I’m Studying Well, Nana

To the grandfather I never met,

For the longest time, I disliked you. The indifference with which you sat alone in your room in the dark while the rest of the family huddled together for a laugh and a good meal is a sore wound to my memories that never heal.

You were the stereotypical grumpy old man from folktales; the one who never smiled, hated everything and everyone, especially children. You minded your own business; hunched over your journals, account books or the newspaper, or tuning the static radio that never quite worked right.

As a child, I dreaded every visit as ma would push me to come give salaam to you in your dark corner and as I would meekly voice out my greeting, you would look up with those tired, bloodshot eyes with years of bags underneath, and gruffly say, “How are your studies going?” It was always the same and in reply, you would nod and throw out a “Study well and be good”, before settling back into your rocking chair, calling an end to the conversation then and there.

Dear nana, as a child, I was scared of you. As I grew up, I disapproved of you.

I disapproved of the way you refused to interact with the rest of the family during reunions when everyone insisted you come join us just for one meal. I disliked the way you got irritated with the children chatting and clamoring around the house, calling them a nuisance and asking them to quiet down. I scorned the way you were so miserly that you refused to spend even one penny on gifts for birthdays or anniversaries.

But most importantly, I detested the way you couldn’t be a good father to your daughter. With time, I noticed the heavy sighs my mother would exhale from being on the phone with you after you had refused to come over for dinner like every other preceding time and the tears she shed afterwards in prayer.

I learnt that growing up, you disapproved of mom being athletic as it was unfeminine and when she broke her arm playing football, you remarked that it served her right as punishment. She never quite recovered from that injury and has a noticeable scar up her elbow but the gravest one she has isn’t physical.

She wanted to be a doctor but because she couldn’t make it the first time in or the second, you told her to enroll into any course that would take her because she was wasting money on a flyaway dream.

You hardly held a conversation with your daughters or your grandchildren. And then you passed away. It was Ramadan, you slipped into a coma, it was considered holy and then you peacefully breathed your last. We were told you didn’t suffer.

I was told you were a good man. A poor boy from an illiterate farmer family who rose through the ranks through sheer merit and hard work. You worked while studying to send money back home to your parents and sisters. You made sure they were fed. You earned honestly and never resorted to bribery. You understood the value of money and rejected frivolous spending.

All those years of journaling? You had left behind a stack of diaries neatly kept on your study table, out in the open for everyone to see and read, as if to convey everything you could not express while alive.

I was told you built a school, an orphanage and a mosque in your village where children could live and study for free, and you bore all expenses. I was told you donated regularly and had dreamed of creating a sustainable farm so that your lesser blessed relatives could have a means to earn and survive.

I discovered that you were not happy – stuck in an unhappy marriage, bogged down by corruption at your work because you refused to accept bribes or offer undue praise, and unable to communicate with your children; conversing was never your strong suit, writing was.

And it seems you have passed down that hand to me.

Now that I am older, I realize you were flawed just like the rest of us. You did good where you deemed appropriate. You erred at times. You gave to charity. You cared for your family in your own prudent ways. It does not dismiss the negligence you cultivated among your children. Neither does it negate the orphans that you fed.

I for one, however, cannot forgive you just yet for all the scars you left behind on ma or for the hollowed lack of a grandfather figure in my life – but you were only human. Perhaps you did as fathers were expected to, in those times, keeping a distance with your daughters and making sure they grew into modest, docile women acceptable and well-prepared for marital life.

But I didn’t really know you, nana. Not of your stories nor your experiences – except for those shared by others after your death but those are filtered words, theirs, not quite yours. A year and two since you have passed away and I am finally getting to know you. The stranger sulking forlorn in his room is taking the shape of the grandfather I never met. Perhaps I will read through your diaries one day.

Dear nana, for the longest time, I disliked you. Now I accept you. I pray you rest in peace. I’m studying well and trying to be the best version of myself.

With utmost sincerity,
Your granddaughter.

Wordsmith: Faizah Aziz Aditya

About the Author:
Faizah Aziz Aditya is affectionately called the ‘Little Penguin’, stemming from her persona on her Facebook blog-page, “The Humane Phenomena”. She aspires to be a well-loved English professor someday.

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