By the time you are old enough to read this, there might be no memory of the person who spent her last few years with only you on her mind, and whose last words were - your name.
The person who you lovingly called - Dadi. Your grandmother.
Your Dadi was a jovial, well spoken, God fearing lady. Her laughter was an infectious one that echoed down the hallway and that was her trademark signature. Her smile was bright and sparkling and so was her warmth to everyone around her.
Walk into her room in the noon and she would be praying quietly and followed Christianity to her last breath, in spite of being married for over forty years to your Dadu, a Muslim. Like all mothers, she had tried hard to teach me about religion and God and was instrumental in shaping me the way I am today. She was the one who managed through hook and crook to get me into one of the city’s best schooling institutions. She was the one who would attend a lot of my parent-teacher meets. She worked for twenty-five years with one single firm as a humble steno typist. Her boss I have heard, called her Speedy Gonsalves. Which was a merger of her tremendous speed for typing and her maiden name. It also was a famous song then.
My early memories of her are of a lady who could drape her sari perfectly, wore her make-up everyday, which included bright lipsticks, and matching nail paint. Even though being less than 5 feet tall she had a vibrant personality and shone in a crowd of people.
She painstakingly fed me and my sisters and brought us up. It was never easy, as Dadu was a hard working salesman and travelling for days in a row was a part of his job. Right from getting 3 kids ready to go to school, to ensuring we are fed, bathed and done with our homework, she managed it all, and not once do I remember her complaining.
I fondly recall how she was such a connoisseur at picking fresh fish and cooking it to the best possible east Indian blend. She had once got live crabs and had challenged us to catch one of them, for prize money of five rupees. We were barely four years then, and had no guts to even make an attempt. Finally she gave up and picked them up like a pro and took them away, laughing.
With time, she fell ill often and gave up her job. My faint memories allow me to just recall her resting in bed for long hours, but she was always prompt in checking if we had our meals and bath.
Once in a while she would get up and cook us these exclusive kheema patties and bread pudding which she made from leftover breads.
There are three things I learnt from your Dadi in my life. These aren’t greatly philosophical or something you might have never heard till now. But it is the impact of her belief in these words that left a lasting impression on all of us.
1. Forgive and Forget
2. All that happens, happens for the best
There are a few things I never picked up from her.
Save for a rainy day. Never lose your temper and to be patient.
Save for a rainy day. Never lose your temper and to be patient.
After we moved to our new home, Dadi got even more unwell and would lie in bed for even longer hours. But never did she miss her prayers, twice a day and calling her sister and sister in law once a week on a specific day. The day she would miss the call she would get a call back from them wondering why she hadn’t called.
When we would travel on vacations without her, getting something for her was the most difficult thing, because her needs were so minimal. Maybe a pair of slippers, a handbag, a small cosmetic kit or maybe a foot scrub. That’s because her biggest gift was having us back home- safe and sound. On seeing us she would express her worry and say – I was praying for you everyday.
Over time we grew older, taller and stronger than her.
Often I would pull her leg over her Parksinsons which had her shaking her hand continuously. I would tell her that I could put a guitar in her hand and she could play all day long. Though it will sound mean of me now, but she always took it in her stride. Children are allowed that leeway with their parents.
I would catch her and make her smell my underarms as she was much shorter, and would love to hear her say Shhheeee Aleem!!!
Sometimes I would carry her around the house while she laughed and asked me to put her down.
I hadn’t realised that she was older yet wiser.
Shorter yet greater.
Weaker yet stronger.
Our last vacation together was in Diwali, 2010 to Matheran.
Vacations discussions at home were only about when to go, never where to go. Because we only went to one place all our lives-Matheran. The horse rides, chikkis, monkeys, walks, and afternoon naps. They were beautiful moments that will stay with me for life.
This time, as always, she boarded the human rickshaw while we walked to the hotel. Usual ritual. As we needed someone to take and guard the bags while we relished the fresh air and lemon juice.
