Today I visited my Aji; that’s what I grew up calling my father’s mother. I asked her if she knew my name and who I was. This had become a regular, albeit woeful, game my family played with her. She was diagnosed with dementia a few years back and ever since I’ve stood by; complacently watching her become a shell of herself. The visit wasn’t unusual from others. She was in the later stages of the disease which meant she spent most of her time lying in bed, mumbling random phases in Guyanese Creole that didn’t seem to make sense.
When I think of the life my Aji lived, it fills my mind with wonder and fascination but also with an unbearably heavy sadness. To grow up as a woman in the 1940s was not easy but to grow up as a woman in an Indian household was substantially difficult. I, luckily, have faced very little sexism in my family. The women still cook and clean and sometimes serve the men, but I was not forced to do anything of the sort as I grew up.
When I was a child I used to beg my Aji to tell me stories of her life back home in Guyana, and though I do not remember many of them, one has stuck in my mind. She recalled a time where she and her sisters wanted to go to the local movie theater to catch the latest Bollywood film. Her sisters and herself were terrified to ask their father for permission for fear that they would get beaten. Her brothers did not have the same problem. The boys asked and they were allowed. The girls asked and they were beaten.
Another story that vividly stands out in my mind is not one my Aji told me but one my father told me. He told me that when my Aji and her husband, my Aja, were younger he had choked her so hard that her breathing was permanently impacted. My father told me this with seemingly no concern. It seemed normal to him. He didn’t seem angry that his father had put his hands on his mother. It was normal.
I wonder, as my Aji lay in her bed, if she remembers all the pain she endured. Surely, there were countless other stories she had buried deep within the mayhem of her mind that left a permanent scar. The scars of being a woman. I wonder if fate granted her the comfort of forgetting all of the bad. But does that mean she also forgot the good? If the dementia that so ravenously torments her was kind enough to allow her to forget her pain, would she also forget the joys of her life? She shakes with confusion when tasked with the simplest of duties such as taking a shower. Her quick wit and “hot mouth” deteriorated into prolonged silences. She slowly began to forget her grandchildren’s names. She doesn’t know mine anymore. A name for the erasure of a permanent scar; that was Fate’s price.