant surprise was their enthusiasm in talking about their grandmothers and sharing the stories they had heard from their grandmothers,” says Babitha.

So right from Texas to Thiruvananthapuram, there are grand-daughters of all ages collecting their thoughts on their grandmothers to come up with a treasure trove of memories in prose and verse.

“We did not want to tell our writers to write in a particular way. They were free to write in the form that they felt comfortable in,” says Babitha. So, the compilation has a diverse range of writings. Aarcha Mahendran, Ayyankali’s great granddaughter, remembers the quiet and, sometimes lonely, battles fought by her grandmother; Anna Suja Mathai’s evocative poem portrays her grandmother as her missing language, each word soaked in longing and nostalgia.

Ann Torday Gulden, whom Babitha met at a conference in Denmark, narrates the story of her grandmother who fled from Budapest to Newcastle in 1939. So, she probably escaped being transported to a concentration camp in Hungary. “The piece is about survival against very heavy odds. As I mention in the memoir, my mother’s family did not escape the Holocaust,” she writes in an e-mail.

She adds: “My maternal grandfather was a lawyer in denial. Their whole family, with the miraculous exception of my mother and her sister, perished in Hitler’s death camps. My testimony to my paternal grandmother in Babitha’s book is a new kind of survival story. The horrors are entirely absent from the surface. The war and the Shoah [Holocaust] were taboo topics in the new English life. But her strength and resourcefulness served to row her family and the succeeding generations on to a form of normalcy, although always tinged with shades of the grief about the Holocaust and indefinable feelings of loss. She succeeded and had to be honoured I felt.”

The entire work is a celebration of roots that have sustained generations and nurtured a heritage that shaped the granddaughters into the women they are today.

Artist and writer Nina Kossman, who hails from Moscow, writes about a haunting journey her mother made to meet her grandmother in a gulag in Siberia in 1941. The stark narrative, devoid of any melodrama, conveys the grief and oppressive images of that trip.

Babitha Marina Justin

Babitha Marina Justin   | Photo Credit: Special arrangement

Photographer, academic and artist Seema Krishnakumar began photographing her grandmother, Mariamma Xavier, when the matriarch was in her nineties. “She was a fun-loving person who enjoyed ice-creams and loved to gossip. I began clicking her to document her journey. It is a light-hearted piece that chronicles her life,” says Seema. Her snaps capture her 104-year-old Ammachi in different moods.

While some of the writers talk about grandmothers’ tough love, children’s author Khyrunnisa A comes up with a warm tale of her ‘nani’, her maternal grandmother, who, she learnt years later, was actually her mother’s stepmother. But that did not ever affect their love for each other. Author Jaishree Misra also writes with a light touch about her maternal grandmother, Rajamma, and her fondness for cherry-red purses and, later, her fixation with dentures!

While writer Meera Nair recalls her pragmatic grandmother who wrapped her children in her love and care but was never maudlin, Kate Campbell paints a word picture of her teacher-grandmother who drove a car and went swimming in British Columbia, Canada.

KE Priyamvada’s poignant poem ‘My Grandmother’s home’, filled with picturesque descriptions of a homestead in Kerala, is an ode to all those homes of yore that used to host family reunions and marriages; a shelter where memories were forged.

Babitha says the compilation is a work of resistance, of holding on to those stories and lives that would have quietly faded away in the sands of time if the grand-daughters had not made the effort of retaining them.

“It was like time travel, to go back in time to recollect those cherished and much-loved fragrances, sounds, images and flavours and to remember the feel of their touch and to bring that all alive for a present-day reader,” adds Babitha.

The book will be released at YMCA Hall, at 4.30 pm on July 20.

Jaishree Misra will hand over the book to Khyrunnisa A.

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Printable version | Dec 10, 2019 4:28:52 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/society/salt-pepper-silver-linings-book-has-tales-of-grandmothers-from-around-the-world/article28584613.ece

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