Throughout history, women have faced an uphill struggle for social and political equality. In the case of my grandmother, Veronica Das, her struggles included adjusting to a very different culture and continuing after her husband’s death.
“Twinx,” as she is usually called, was born in England around 1923. The daughter of a doctor, she was brought up with the etiquette you would expect of formal British culture. Her amicable approach to people and circumstances earned her the reputation of a gracious woman. She was always willing to help others in need regardless of her own problems. Grandma Twinx met my grandfather, Suranjan and a few years later, in 1960, they moved to Bangalore, India.
In Bangalore, Grandma Twinx encountered many barriers including language, being in a very religious environment, and not having traditional British food. To make matters worse, Grandma Twinx lost her husband in a plane crash in 1970, leaving her alone in a country of which she had little knowledge. Battling the misery of her husband’s death and immense stress, Grandma went about life tenaciously, trying not to let the absence of her husband affect her too much.
In fact, Grandma helped herself by helping others. She diverted her attention to those who were disabled and volunteered on the Executive Committee of the Deaf Aid Society. In the following years, she opened Bangalore’s Cheshire Home, helping disabled women and children. During the process of this phenomenal achievement she boosted her self-esteem in a country that offered her little as a British expatriate. Over the years, the Cheshire Home developed into one of Bangalore’s exemplary homes for the disabled and set the standard for other institutions to follow.
Grandma Twinx was awarded the Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in 1997 for her dedication to charitable work in India. Such an award is one of the most prestigious honors given by Queen Elizabeth, who recognized the struggles Grandma experienced in helping the less fortunate. The British Ambassador to India flew to Bangalore to present the award to her, since she was intensely engaged in her work. Dedication like this has earned her the head of the Cheshire Home. After receiving the award, she wrote to my mother, “It’s like going trout fishing ... you wait all day to catch the fish, and when you’ve finally caught it, you realize that it’s no big deal!”
Although Grandma Twinx had the luxury of having servants, she educated their children, sending them to schools and making sure they received a proper education, ensuring that the family’s next generation would have an opportunity to increase their skills.
The manner in which Grandma Twinx overcame her difficulties by helping others is an outstanding feat that one seldom hears about. Over the years, Grandma adapted well to Bangalorean society, even learning Kannada and Hindi to understand the locals. This enabled her to be even more helpful. In addition, she has developed a taste for some of India’s most spicy dishes. Coming from a country where food is rather bland, this in itself is quite an achievement.
Despite her hectic schedule, Grandma is an avid fan of cricket, a British and Indian pastime that has strengthened my relationship with her. She has also developed an interest in hothouse plants, where she seeks solace and peace by preserving exotic plants. Today, Grandma Twinx still lives in Bangalore, and at 82, is retired from running the Cheshire Home.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.