This morning, driving to office from O’s school, I saw this really old, bent, wrinkled, raisin of a man walking down the street. I was tempted to get off the car and click his picture.
This is a rare sight in Qatar. Old people. You will find some odd old women in wheelchairs at the malls or clinics. And fewer old men. This is a country of youth. The majority is 30 or below.
I not only wanted to photograph the old man on the road, I wanted to feel his wrinkled, aged skin.
Just the sight of him triggered a rather long reminiscing…
My maternal grandmother – ‘Mummy’ to everyone who knew or knew of her – used to have skin like crepe silk. All wrinkled and soft. Especially on her arms. Otherwise, she was youthfulness personified. She hated being guided down the stairs or across the street. Her saree was always neatly pleated. At home she wore fading white cotton blouses, and for an outing a bright white hakoba blouse.
The only signs of age on her were her skin, hair and dentures. Her wispy hair was always oiled and neatly combed, her dentures were a mystery (we never once saw her without it) and her skin was a fascination. Every time we touched it, she would bemoan the passing of the blemish-free complexion of her youth. She moaned little else.
She was such a delightful and crazy mix: A wicked sense of humour, total disregard for customs and traditions, boasting of her skills on the ‘fiddle’, recipes for a good cocktail, stories of parties at Spencer’s (were her husband was the manager), riding pillion on her husband’s Red Indian motorcycle.
While some of us only heard of all this from her, my elder sisters and cousins saw much of this in action. She would entertain her grandchildren, and their cousins, at every opportunity – long and short vacations, weekends… They knew her as the mistress of her house, running an open house for all those who wanted some fun or succour. There were many hungry for what she had to offer – six children, 16 grandchildren, and dozens of great and great-great-grandchildren, and their friends and families!
By the time I was aware of her, she was widowed and living with her sons, no longer the mistress of her house, but definitely the magnet that drew everyone to the homes of my uncles.
Her children are a proof that the fruit does fall far from the tree, now and then.
Not one of them has a fascination for wheels or a penchant for a good cocktail or party.
All her children and their spouses are teetotallers and conservative, and except for my parents, they are all extremely religious and traditional – something she mocked and poked fun at them for. A prayer was fine… but a movie outing or shopping was just as important to her. My eldest sister was her movie partner!
At a time when grandmothers were boasting about their meek, oiled and braided, fully-clothed granddaughters, Mummy took great pride in those of us who were different. She found the goody-goody grandchildren dead boring, and never failed to make her opinion public.
One of her favourites was my third sister M, who would accompany Mummy to KMC for her insulin shots. And even though they were only going to a grimy government hospital, travelling by PTC, she insisted that M wore her smart short skirts or jeans and tees, and ensured that her real short bob was well-combed.
People outside the family are often surprised at the closeness not only amongst first cousins, but also those far removed by blood. Full credit must go to her – as she threw her doors open to everyone, regardless of whose children or how closely related they were. And most of the bonding happened there, under her patronage.
Now, over 5 years after her passing, no wedding, party or get together is ever complete without a ‘Mummy anecdote’ or two.
At her funeral, more than mourning her death, we celebrated her life. Those who knew her didn’t think it odd that her siblings, cousins, nieces, nephews, kids, kids-in-law, grandchildren and their spouses, were laughing and joking. We were laughing at her jokes, her smart comments, her attitude, her sarcasm… We all knew we would miss her. But she was way too much fun for us to not pay tribute to that.
More than loving her, we loved the environment she created.
It just took those wrinkles on the old man to get me spending the whole morning thinking about Mummy.