Vidya Devi: The Story of My Religious Grandmother

The author, a non-believer, talks about his relation with his grandmother, Vidya Devi and her relationship with God. You can also read this piece in Punjabi, translated by Seerat Gill here.

In the aamras-flavoured afternoons of my childhood, I would rest my head on Dadima’s lap, and she would recite stories about God to the air. Talking about God has not just been her devotion, it’s been her hobby and passion too. She reads thick texts about God, watches TV about God, gossips about God, goes to concerts hosted for God, and even does crash-diets for the big man. She calls it ‘vrat’.

We live in the same house, but we don’t talk much, Dadima and I. When we do talk, her go-to icebreaker is asking if I’ve been reading the Bhagavad Gita. Now I don’t quite believe in her mighty friend, but I believe in her, so I lie. I tell her I’ve finished some of it. Because in my culture, you respect elders. So sometimes, you touch their feet, sometimes you accept their aashirwaad, and most of the time, you lie about your beliefs.

Sometimes, I feel like I have been robbed of a precious bond. I could’ve had a person in my life who cared about how my day was and asked me why I hadn’t played her a song in weeks. Someone who told me how hard it was for a single mother in her 60s to feed 3 growing boys. 

I wish we spoke about things other than God. So, I try. I go to her with my threadbare shirt and ask for help. She tells me that when a bushshirt has too many gaping holes, we fix it by stitching-on even more patches. The repeated patchworks form a pattern, as if they were always meant to be there. If you can’t fix something, turn it into something new.
Mend enough, and what’s fabricated becomes the truth.

I listen to her stories about God. How Kanhaiya still dances under a banyan tree, bathed in moonlight. How anyone who witnesses it, is blinded by his radiance. That he still steals maakhan left outside doorsteps. That it’s probably monkeys doing the stealing, but no one would admit it.

I hear everything in the hope that when she’s done singing God’s praises, maybe she’ll have a few tunes left for me too. I rest my head on her lap and see God in her eyes. I make myself believe that after she’s done telling me these tales, maybe she’ll ask me my story. Maybe I will tell her about everyone I’ve loved. Maybe I will tell her about my day and play her my favourite song. Maybe she will sway to it.

Mend enough, and what’s fabricated becomes the truth.

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Nikhil Poddar

Nikhil is a writer from Kolkata and Mumbai. His collection of writings – Everything happens for a season, is his labour of love. Find him protesting against the algorithm on Instagram – @gaaajar


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