Grandma and my Lit-Life

Today the 26th of November, 2011 marks an entire decade with a particular void in my life- the loss of my beloved grandmother, Dorothy Castelino, the person most involved in my upbringing.

My late mother Louella Lobo Prabhu passed on  to me a strongly creative DNA in the unconscious split second of conception, even if that significant discovery took me quite  a while. My late grandmother had no such doubts- she strongly believed in the power of this transmission, always urging me to be my own person. Over the years, she was the one who strengthened and supported my  self-hood, until at a later point in life, my  spouse would conjoin forces with her in this delicate task.  A decade on, I  recollect her  inputs and involvements in my creative evolution.

I can’t deny  a surge of satisfaction when readers relate to my work, especially reporting that they enjoy the  deft yet delicate handling of characters. When I think about it, I imbibed the storyteller’s art from an unlikely source- my grandmother. Yes, the Indian tradition is full of Dadi- Nani tales. I won’t say that she spun original tales for my delight, but from the age of seven or so, I was an audience to a skilled raconteur of stories. Her repertoire was from the store of classics she had studied as part of New Crown Readers, or from movies she had watched like Gone With the Wind. Her descriptions were indeed evocative of mood, and minute in shared detail. Most importantly, she broke down the barriers between oneself and fictional characters, finding real life parallels to those in print. She might liken me to one with sharp edges to the personality, while a contemporary may be compared to a benign character.

Her letters, during the time I was away from home  were  vivid and vibrant chronicles of daily life. My mother sneered at them from her literary pedestal- “ Not to be preserved,” she opined.  “Hardly the works of Shakespeare.” But these  missives surely possess their own worth for writers and historians of a later day.  Perhaps I unconsciously took in a lively narrative spirit.

It isn’t surprising that my own writing is strongly centered  on the human condition, unabashedly people-centric   compared to others whose focus may be on form or stylistic innovation. This probably derives from the example of this matriarch’s  insatiable curiosity about her fellow beings- it wasn’t difficult for her to ferret out the life stories of sundry people she met, usually in a spirit of  empathy. She had a keen nose to sniff out the dalliances of the domestic staff, describing herself as a “ Sherlock Holmes”- an iconic character she much admired. As a writer, one goes a step further- to imagine the inner beings of  notional others and bring them to life with the power of words.

Somewhere in the late 1990’s I felt the urge to revive my dream of writing. It had slept dormant in all the time that other challenges consumed me- preparing for the Civil Services, the early demands of settling down to bureaucratic life, the fulfilments of family hood…A restlessness seized me which I gave vent to in verse that explored my deep dilemmas, pondered on relationships and commented on significant events. During the years of those tentative beginnings, my grandmother and husband  assured me that what I expressed was powerful, and I should definitely continue to delve into an inner wellspring  of words and insights.  I followed their counsel and discovered to my surprise that I had quite a corpus by the year 2001. This was a significant discovery, redefining my persona outside the safe structures of bureaucracy (to which I bid goodbye in 2000), and furnishing the balance to  my new multi-tasking lifestyle.

Grandmother pressed me to expedite the book that the poems compelled- she had premonitions, she said about not being around for long, and wanted to witness that achievement. She had been in and out of hospital frequently, and her apprehension did not seem unfounded. The release of Aerial Roots, my volume of poems was surely a proud moment in a life devoted to nurturing the gifts of others. She surely saw it as a stepping stone to other things, a  promising augury for the novel/s to come.

Her forebodings were not unfounded because three days later she was dead    from renal failure. I was conscious of a huge emptiness- my exultant moment of self-realization turned to one of deep loss, congratulations to condolence. It was a bizarre time when newspaper coverage of the release of ” Aerial Roots” competed with obituary insertions in the same family.  I guessed perhaps that she had dodged her final call with an act of dogged will, keeping my big day in mind. Thereafter  her spirit succumbed  with a sense of vicarious personal fulfilment.

The year 2011 has been a defining one in my life, witnessing my emergence from the solitude of the creative process  to connect powerfully  with the world outside as a novelist with a growing readership.  Had my grandmother been alive today I know it would have surely been deeply gratifying for her. Her input to this one is more than support to my morale- I have actively drawn on her recollections of life between the 1930’s to the 60’s to inform the content of “ Blossom Showers”, and give her due place in the Acknowledgements of my book.  I am indeed indebted to the valuable oral history that those narratives of the past afford. Evocations of a  vanished world interest readers from both familiar and unfamiliar realms,  even as their original narrator is no more.



About proteanpen

Giselle Mehta, an entrepreneur, engages in writing, theater,public speaking and activities with a creative/intellectual stimulus. She is the author of the acclaimed novel "Blossom Showers."
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8 Responses to Grandma and my Lit-Life

  1. Hazel Dias says:

    Giselle, The interactions I have had with your grandma were one of a kind.She was indeed a noble one, calm and so full of warmth to all of us who met her.I remember her soothing voice and beautiful smile .I believe that people come into our lives for a reason,i am glad you have found yours and developed your writing because of your grandma. I wish you the very best in all your future endeavors….keep the pen going!!!

  2. proteanpen says:

    Thanks, Hazel. I’m touched with your re-collections and also good wishes; the same to you .

  3. Lorna Gonsalves says:

    Giselle: How lovely to read about Aunty Dot. I know you meant the world to her. I used to visit your parents and when they were not at home, which was often, Aunty Dot would sit with me and it was always a special treat. I remember how she would always say, “Tell me ma, how can that voice come out such a thin body?” She would always ask, “Are you really happy in America?” Invariably, the conversation would turn to you and her eyes would light up as she described some accomplishment or the other.
    Memories sustain us and keep us connected with those we have loved and lost.
    Giselle, let’s have a few moments together when I come to Mangalore in December?

  4. proteanpen says:

    Thank u for sharing your own recollections, Lorna. I had just returned from a long trip, and struggled to write a timely tribute – a limited one which derived from a present pre-occupation. It’s amazing that people’s memories have filled up the other elements I had missed out.

    I would indeed be happy to share time with u, but do give me an idea of your available dates. I myself will be out in the last week of December, so let’s fit it up accordingly.
    Love to u all,and looking forward to meeting up.

  5. Ashu says:

    Giselle, i enjoyed reading this blog! How beautifully you have captured her essence and her importance in your wonder years 🙂 Looking at Aunt Dot’s serene lovely face, and reminiscing on cherished times spent with her, i recall, with a smile, her warmth, hospitality, sweetness. I simply can not picture Grandma without you, the little Giselle, next to her, cared for, nurtured, loved!

    Your beautifully articulated blog is a fitting tribute to dearest Aunt Dot!

  6. proteanpen says:

    Nice of u to delve into memories Ashu. Actually, I’ve just shared a micro-aspect of her impact on me, but I’m glad others like u fill in the missing picture.

  7. Reshma says:

    Giselle: The first thought or scene which came to my mind about your Grandma was, both of you coming in that lengthy car. so majestic to St Mary’s, I saw her feeding you breakfast in the car….She was so elegant and beautiful, I am sure she was the inspiration in your life, God bless her soul….You have grown to be a beautiful multi talented woman…Congrats for what you have achieved……..wishing you all success in whatever you do…..stay beautiful….your write ups are very good…….keep doing what you do best……..God bless

  8. proteanpen says:

    Reshma, thank u for connecting and also for sharing your thoughts. Thank u for the lovely memories- actually, I myself can’t recall breakfast in the car, I must have been very small and u have given me something for my memory store. Thank u also for your generous compliments and wishes for me, which I reciprocate to u.

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