Characters & Colours: Bijaya Prasad Mahapatra’s Old Granny And Her Death Wish
The second wave of COVID-19 pandemic is creating waves of despair all over India. Amid ripples of gloom in Odisha and at a point in time when everyone is talking about social distancing, vaccination, sanitising and isolation, the fear of death looms large over everyone’s mind. Watching the death toll every day on news channels, I wonder how someone could welcome and embrace death as gracefully as Old Granny who appears in the story ‘Unseasoned Pineapple’! The literary world is full of unconventional characters and Old Granny is one of them.
What the second granddaughter of the unnamed character called Old Granny told her would have normally scared people. The granddaughter narrated to her: “Granny, do you know what they did to old people in the olden days? They shoved them into big earthen jars and buried them alive in the fields.” Though shocked, Old Granny was not scared and she replied: “That was a wonderful thing to do – to bury the old alive! What else could be done to them if they refused to croak? As a matter of fact, my dear, no human being should be allowed to live to a ripe old age.” The relationship between a grandmother and granddaughter is usually marked by affection, warmth and concern. But here, we see the grandchildren were waiting for her to die. Everyone believed that young Mithi, one of the ailing grandchildren with damaged kidneys, would survive only if Old Granny died and her kidney would be transplanted to Mithi. When they told her: “Granny, pray to God to put an early end to your suffering!” she understood the reason. Never did she once express her sense of disappointment at being so unwanted by her children and grandchildren. Their death wish became her wish too.
When Mithis’s parents were reluctant to donate their kidney to her and they even did not agree to transplant from any of her siblings, it was Old Granny who volunteered, even though she knew she would not survive the transplant. It was at that time that her daughter-in-law told her: “You wouldn’t survive a kidney removal. Besides, we’re not so shameless that we’d broach the idea with the doctor. But they said they can remove a kidney from someone who passed away, within two hours of death.” The suggestion was like a piercing arrow, but Old Granny accepted the wound and continued consoling her daughter-in-law that she is like a ‘dry leaf liable to fall off at any moment’.
Old Granny understood the vibe in the household – everyone was waiting eagerly for her to die though her son Nilamber and her daughter-in-law tried their best to maintain a façade of concern for her. When she expressed her wish of passing away quickly, her daughter-in-law said: “Ma! How can you utter such inauspicious words?” Their hypocrisy screamed at her. She accepted it willingly. She never argued or asked them if they did not feel for her.
Old Granny is unconventional because she plants ideas into the minds of Nilamber and his wife for her quick death. She narrates to them the story of her grandfather-in-law. He died only after the fulfilment of his last wish of having a blackberry: “The entire area was combed for the fruit, but it was the month of Pausa and not a blackberry was to be found anywhere. Meanwhile the old man refused to die. Pausa passed, Magh passed and then Phalgun – three full months. In the month of Jaistha blackberries ripened, and the day the old man’s eldest son brought home some ripe blackberries and put one into his father’s mouth, the old man passed away. He didn’t even wait to swallow the fruit.”
Can anyone feel guilty of not dying – yes, it was Old Granny. Eagerly, the couple gave Old Granny the unseasonal sour pineapple considering it her last wish. But when she did not die the next morning, she felt guilty of surviving: “Why hadn’t she passed away during the night? She had had her slice of pineapple, she had had everything she craved. Why wasn’t she dead? Maybe tomorrow the children would ask her the reason. What answer would she give them?”
When Old Granny asked for palm fruit kernel after pineapple, Nilambar left no stone unturned in finding the fruit though it was unseasonal. The circumstances are ironic. Usually, a sick person’s wish is fulfilled so that that person recovers/survives but here, it was being taken as a command so that she could die immediately. When Nilambar heard this wish, his eyes became ‘moist’ but nevertheless he asked his peon Dina to go and get it all the way from his village. He did not delay her wish with the hope that the old lady would die after having the palm fruit kernel. The old woman breathing her last before tasting the fruit might symbolise that her love for her grandchild Mithi was far greater than any other wish. She had desired to see her before she died. In fact, her wish to die was strengthened by a glimpse of her like her grandfather-in-law’s love for blackberry; he died before he could taste it.
Character: Old Granny; Short Story: Unseasoned Pineapple; Writer: Bijaya Prasad Mahapatra