This is My Family: the Neighbors Who Became My Grandparents During Lockdown
In This Is My Family, we explore alternative family structures and the institution of marriage in India.
I shifted to Mumbai from Jharkhand three years ago to work with an advertising firm. I was living in a rented apartment by myself and I would say things were smooth until the lockdown was announced. I didn’t get any time to prepare to go back home and got stuck in the city. When I was just starting to get adjusted, I got a call from the company saying they were shutting down due to mounting losses. I could pay rent for March but not the coming months and the landlord, despite having been so nice to me all this while, wasn’t understanding of the situation at all and asked me to vacate.
On the same evening, I was taking a walk in the evening and bumped into a senior couple, in their late 70s who are my neighbors and we’ve always been on friendly terms. They’ve sent me food on festivals, or whenever they cook something special. I’ve spent weekends playing board games with their grandchildren and helped their son with designs for his company on a few occasions.
When I told them about the landlord asking me to vacate, they first tried speaking to him but he didn’t listen. When I told them I’d exhausted all my options of trying to live with friends or a relative, without a second thought, they asked me to move in with them. I spoke to their children to ask if they would be comfortable with it and they said nothing would be better than this arrangements because I could look after them and be looked after too. My parents said they’d never met anyone nicer than them and in three months, I feel like I’ve re-lived the days I spent with my own grandparents growing up.
Related on The Swaddle:
I’ve been taking care of their essential needs, doing grocery runs, ensuring they go to the terrace to get some sunlight and taking them for walks in the evening. I discuss my life with them, my relationships, jobs, and their advice has been so useful. With aunty, I’ve learned how to sew and knit, and I think by the end of the lockdown, we’ll have at least a few sweaters ready for their grandchildren. I’m also knitting a pair of socks for my niece with and it feels so good to learn something from her.
With my help, they’ve been able to video call with their children, I’ve taught them Ludo and Pictionary and watching both of them play is the sweetest thing I think I will ever see in my life. I’ve also introduced them to Netflix and they’re so happy about being able to re-watch Bollywood classics and Bengali movies. And often, when they’re watching these movies, they’ll reminisce the time they met, the memories associated with them like they’re trying to reignite their romance and that has forced me to think of so many things — what really matters in life, rearranging my priorities, focusing only on the important and looking after my health. Their routine and their dedication towards it has inspired me to make one for myself and eliminate habits like sleeping late and eating unhealthy. We cook together, never miss eating a meal together and I help with all the household chores as much as I can.
I don’t know how I will ever be able to pay back what they’ve done for me. When flights resumed, they did tell me to go back home and meet my parents, but at this point, staying back until their own children get to come back is the least I can do to thank them. But more than that, I’ve gotten used to them and their presence. I don’t think I miss my parents, and that’s a feeling I’m completely comfortable with.
This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity. As told to Anubhuti Matta.