Open 2020, Short Stories - Swati Agrawal


Oats and Obituaries

By Swati Agrawal  


It was 8:18 a.m. The summer sun was beaming through the window. Grandpa sat across the kitchen table from grandma. Grandma was reading the morning newspaper with great fervor as usual. “This is such an engaging obituary,” grandma remarked excitedly. Of all the news in the paper, it was the obituary that held her attention and captivated her most. She enjoyed reading out the most interesting obituaries to grandpa over tea and oats. It was a morning ritual she never got weary of.


Grandpa braced himself for yet another run-of-the-mill conversation. “Hmm…Mr. Eustace Fernandes indeed led an adventurous life. I wish I’d met him. Do you think we should go to his prayer meet?” Grandpa chuckled, rather uncharacteristically, as he sipped tea from his teal-blue mug.


“Who attends the prayer meet of a stranger? Sometimes you freak me out,” grandma arched an eyebrow at him.


“Exactly. Why do you compulsively read out obituaries of strangers? How does it matter to us who died? Why concern ourselves with tidbits about their supposedly interesting lives?”He grimaced in disgust.


“Obituaries are written to inform people about a loved one’s death. It is like paying homage to the deceased. The least we can do is read about them and say a silent prayer,” she articulated.


“Well, if we can mutter a prayer, we should also consider going to their prayer meet. That’s the ultimate homage to the dead,” he shot back.


“Well, let’s go then,” grandma broke into a toothless grin.


Grandpa left his bowl of oats uneaten and stormed out of the kitchen. She followed him. “Dearest, if I die before you, will you write an interesting obituary for me?” she asked with childlike innocence.


“Well, I have never really given it a thought,” grandpa mumbled incoherently.




Grandma was literally a woman with stars in her eyes and wind in her hair. Yes, she was still full of life and love. She was as resilient as she was feisty. The worst storms in her life failed to crumble her spirit. The death of her only child failed to rob her off enthusiasm and joy. She was devastated but she didn’t close over it. She refused to be bitter or resentful about what had happened. “It is hard to make peace with some things in life, but it is much harder to keep carrying the weight of denial. Shake him all you want, he would never awaken again,” she had told grandpa. Meanwhile, grandpa remained in denial.


Their 23-year-old son had died from drowning in a beach in Goa; since then the couple lived by themselves.


Grandma found happiness in the ordinary. She was well versed in the art of making adventure out of the banalities of everyday life. She took time to savor her morning cup of tea, she found joy in massaging Volini gel into grandpa’s feeble feet as much as she enjoyed dipping her own into a tub of hot water, she enjoyed watching the sun sink, she loved whipping up caramel parfait for the neighbor’s grandson, she delighted in striking up random conversations with maids, watering her plants, laughing her heart out over hackneyed memes and jokes and obviously discussing obituaries with grandpa.


Grandma’s zest for life and her energy levels were simply unmatched.


Grandpa was of a sanguine disposition, too, but, after the untimely demise of his son, he became cantankerous, the smile went out of his eyes.


He often snapped at maids and scowled at youngsters in the building, especially boys in their 20s who made affectionate attempts to mingle with him. Grandpa almost retreated into himself. He knew his anger towards them was misdirected. He mistook their affection for sympathy.


“My dear, you have to allow people to love you, to help you. Accepting love is not a sign of weakness. Accepting help is not loss of control,” grandma had tried to explain him on several occasions.


Grandpa, however, was unyielding. He hated help. His pride was easily damaged. It pained him to even think about the things that had happened to him, let alone talk about it. He wouldn’t even broach the subject with grandma, as if he had buried it somewhere deep down in the dark recesses of his mind. He became more and more conventional with age.




The conversation at breakfast made grandpa sombre and pensive. It unsettled him so much that he awoke in the middle of the night only to ask grandma, “Dear, would you remarry if I died before you?”


“You really do freak me out,” grandma hated to be shaken out of her peaceful slumber. She rubbed her eyes and yawned unselfconsciously.


“Well, most certainly. And I would marry someone who would occasionally eat poha instead of eating oats seven days a week, who’d sip tea from a bright yellow mug and wouldn’t lash out at maids and children, someone who’d be open to love and life and help me assemble perfect parfaits, who would sing along with me while watering plants, and of course someone who wouldn’t squirm at my recital of obituaries,” grandma was her typical fun self even in the dead of the night.



It was 8:18 a.m. The summer sun was beaming through the window. Grandpa sat across the kitchen table from grandma. Grandma held the morning newspaper with fervor as usual.

Grandpa was busy digging into his bowl of oats. He waited for those customary words to escape grandma’s lips. “No interesting obituaries today, huh?” he asked when he didn’t hear any of it - his head hanging low, almost into the bowl, as if he were devouring the most interesting meal in the world. When he still did not receive an answer, he looked up at grandma.


There was frothing at her mouth. She had had a sudden cardiac arrest. He yelled out her name in utter shock and disbelief.


The maid came running out of the room. She desperately called out to a couple of youngsters jogging in the building garden.




Grandma’s obituary read: Dedicated to the woman who taught me to love and live again. Who made me realize it’s a lovely thing to be alive on a balmy morning in a brutiful world. Brutal + beautiful brutiful. They are two sides of the same coin. Embrace the brutal, embrace the beautiful. Reject the brutal, reject the beautiful. My wife brought joy, freshness and humor to my otherwise mundane existence. She will be deeply missed.


Mrs. Joyce Rodericks, age 71, passed away on Sunday, September 13, 2020. She is survived by her husband, Mr. James Rodericks.


Grandpa thanked the building youngsters who helped him put out the obituary and even took it upon themselves to organize the prayer meet. He hugged each one of them as if he were hugging his dead son. The tears fell out, unrestrained, uninterrupted.


What’s more, he whipped up a perfect caramel parfait for the neighbor’s grandson. He sang grandma’s favorite songs as he watered her plants. He watched the sun sink until the birds merged with the dark night sky.




It was 8:18 a.m. The summer sun was beaming through the window. Grandpa sat across the kitchen table from grandma’s empty chair. He read out an obituary, uttered a silent prayer, while sipping tea from a bright yellow mug and eating spoonfuls of poha in between.


Swati Moheet Agrawal is a freelance writer based in Mumbai, India. Her work has appeared in the Times of India, Café Dissensus, Setu, Kitaab, Storizen, Twist & Twain magazine, Indian Economy & Market Magazine and India’s premier mind-body-soul magazine, Life Positive. When she's not reading or writing, she likes to engage in creative pursuits like decoupage art. She also has a penchant for long walks and starry skies.


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