I have always said this about my grandmother — I am because she is. She is as precious as an emerald gem and as unparalleled as Dickens’ Great Expectations. She became a widow at the ripe age of 18. She lived alone in a bungalow she inherited after her husband’s demise. A few years later, she adopted my father and raised him as her own blood and flesh.
When I was eight, my mother made pizza at home because there is no Pizza Hut or Domino’s in my town. My mother is a great cook. She learnt it from my grandmother, her mother-in-law – a fiercely independent woman who was the first from that town to start a business of her own. It was a catering business which is famous for its signature sweet ‘Loves’.
She named her business after me — ‘Simra Sweets’. I was ecstatic and proud even though I didn’t know what being proud meant at that age. I would brag about it to my friends. I was the hero of my group. I would pack sweets and take it to school.
Coming back to the pizza, I didn’t like it. It had perfectly cut thin-sliced bell pepper underneath the heavy layer of cheese. My brother and I carefully took out the bell peppers and kept them on the edge of our plates. My grandmother, like a child stealing chocolates from the cabinet, stretched her hand out and took the green capsicum off my plate and ate it.
I was puzzled. I hated how it tasted. I asked her why she did that and she said, “Because I love it.”
I just couldn’t fathom her love for such a bitter thing. That’s the first time I realised how one human being is different from another, be it appearance, habit, behaviour and even taste.
As I grew up, any kind of food – from pasta to chowmein – which had bell peppers, would travel from my plate to hers. She would devour it like I devour chocolate pastry. Then, she became old.
Her hair was always grey but now it’s white. She is grumpy and everything annoys her.
She is not the same woman who was happy despite enduring a loveless life. Widowhood sat with her, slept with her and lived with her all her life – yet she was happy. I don’t know how else to frame that sentence. She never complained. I never saw her crying except upon the death of her brother.
What went wrong? God was unfair to her from the beginning and now this. Last night, she spat out the bell peppers she once loved so much and yelled, “Are you feeding me rat food?”
I was so appalled that I didn’t know what to say. It wasn’t just her physical appearance which had changed due to old age.
Her taste buds have changed too. Everything seems spicy and sugarless. She is losing her hearing and the ability to judge wrong from right. She yells and screams at the top of her lungs. Then cries at the horror of her actions. It is scarring.
We were horrified the first time. Now, it’s severe panic. We can’t calm her down. She shouts until she tires herself out. I wonder how we love something one moment and decide to hate it the next. It baffles me how we bastardise our feelings towards things as we grow older.
When I look at her, I get scared. Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine God would present a day like this where I would be scared to talk to the woman who raised and showed me how important it is to become a strong independent woman. It’s the getting old part that terrifies me. More than anything, it frightens me that she would stop loving me the way she stopped loving her favourite vegetable.
Today, I am having my very first keto lunch. Stuffed bell peppers. I cry my eyes out. Because of body dysmorphia, because I am taken back to the first ever memory, in fact the happiest memory, of tasting this ghastly green vegetable. And the tears are mainly because these things are so unpalatable.
Why did she like it for so long and suddenly decided to hate it will always remain a mystery to us. Is it because of old age or is it actually the first time her tongue tasted its bitterness?
Simra Sadaf, from Chennai, India, has pursued her Master’s in English Literature. With a Bachelor’s degree in Sociology, she has an abundant knowledge about the workings of a society which she incorporates in her writings. Literature drives her spirit and words churn her soul.
Featured image: Pariplab Chakraborty