Heirlooms- Mamamia! (Part 12)

This piece recently appeared on Mamamia – it’s about my grandmother, the things we value and the things we pass on. I hope you like it:
My grandmother (aged 85 and in good health) is obsessed with her own death. This is disconcerting for family because obviously we are worried about it too and we don’t want to be reminded regularly by her that it “is about to happen, any day now”.
For example, one of her favourite conversations is asking us which pieces of her jewellery we would like, “after I’m gone”. She has instructed us that immediately upon her death, we are to strip her body of her jewellery, “whilst it’s still warm”. The “it” being her body, not the jewellery. The reason for this urgency is because “you never know what those rascals at the morgue might take”. Clearly morgues in  Sri Lanka  operate under a different code of ethics to their Australian counterparts, as this troubles my grandmother deeply (and regularly), despite the fact that she has lived in Sydney  for the last 30 years.
When our family moved into our new home last year, my grandmother came to perform the traditional Sri Lankan house-blessing. She boiled the first pot of milk for us and as the milk rose and bubbled over, we all prayed that our home would be blessed with abundance – that our milk pot would always runneth over.  As she left, my grandmother said to me:
“You know, you’re very lucky I’ve lived to see you move into your own home. I never thought I would make it.”
To which I replied, “I know, I really thought you’d be dead by now.”
She laughed. My grandmother helped raise me, so she knows humour is my first line of defence.
Recently we visited my grandparents for Tamil New Year. As she does every year, she had prepared a small shrine which consists of an old steel pot of water, into which a coconut is placed and adorned with mango leaves. The pot is placed on a bed of uncooked rice. My grandmother uses paddy – this is rice that has been harvested but not processed. It is still in its husk. My grandmother’s rice was given to her in 1961 by her own mother, when she moved into her home in  Colombo . She lived in that house for 22 years and it was home to five generations and countless members of our family.
In July 1983 many of the Tamil suburbs of  Colombo  were burned to the ground. Families that were lucky enough to survive often left  Sri Lanka  with nothing but the clothes they were wearing at the time. My grandparents were very fortunate. They lived in a safe suburb and when they were forced to leave their home, they still had time to choose what they would take with them. My grandmother chose the jar of paddy rice (and all the jewellery she could wear). That paddy has crossed oceans and continents, it survived a pogrom and Australian Customs officials. It has been used in the wedding rituals of her children and grandchildren and it has seen 51 New Years, 22 in  Colombo  and 29 in  Sydney . It is invested with the blessings and aspirations of my great-grandmother, who hoped that her daughter would have a life filled with the riches of health, happiness, children and grandchildren. That rice has some serious ju-ju and of all the heirlooms my grandmother keeps trying to distribute, it is one of the most valuable.
When I saw my grandmother for Tamil New Year, I asked her how she was going. She said: “I’m just ticking on, waiting for The Call.”
To which I replied: “Hopefully they’ve lost your number.”
She laughed.
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About Shankari Chandran

Six years ago we returned home from London to Sydney with our four young children and life has been chaos and comfort chocolate ever since.
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5 Responses to Heirlooms- Mamamia! (Part 12)

  1. Lashitha says:

    Ah the old milk boiling. I thought my parents were the only ones that did it….I wondered why anyone would want to mess up their new cook top when they moved into house…..you’ve explained it well…

  2. duckformationfamily says:

    Totally, I was torn! Plus often the pan gets burned. I really need to real in my OCDs. The photo in the MM link is of 5 generations of my family. let me know if you recognise my grandma or aunty! xx shanks

    • lashitha says:

      No I don’t recognise anyone – but being SL, I’m sure were related somewhere along the line!! I can only say that I probably have some identical photo – with a baby lying on a pillow with a massive “potu” on their forehead…my kids still ask me why I had this on my head as a baby.

  3. Ramona Lobo says:

    Who’s next in line for the paddy rice do you think? 🙂

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