Hajur buwa and hajur ama are the Nepali words for grandfather and grandmother, respectively. But in this house, grandpa is more affectionately called Ba, and grandma is Ama. Ama actually means mother, but here everyone seems to call their mother mommy. All of my grandparents died early, either before I was born, or when I was still too young to remember them. I can only remember my grandmother from the day that she died, and on her funeral. But these memories are so vague that I’m not even sure if they actually happened or I just imagined them. I can remember what my grandfather looked like, but I have no memory of what he’s actually like. I have written about my mother-in-law, and today I wanted to write about Ba and Ama because I haven’t experienced living with grandparents before.
I found it daunting at first. I have parents-in-law AND grandparents-in-law?! Honoring your elders is a very big deal in Nepali culture and the thought of having to deal with them every day made me very nervous. But Ba was not scary at all. He’s friendly and talkative and he likes engaging me in conversation. He wasn’t deterred by the fact that I couldn’t speak Nepali. When Scott and I would talk in English, he’d say “king king kong king kong.” He’d make fun of us, saying that’s how our conversation sounded to him.
Ama, on the other hand, took a long time to warm up to my presence. She wouldn’t talk to me at first. I would just catch her observing me from a distance, which made me very uncomfortable. haha. I always wondered if I was doing things wrong, if I was sitting the wrong way or whatever. But even if we didn’t interact much, she was nice to me. I remember when I just arrived here, and I wanted to take a nap. And this was in Dashain so there were many people in the house, and the only place for peace and quiet was beside Ama. I didn’t want to lie down next to her, but Scott insisted that it was fine. When she woke up, she placed her blanket over me. I really treasure that moment. When my mother asked me over Skype if I was doing okay here, I thought of that act of kindness, and I answered yes. Ama eventually started talking to me, in Nepali. She has grown quite confident that I could understand what she’s saying. Most of the time I could guess right. Not on other times, but we get by.
Ama is a devout Hindu. I have never seen anyone’s life so steeped in prayer and worship. She wakes up early in the morning to take a shower. Every single day. Even in the dead of winter. And then she does puja for about an hour, sometimes two. And then she spends most of the day on the rooftop where it is warm. In the afternoon, after she’s had her tea, she goes out to get flowers and starts preparing for her evening puja. When she finishes, she sits inside her room and chants her freestyle praises to Krishna and Vishnu until it’s time for dinner.
Ba is the outgoing one. As soon as he’s freshened up and had his tea, he goes out for a walk and talks to the neighbors. Sometimes he would come back with gifts from them, like a bag of potatoes or greens. Ama talks to the neighbors too, but only from the balcony, or when they come by for a visit. She doesn’t go out much.
Ba and Ama bicker quite a lot. Not in a destructive way. Just in an old people way. Ama is such a stickler for cleanliness and Ba is the exact opposite. Even after an entire day spent outside, he wouldn’t even wash his dusty feet unless he’s prevailed upon to do so. And that’s what Ama complains about most of the time. And in true Ba fashion, he just ignores her. Or says something outrageous like “I don’t want to, you can wash them if you like”, which Ama also ignores. Sometimes Scott and I look at each other and wonder if we’re going to be like them when we’re old and grey.
Recently, Ba spoke on the phone with a relative who lives in Europe. And he asked if they have the same sun as the one we have here. He said the sun is just like a fireplace, and it’s amazing how it can light up the entire world. There are things we learn in school and modern technologies we are used to, and it’s quite refreshing to know the perspective of someone who was alive at a time when the world looked very different from its present state.
When you get married, your family expands. Prior to moving here, the idea of living with in-laws made me anxious. There were some not-so-fun moments here and there, but I’m generally okay with how things are. I just tried to take things in stride, and now I can say I’m happy to have them in my life.