My grandmother’s resilience always leaves me in awe. Her identity represents strength, vitality, and love. While my culture historically places emphasis on the man’s role as the head of the household and the breadwinner, I always referred to my grandparents’ house as “Ammama’s home” when we would visit. To this day everyone knows her as the grandma we all fear when we skip a meal at home to sneak out for dinner, or the grandma who spends all day in the kitchen working until she sweats to make me my favorite murukku (a twisted savory and crunchy Indian snack) or poori chole (Indian dish with fried bread and chickpea curry).
My Ammama’s name is Nagalaxmi. In Hindu mythology, Nagalaxmi is the goddess who was reincarnated as a woman named Urmila who sacrifices her livelihood by sending her husband Lakshmana to support his brother Rama and be by his side when he was banished to the forest. I think the meaning behind her name holds true to her integrity.
When my Thata, my grandpa, was deployed to several parts of North India for his time in the Air Force, Ammama stuck by his side and went all the way across the country from Hyderabad with her newlywed husband, trusting him with everything she had. She adapted to a new environment in the north, learned a language she had never heard of before and came back with some of the best and most unique dishes to add to the culture and customs of our own South Indian family.
Today, her energy and generosity comes through in the efforts she makes for her family, whether that be through the love in her food, her kind gestures and efforts to learn English to talk to my brother and me, or her ability to be the rock for every member of her family who pretends to be stronger than she is.
It never gets easier for me to accept and admit that this woman, and the essence of fortitude that she represents, was so easily defeated by the tides of fate. Towards the end of last year, my Ammama was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer. A woman who has committed no sins, has never done wrong by anyone, and has never thought about her own well-being over others, was left in a state of fear and uncertainty.
It’s simple to say that I was angry, both with the will of the universe and, perhaps, with myself. There is never a simple way to phrase the emotions one feels when dealing with something like this, especially when I was thousands of miles away when I was needed the most. My mom quickly flew over to be of assistance, and somehow, a miracle happened.
It was as if the efforts that she had put towards all the different people throughout the span of her entire life had somehow collected in a bucket of “good karma,” and in these moments when she needed help and love the most, everyone and anyone that meant even slightly anything at all to her was immediately by her side. Maybe Ammama isn’t fully educated, and maybe she doesn’t have a job, but the person she is, and everything she embodies, is the message and legacy that she sends to this world. It was that legacy that left her with an abundance of affection from the ones she truly cares for, and a love that pushed her through the sickness and out with a smile.
Perhaps it is love that equips us with an unknown strength and resilience, guiding the path to fighting away our greatest fears. Perhaps love is the key.