Incense and bell chimes always permeated the air at my nani’s home for as long as I can remember.
My nani, who is in her late 70s, is most anodyne with silver hair and the biggest smile that compliments every colour of her cotton saree. She has been waking up at 4 am since forever and at least two hours of her morning routine are devoted to her faith.
I never understood why a person so aged – meaning to indicate a stage of life with no direct responsibilities – chose to wake up so early to do something that is so abstract that no one else could share it. This was from the vantage point of a school-going girl, for whom nothing else than the fear of missing the school bus could wake her up.
Over the years, everything and everyone changed – the school girl became a college student, but my nani remained the same. Neither glee nor anguish could snatch away even a single minute from her routine.
Last year, when my nana passed away, I saw the subtle light in her eyes getting extinguished. It was perhaps the biggest loss of her life, incomparable to others that I just mentioned, thus worthy enough to alter her schedule. And the alteration was the addition of a few more hours to her ritual space.
A few days ago, when I visited her for the first time after our loss, I saw that she had brought home ‘Laddu Gopal’. For those of you who don’t know, Laddu Gopal is a manifestation of Lord Krishna in his toddler-self, requiring all the care and attention of an actual baby. As days went by, I noticed that she now prefers sitting in the small temple room at our home with Laddu Gopal, feeding him, dressing him, singing bhajans and lullabies to him, and putting him to sleep. My nani was always a faithful, but she was never a person who would isolate herself like this.
It didn’t take me long to realise that her faith is her escape. She couldn’t sit in her room for long as it reminded her of my nana. She couldn’t talk to anyone much as she would then burst into tears. She wouldn’t ask for help because her self-respect wouldn’t allow her.
As a coping mechanism, she found an escape. It was then that it dawned upon me that she never really cared about anyone’s successes or failures, she had always been happy with her family and back then her faith had been a way of expressing her gratitude. Now that her grief has made her even more indifferent to the ups and downs of material life, she has once again used her faith to channel her emotions.
As I saw her finding respite, I didn’t feel entitled to argue. I now realise what my school-going self never would have – the call of an escape is probably stronger than that of a bus horn. If not all, but many people try to find an interlude through their faith and it’s almost every time so abstract that no one can share it without experiencing it.
My nani doesn’t know terms like depressed, trauma or escapism, but she has made her own way to lead the rest of her life through it all. I may never entirely understand the difference between her escape and blind faith, but it is her chosen experience and one I respect with all my heart.
Anushka Pareek is a keen observer and an opinionated person who is currently pursuing history at the University of Delhi.