“Megha, come speak to Aaji and Ajoba!”
A line I have heard on a biweekly basis. For most of my life, a phone would be forced into my hand so that I could wave to my grandparents living halfway across the world and ask them how they have been. Now, don’t get me wrong, I have an immeasurable amount of love for my grandparents, but during these five minutes of conversation, the cultural disconnect couldn’t be more apparent. I start to speak too quickly and they give a confused look to someone nearby, asking for a translation. They speak in my mother tongue and I give a confused look to my parents and do the same. When I went to college the calls became more infrequent and harder to understand. Still, as long as they knew I was healthy and happy, the minimal conversation was sufficient.
Healthy and happy: two things I have been fortunate enough to never worry about with them. Of course, that began to change around a year ago when a global pandemic wormed its way into all of our lives. As a sophomore, I was required to stay at home until this January, so I spent a lot of time focusing on what I could do around me to help my family. I watched my parents start to get more tense about the 8,000-mile distance between them and their parents, and I participated more in family calls.
On both sides of my family, my grandparents pride themselves on their independence; they enjoy the walks to the local market, cooking their favorite desserts, caring after their own garden and taking the train to work. When the pandemic took these freedoms away, these biweekly calls started to become the highlight of our weeks, entertaining my grandparents with the new dances my brother and I were learning from TikTok and providing a general reassurance that everyone was healthy and as happy as we could be given the circumstances.
As January slowly but surely came around, I spent days with my suitemate getting our room together, catching up and recovering from the outright shock that we had not seen each other for 10 months after what we thought would be a two-week break. School took over my life and the calls that were the highlights of my week stopped happening. That was until I received a text from my dad — “Your grandparents are getting vaccinated soon.” The wave of relief that I felt was incredible, and I immediately picked up the phone to call them. Just like that, the distance and language barrier dissolved. I knew they were on their way to being healthy and happy, and I wanted to help them in any way that I could.
Since then, I have found myself falling into a daily routine of waking up in the morning, running to the dining hall for breakfast and coming back to my room to FaceTime my grandparents. They ask how my classes are going and even know some of my professors’ names now. I ask how they are feeling and what funny things happened around the house. I even found myself dusting off the long-ignored WhatsApp application to text my grandpa and ask how he was feeling post-vaccine. He noted that my asking made him so happy and gave him confidence, even if he was feeling a little under the weather because of the vaccine.
I think as busy college students, especially those who might be children of immigrants, it is very hard to keep a relationship with our grandparents. Calling and texting always seemed like a hard thing to do; I was unsure about what to talk about and if they would understand what I was saying if I did. It took a global pandemic for me to realize that a FaceTime during which only a few words are said but smiles are exchanged can bring so much happiness.
For those of us who are yet to receive the vaccine, this can be a particularly stressful time, but it is important to remind ourselves that there are still things that we can do to help those around us. A single text to a grandparent who is unsure about getting the vaccine can change their whole perspective on the situation. And a quick room tour for someone who is still waiting their turn can keep them distracted and involved in your life. Sometimes it just takes a call to make sure that those we care about are healthy and happy.
MEGHA JOSHI is a sophomore in Timothy Dwight College. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.