One evening, that October, we managed to convince her to come along with us to the lake. The weather was pleasantly sunny and windy. We managed to reach the lake just by sunset, when suddenly the weather did a volte face. Literally.
There was thundering and lighting, and a heavy downpour. We rushed for cover and found one in a shut down tea stall. We waited two hours till we finally decided to walk back to the hotel in the pouring rain. The rain gods were not willing to give up. It was dark and wet.
At her age, she put up a brave front and walked the distance.
When we went back all she said is God is great and – Good we had a torch, otherwise God knows what would happen.
A year later, the day you were to be born she was up all night at the hospital. She blessed you and was most pleased to see her new grandchild.
You would spend your afternoons sleeping beside her, sharing her pillow, holding her. You would question her all kinds of things and babble the few words your knew then. She took care of you in whatever capacity she could, and also sneaked you a lot of chocolates when no one was looking.
Your laugh was what kept her in best spirits, and often we would enter her room when she was sleeping and surprise her by tickling her or jumping on her.
Dadi’s last few months was where she proved her fighting spirit was nothing to be compared with.
It was Dadu’s birthday and everyone had gathered to spend it with him at home. It was a nice family gathering. Cake, Food and a lot of laughter. They were so happy seeing their grand kids playing around them. Nothing satisfied them more than having all their kids and grand kids under one roof.
Two days later, she had a massive brain stroke which left her paralytic. We rushed her to the hospital where they declared to us that she had only a few hours to live and we can inform the rest of the family.
But she hadn’t seen your face yet then and we didn’t know how much that meant to her.
Two months she battled life and death. You were not allowed in the ICU as you were just 2 years old. Those two months she hardly spoke, and sometimes only opened her eyes to see us.
After which we moved her to a nursing home for additional care.
Finally after that long gap we took you to meet her.
Her eyes glowed and she managed to move a bit. She noticed your hair clips. She kept taking your name and wanted to hear your stories. She smiled. The nursing staffs were surprised to see her progress, and you never failed to brighten up her spirits with all your antics and innocent words.
When it was time to go, she would moan in pain- Don’t go. And we would wait a few minutes more before she went off to sleep. I know for sure how disappointed she would be when she would open her eyes later to see you not around. Her body didn’t permit her to stay awake for longer.
For four months, every once a week, you would meet her. Talk to her. Play with her. Tease her and motivate her. She gave it her best.
One Sunday morning, you went with your Aunt to meet her at the hospital. The time you went without me and I learnt from your aunt that your Dadi did open her eyes and said only one word- your name- Samaira.
That same evening was your last visit to her with me, which wasn’t the same as all other trips were.
She was sleeping, and we prepared you by telling you to scream your loudest so we could pleasantly surprise her. You were excited and all prepared for your act. We reached her room, you took a deep breath and in your loudest pitch – Daaaaddddiiiii.
No response. Again. Daddddiiiiiiii. No response. For fifteen minutes you went on, and with every call, your spirit died a bit, till you finally gave up, but she didn’t open her eyes.
We walked away trying to coax you and tell you that she was tired and sleeping.
A few days later, she passed away peacefully in her sleep. Leaving us with only memories.
I took you to the graveyard the next day. To answer your question, I told you were going to Dadi’s garden. We stopped at her grave which was yet covered with fresh flowers and you made it even more beautiful by putting a few.
“Now whenever you want to meet your Dadi, you have to come to her garden”, I said.
You looked at me quizzingly but didn’t say a word. We asked you to fold your hands and pray and you did.
That moment I felt her presence among us in that quiet cemetery. I’m sure she saw you from above and smiled and said- Whatever happens, happens for the best.
The sun was setting and we were getting ready to leave. As we neared the gate I could almost hear her say- Don’t go Samaira. But I promised her, that we will come soon, and come often.
You may or may not have not been the best in the world, but you definitely took were the best in ‘our’ world.