More than 9,000 miles away, my grandmothers are still everything to me


My mother’s mother has always been, and will always be, my Ammuma. In Malayalam, the ancient language of the Indian state of Kerala, the word “Amma,a�� means “immense beautiful.a�� At the root of the name that I call my grandmother is immense beauty, and I couldn’t express my deep, rooted love in any other way.

My Ammuma has been there for me since before I was born, traveling back and forth between Malaysia and the US to take care of me and spend time with my brother and me. Each time she traveled, accumulating thousands of miles in the air, she was pushed to do so solely by her the love in her heart. Sixteen years ago, she arrived in the US a week before I was born, quit her job in Malaysia, and moved here for a few months just to take care of me, her newborn granddaughter. Since my first days, my Ammuma has often left my side but never my heart.

In a small town outside of the booming, metropolitan city of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, my Ammuma’s apartment complex lies. Shadowed by the tall skyscrapers and twin towers of the city, the simple building surrounded by greenery and palm trees is where my heart lies. The constant diffusing smell of tangy curry and savory Indian bread from her kitchen is an indication of the best food I’ve ever had in my life.

And my father’s mother has always been, and will always be, my Nani. There aren’t many grandmothers around the world that are called “Nania�� because the name we call our grandmother is a family tradition rather than an ancient, cultural one. My oldest cousin started the trend over two decades ago, and since, my Nani has always been Nani to everyone around her. Her dedication and devotion to those all around her has created a support system around the world that is ready to drop everything and attempt to repay what she has given.

My Nani has been a role model for me– created from the numerous stories of her countless achievements told by my dad and her siblings. Single-handedly sending three kids to college in a foreign country while employed as a public school teacher in Singapore was not an easy feat. But, by working sixteen hour days, she gave everything to my dad. For that, my family owes her everything we have today. Now, at the age of almost eighty, she still has the ability to spend fourteen hours on a plane several times a year. I can’t name many people of her age who have the drive or determination that Nani does, and my love for her is situated within my respect and admiration.

On the warm island sanctuary of Singapore, my Nani’s bungalow home is located in a traditional neighborhood just around the corner from a local market. As one story homes are torn down and huge townhomes are put up in their place, my Nani’s house stays constant amidst Singapore’s never-ending urbanization. With palm trees, hydrangea flowers, and a traditional brick driveway and red shingles, Nani’s house is probably my favorite place to spend time. I’ve never felt so at home 9,000 miles away from home.

I’ve never met either of my grandfathers and though I’ve never had a grandfatherly figure in my life, I feel no emptiness in my heart because my two grandmothers have more than made up for it. Because they live so far from me, seeing such influential people in your life for only a few weeks every year is crushing and a feeling that is truly impossible to put into words.

However, knowing that my next trip to Southeast Asia is always around the corner and the anticipation of spending a month in the haven known to me as my grandmothers’ houses makes it more than worth it.