The incalculable worth of grandparents
Although extended families were a more common sight even a decade or half ago, recent years have seen people increasingly opting for nuclear families. A consequence of this has often been children missing out on making stronger connections with various family members, and particularly their grandparents.
My parents were quite aware of the distance this could create, so even though we lived in a separate apartment, we were always either right across or just a floor below my grandparents’ flat. That is how it was till I was about fourteen, at which point we had to move further away. Despite that, some of my fondest, most loving memories are from those first fourteen years of my life. Tea-time and cups heaped with muri, sneakily poking fingers into pots and bowls of shemai and halwa while my grandmother prepared literal feasts for celebrations, and listening to my grandfather tell the same eight to ten stories every morning on our way to school; this is hardly even a fraction of what my childhood comprised, and I continue to love and miss nearly every bit of it.
Of course, I still visit them as often as I can. My grandfather still tells us the same stories, my grandmother prepares the same dishes. But as Frank Bruni puts it in his New York Times article The Myth of Quality Time, “There’s simply no real substitute for physical presence.” And their absence in my daily life is incredibly easy to feel, and even more difficult to bear.
Bruni’s statement may be an important pointer for parents wanting their children to be closer to their grandparents, or anyone else wishing to do so. The importance of simply spending time in someone’s presence cannot be amply stressed, and perhaps in today’s age it is one of, if not the most difficult, criteria to fulfill. The thought of traversing hours and hours’ worth of Dhaka traffic or not getting some time to oneself after a full working week can often be effective deterrents to making the effort of going out for regular visits. Then there is the case of one’s grandparents living outside Dhaka, which makes things far more difficult. There is no blame game to play here, and no guilt tripping is warranted. The circumstances in which we sometimes find ourselves make it difficult to do even things we want to most.
As such, the effort needed to maintain close relationships can seem overwhelming. But perhaps once it has been made a habit of, it gets significantly easier. Effort can come in little doses. A weekend-long stay-over every other week, visits on a few of the countless Bengali holidays, staying with them during Eids, puja or Christmas holidays. The time spent may be more limited but the experiences and memories don’t have to be. Although I’m closer to my dadi and dadu, I share several heartfelt memories with my nanu, even though we did not spend as much time together. Travelling together and receiving book after book for birthdays and new years, scribbled with notes or wishes or tiny poems, the love I have received from her is unparalleled.
These experiences which culminate over time make up some of the most heartwarming and rewarding memories one can have, ones which often involve stories, hearty food and an abundance of unconditional love. If you have been planning on paying your grandparents a visit, consider extending your trip by a day or two, and pay them another visit soon after. You never know which of these moments you will come to cherish forever.