Loss and Resurrection

Featuring work by: Manjari Sharma

You were four months old when I took note that your grandma (who you would soon call Naani in Hindi) was progressively uninterested in any self upkeep. Your naani wore the same clothes repeatedly, forgot to trim her nails and told you many long and winding stories about her own childhood. Naani loved telling you stories and, boy, was she a passionate storyteller. We all took note that when your naani looked at you and spun her tales that everything else just melted away.

One morning Naani opened her eyes, turned on the TV to play her old Bollywood favorites and then started dancing. Your naani danced passionately, just like she did everything else, and she didn't stop moving her body to this music for what felt like an hour. A couple of months later we all learned that what she was doing, was dancing to the tune of her slowly escaping mind. Soon there after Naani started mixing up her dates, her days and eventually, her people. Siya, while you were four months old, there were days your naani wouldn't eat, nights when that she wouldn't sleep but she sat by a pile of her prayer books and chanted for six hours at a stretch. What agony and turmoil it was to watch her disappear, but looking back now, there seemed to be some astounding parallels between you and her. You were a baby that needed to be taught how to live while your grandmother right before my very eyes was unlearning all she had known about living.

We all watched in awe as she slowly turned all her acquired language and her identity into ether. In the three years to follow your birth, your naani would lose all her speech and all her memories as I watched you form new ones. Make no mistake, your naani wasn't going crazy. This deconstruction of her self awareness came to be diagnosed as Dementia, a condition that couldn't be undone. Your grandpa, your nanu, did everything from praying to the ocean, the pantheon of Hindu gods to chasing doctors, so he may once again live with the Kiran Sharma we all knew. The role of a woman in the 1970s in a traditional Indian family was pretty defined. Your naanu was the breadwinner and your naani was the homemaker and she spoiled every one silly by doting upon us, especially your grandpa. The roles have reversed now as Naani has become the baby and Naanu the caretaker. Your naanu is an inspiration, he loves her everyday, unconditionally, his heart is broken but he's there for her almost more today than he was before.

While nothing seems to return your naani's stories, she has given us some new ones to write about. Photographing naani seemed like only way I knew I could save her for me and for you. I'm writing you this letter, so you may hold close and one day decode the turbulence and the poetry that unfolded in our world. So you may appreciate your breath and always be close to the myth and memoir that live within you. - Your Mama