Sunday, November 11, 2012

Gotta love those days!

Math was a subject I dreaded when I was in the fifth grade. Addition and subtraction confused me, multiplication and division boggled my mind and the word problems just added to my own problems and made life more depressing.

Every day, I’d come home and curse every mathematician I knew and shout in fury at my lifeless book as I did word problems for homework. It was exhausting – the shouting and the calculator-less calculations.
I’ll never forget the day I was humiliated in front of the whole class. We were asked to memorize the multiplication tables of sixteen through nineteen. As expected, I punched and screamed into my pillow each time I messed up the seventeen times table. Although I ended up with a sore throat because of all the screaming, I survived that night.

The next day in math class, the teacher had to pick me out of the forty students in math to recite the seventeen times table. The moment I got up, my mind went blank. I just stood there with my mouth half open and demonstrated to the class how brown could turn red within a matter of seconds. I left the teacher with no other choice but to make me write the multiplication table five times.

Remembering Her

I always used to wonder what lay behind those sunken eyes and about the kind of experiences that those wizened hands had to go through.

She was a small woman. She looked so fragile, that it seemed like even the slightest force would hurt her. Her hair – as white as snow and as soft as silk – flowed over her pillow as she slept. From time to time, I would message her thin hands and legs slowly. I was afraid I would hurt her if I rushed. While I would be at it, she would look at me with those eyes that never failed to shine and mutter something incomprehensible in her raspy and shaky but extremely soft voice. I would listen hard trying to understand her but I could never make out what she was saying.

During those moments when I sat next to her on her bed, I felt like asking her so many questions. I wanted to know what her childhood was like – what it felt like to be married at the age of twelve and have kids by the age of seventeen. I knew that those were very personal questions that I would never be able to bring myself to ask. But, I wanted to know about all the experiences she had been through, all the hardships she had faced and how she overcame them. But I could never make out just by looking at her, for her face was a mask that hid her life experiences and the white sari that she wore ever since her husband’s death covered her past life.

When I think of my great-grandmother, I can smell the body oil that she applied to her hands and legs – the pleasant fragrance that filled the room when the bottle was opened and that grew stronger the moment she poured it onto her palm. I remember her white and flowing hair and her long and graceful but wrinkled hands. I can still feel those hands on mine as the memory of that one massage that I ever gave her comes back to me.

I wish I could go back to the time she talked to me and try even harder to listen to what she had to say. During those times I spent with her, I wanted to tell her about my life – about my school, my friends and how life in Tanzania was different from that in India. Most of all, I wanted to tell her that I loved her, but I never could. And now, I never can.