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Climbing A Hill

My grandmother had been with us for little over a month and already it seemed as if she had lived with us all our lives. Short and plump with the same sort of ringing laughter as my mother's, she seemed to be everywhere at once—in the kitchen with
my mother making the most delicious food ever,
in the garden bullying the gardener
into growing her favourite plants, and best of all, with me in my room telling me stories and asking me about my school, my friends, my teachers and my special subjects.
Sometimes we would talk late into the evening oblivious of the growing shadows around us. Then my mother would walk in and snap on the light with an exasperated, "What have you been talking about for hours?"
And my grandmother would smile mysteriously and say, "That is between my granddaughter and me."
My favourite stories were of my mother when she was young and lived with my grandparents in a village in the hills. I tried to visualize her in frocks, skipping about the place and being naughty, but my imagination was not equal to the task.
My grandmother was always ready to explore new things and places, to face new challenges. Whenever a trip was proposed to the park or to the shopping mall, she would be ready at the door in a starched clean sari, her hair neatly drawn back in a bun, her eyes aglow with excitement. There was no end to her energy and enthusiasm and, in some ways, our family grew closer than ever before for, somehow, she managed to infect each and every one
of us with the same spirit.
Until the day she fell in her room and refused to walk again. She had been walking towards the bed when, suddenly she fell in a confused, crumpled heap on the floor. Hearing her shouts, we rushed. She clung tightly to my father as he levered her back on to the bed and then lay there looking white and shaken, although she said she felt no pain.
"It is all right," my mother patted her. "You must have slipped or something. There is no need to look so worried." My father echoed her words before leaving for work. I remained by my grandmother's side, because I was puzzled by her behaviour. It was a Saturday so there was no school. I changed my original plan of going to the library. Books could wait, I thought. My grandmother was more important.
"Patti (that is what I called her), come, let us go to the garden. Ram Kumar is digging up all sorts of things. See there," and I pointed to the window.
However, she showed no sign of interest in what I said and remained immobile on her pillow.
"Patti, come on," I said impatiently. "It is only nine in the
morning. You can't lie down now."
My grandmother, however, shook her head. "If 1 get up,
I will fall again. My knees feel so wobbly."
"It is nothing, Patti. Actually, you just slipped."




"No, I didn't," she said fiercely. "My legs just gave way under me." There was a silence and then she continued, "It is natural at my age. I have been fearing this all along. Everyone tells me that I am too active for my age and that I will break my legs one day and never get up again."
"But you have not broken your legs!" I protested. "Come on, Patti, all this makes no sense. Nothing will happen to
you. Please get up now."
Yet my grandmother remained in bed all that day and the next. When she had to go to the bathroom, she would call for us and we would have to escort her there and back to the bed. My mother began to look really worried but my father reassured her, "Some irrational fear has got into her head. Old people often get it. She will be fine."
A week passed, my grandmother still showed absolutely no signs of resuming her normal life. My mother pleaded with her, cajoled and scolded her but to no avail. My grandmother could be as obstinate as a mule. If she had got it into her head that she could not walk, then she would not—and no amount of talking would change her mind. Eventually, the doctor was called to examine her legs. She lay stiffly in bed, her eyes darting about angrily while he hovered about her. Then he drew us aside.
"There is nothing wrong with her," he said. "In fact, she is in astonishingly good shape for her age. The fall must have shocked and upset her. And ever since, there is a fear in her mind that makes her think she cannot walk. Give her time and encourage her to get out of bed more often. She
will get over it. Maybe you should buy her a walker. That will give her more confidence."
We told my grandmother she was fine but she completely scorned the idea. "I know what I am feeling," she declared in an irritating tone. "Things have changed. I really feel old and I will not be able to walk again like I used to."
Life changed for us to a very great extent because of my grandmother's stance. There was an air of depression and boredom that hung heavily about the house. It felt as if all the fun had gone out of life and I was not even excited at the thought that my birthday was around the corner.
"Be patient," the doctor had said. "Don't force her to get up and walk. That might make her more obstinate. Encourage her gently."
So my parents and I took turns to talk my grandmother out of her fears, but it was like chasing someone in a dream. You ran as fast as you could but you never achieved the goal and ended up feeling very frustrated.
The walker idea was a failure as well. My father had bought one with three firm, black legs.
"You cannot fall if you use this," he had told my grandmother. "The legs will support you."
Yet day followed day, and the walker remained by her bedside, unused. Meanwhile, my grandmother was fast becoming a shadow of her former self. She actually looked her age now—a ripe old 75 years. Her face was wan and tired, and her hair was so listless that I felt like crying at the change. No more stories, no more discussions, no more outings and, at the rate at which she picked at her food, there would be no more grandmother soon. I had to do something, but what could I do?
Then one night, about three weeks later, I was telling my grandmother about the preparations for the Sports Day at school to distract her.
"Your mother loved racing," she said suddenly. "When she was ten, she and I would run up the hill slopes. Sometimes we climbed the Chamunda Hill, the nearest but the most difficult, a very rough, steep slope and we would see
wild creatures behind the rocks and bushes." Her eyes showed some signs of animation after a long time. "Not many dared to do this," she said slowly. "They climbed the easier ones." Her eyes had a faraway look in them.
"I don't believe you," I said suddenly and clearly. "I don't believe you did all that."
Her eyes swivelled round to mine. "I did," she said looking surprised and hurt. "Go, ask your mother."
I drew a deep breath. "Well," I said boldly, "that sounds really dangerous and you had to be very brave and determined to do it. But here you are, too scared to get out of bed even though the doctor says you are fine. So how do
you expect me to believe you?" My grandmother looked so distressed that I did not trust myself to speak further and ran off to my room. I found it difficult to sleep that night. What had I done? How could I have said all those hurtful things? What if I had hurt my grandmother so much that her condition worsened?
I woke to my mother's beaming face in the morning.
"You will never guess," she said triumphantly, "Patti has started using the walker! She did not call for us in the morning so I went to see and she was hobbling about the room with it."
From using the walker, it was a short step to walking normally again. I will never forget the day before my birthday when my grandmother walked into the kitchen in her usual brisk manner. We stared in delighted surprise as she strode up to us and said, "So, what is the menu for tomorrow?"
Needless to say, this was the best birthday present I could have hoped for. That, and the special hug she gave me, trying to blink away her tears all the while.
My parents often wonder what caused the change in her. But that is her secret and mine.

Devika Rangachari



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