When I was probably nine or ten, my Dadi (GrandMa) and I were waiting for someone in our Ambassador car parked outside Allahabad station. It was a humid day and our face dripped sweat, while Greatest Hits by Lata Mangeskar played in a creaky audio player. Unaffected by heat, she had a calm face as Lata’s mellifluous voice poured into her ears. At that point, she said something I never forgot, “Lata is such a legend..Kash main bhi kuch hoti!” That was the first time I realized that she was highly ambitious for a woman of that era! For our generation and even preceding one, it’s not uncommon to idealize somebody or desire to have more qualities than what we’re endowed with, but it’s bizarre for our grandmothers’ generation. I thought females back then were content with domestic chores but she broke all traditional knots and took interest in music, reading literature, biographies and human psychology.
Often while doing her hair, I used to make two plats and say giggling, “Tum Lata didi ki tarah ga nahi sakti, but do plats toh bana hi sakti ho na Dadi.” Her name justified her physique, standing at 5”6’ and having broad shoulders, she was so a ‘Shail’ (meaning: Mountain). Not only was she tall, but so were her hands—long and skinny—which mostly were at work with a yarn of wool and knitting needles. Since childhood, I have mostly worn sweaters knitted by her; I‘m a proud owner of her work (woollens), in a variety of patterns and colours, which beat any designer/branded woollen any day. Aunties from my neighbourhood used to get hold of us to see her exquisitely convoluted work, as I walked in my colony, in pride, flaunting my grandmother’s talent. Not only she did her masters in knitting, but had great enthusiasm for books, movies, sitcoms, cooking and making pickles.
She had a habit of taking a nap only after reading a part of Hindi literature and was extremely meticulous about the writers she followed; only books of artistic merit could be a part of her private library. Munshi Prem Chandra, Jai Shankar Prasad, Shivani and Vimal Mitra to list a few! We all have a book which we have read multiple times and yet it intoxicates us with a bracing tonic every time we lay our hands on it, that was ‘Begam Meri Vishwas’ for her. After finding her engrossed in that book at several times in many years, I asked “So title ka matlab hai – My wife is my faith? She laughed and said “Hat pagli, ye ek aise ladki ki kahani hai jo waqt chaltey teen dharmo mein dhalti hia, and uske saath uske naam badltey hia – Begam (Muslim), Meri (read Mary; Christian) aur Vishwas (Hindu).” Made me feel either I’m too dumb or the writer too smart. I plan to get hold of this book now, just to get a feel of her bonding with this piece of art.
Not only did her traits mesmerize me but so did her dressing sense. For me, she was a Bengalan beauty – had long black hair, wore vivid sindoor and the biggest ‘shilpa’ bindi. She mostly wore sleeveless blouse, which made her my fashion idol. Unlike most grandparents, mine are very adaptable when it comes to apparels. No matter what we wear (slim fit jeans, skirts, short tops) we weren’t judged and were always appreciated. She called me and Sonam her own Karishma-Kareena (Shahzeel still rolls with laughter at this). In her eyes, her granddaughters were the prettiest girls in any gathering(s). “Arey hato Uma(my Mom), Saumya ki shaadi ke liye bahut khoobsurut ladka dhundhge.”, was her patented line. Then I married Shahzeel, so, the beautiful groom dream went down the drain.
As one can guess, I was very close to her and enamoured with her charm. She was my guardian angel when it came to Television. As both of us were addicted to the idiot box, I used her as my alibi. “Papa main thodi na dekh rahi thi serial, wo toh Dadi dekh rahi thi, toh main bhi bathie gayi.” She had a timetable of serials, and was never tired of sitting in one pose watching them. It was fun to see her cursing and reviling people of artificial land, “Itni makkaar aurat hai ye Kamolika(vamp), chudail!”
Not only did she name me Saumya, but treated me like that too. I was always aware of her biased love towards me; no matter what I did, she did not stop channeling her relentless love towards me.
I lost my Dadi 2 months back. She had been keeping unwell for the past 14 years and finally she said her good bye to this world in September. Luckily most of my family members were with her in Allahabad during her last moments. Some of us who were out of country, could not be there, but everyone made sure to call my Grandfather. I was the only one who could not manage to gather the strength to call him. Mom gave me several reminders to do that bit as the eldest grandchild and then the reminders transformed into warnings. It’s not that I did not try, often I picked my cell, scrolled the contact list, saw Babaji’s cell phone number but then could not press the green button that said ‘Call’. What held me back? Well, what to say to him and how to say it? When I checked with Mom, she advised not to mention Dadi, just talk in general, but then which aspect of that man is not touched by the woman who spent 57 years with him? So a week back, I finally called him. My Chachi answered the phone and called him on the line on my request. As he lifted his feet to come closer to the landline, my heart sank and I felt I could not go through it. Strange na? I was facing difficulty to talk to my own grandfather. And then he said his first word as he held the receiver – “Hello”.
There was a part of me that broke immediately and after a short pause, I said, “Hello Babaji, namastey!”
“Khush raho beta..kaise ho?” He asked in his feeble voice.
“Achi hu Babaji, bas bahut thanda hia yaha. Tempreature 0 se 4 degree ke beech rehta hai.”, I yelled at top of my voice as he’s is hard of hearing.
“Ufffff! Hum toh waha reh hi na paye. Theek se kapde pehentey ho na?” A concerned question of a grandfather.
“Haan Babaji, ab thodi aadat ho rahi hai”, I replied as the dam located in my tear ducts got unlocked, releasing salty water that smeared my face.
“Phir kyun itna craze hia London ka logo ko, aisa kya hia waha?” He asked in a child like manner.
“Tradition bahut hai is city mein, 80% homes Victorian hia, history and art ke naam pe 200-300 saal purane ghar hia. Main jis ghar mein rehti hu wo hi 200 saal purana hia.” I continued talking about London making sure not to cross the line and talk about his better half.
“Ab sunayi aur kam deta hia beta, aadhi cheez samajh nahi aati hia. Tum log kab aaogey?” No sooner did he ask me this, the remaining part of me broke down and my sniffing turned into squeaking. But my voice still managed to hold an advantage when compared to his ears, helping me elude him and answered “Bahut jaldi Babaji. Baat karti hu phir aapse kabhie. Namstey!”
“Khush raho”, he sighed and disconnected the phone. All I desire now is to see him soon, as you just can’t fathom when your last meet with a person, actually becomes, your last meet with that person.
She left us, but in a strange way I feel more close to her than ever! Earlier she had a defined place, now she’s everywhere. I feel her, sense her, smell her, see her. Contrary to the belief, death does not take someone away from you, but, in a very unique way, brings a person much closer to you. You’ll think about the person in a way you never thought before, you’ll talk about him/her at every chance you get to do so…