Champa Rani Vaid was a painter, a poet, & a feminist who also happened to be my grandmother. She died last weekend in the same hospital I was born in 26 years ago. She was surrounded by family & community singing her favorite songs. This scene: her, surrounded by a motley crew of adoration & sleep deprivation in small town college station -- was just one of many masterpieces in her life.
She always possessed a distinctly femme power of willing things into being, creating everything out of nothing: a man into a husband, a country into a home, a word into a prophesy. It's a form of magic she channeled later in her life when she started writing poetry to say all of the things she was never allowed to. later when she started painting hundreds of paintings after her arthritis got so bad she couldn't leave the house.
Convention would have me say that she "left behind" a husband, three daughters, four grandkids -- but it is still to be determined if "I" am still here by which I mean so much of who I am was constituted -- willed into being, if you will -- by her. I used to sit with her for hours & talk about history & politics & gender and we would struggle through it everyone used to say "she won't change" but I had to do it, had to keep going, just like she had to do it, had to impart her blessings & judgment & tradition. & I adored her most in that collision, that clash of ideology, because I now understand it to be the 'stuff' with which art is made, I mean memory, I mean love, I mean me. Later we would call each other say, "have you been writing?" by which we meant, "try better next time." On the other side, in the absence of her which still feels like presence, i find myself most grateful for the struggle, the stubbornness, the contradiction. Most blessed by the tension -- the collapsing of borders & cultures & genders, most grounded & resolute in the instability of it all.
At her cremation ceremony i read her poem aloud in "men's" clothes & i heard her voice in mine & it was separate but still the same & there I stood on the other side surrounded by her art smiling through the tears because she found a way, once again, to do the impossible: to live after death.