What do I tell you all about a person with whom I’ve shared a love-hate relationship. I’ve known people who were doted upon by their grandparents and who have had all 4 grandparents around them as they grew up. Their grandparents were their best friends and confidants.
Take my mom for instance, she was her great-grandmother’s favourite, pampered by her to no extent and practically raised by her. Her grandmother adored her cause she was the first child in the house, the child of her first daughter. Mom often recollects those days and my aaji (granny) whom we fondly called Mothi Aai ( Big Mother) always had a tale or two to add to it.
I for one was not so close to my grandparents till I grew up. My paternal grandfather had expired when my Papa was a child and my paternal grandmother stayed in the village most times. Once she came to the city, she lived with my eldest uncle and I rarely spent time with her to develop any bond. All my life I had known only 2 grandparents – my mom’s parents; they lived in the same building as ours. Both my parents worked, so I was at their place when my parents left for work. I don’t recollect much but one thing I recollect was that I was not their favourite, Didi always was.
She was their first grand-child. When I was born they both wanted a grandson, but here was a grand-daughter and to some extent they were a bit disappointed. I took this to heart till I grew up and it affected my relationship to some extent with them, and kept me away from developing the special bond that my sister shared with them.
But despite these biases from her and my side – Mothi Aai took care of me in her own way. She would bathe me, massage me when I was a baby, put me to sleep and clean up my mess. I never realised the importance of these little things then, but I do now. I always had trouble with pus infections and it was she who cleaned it up for me with her soft hands, not once did I feel the pain.
I would throw tantrums while eating but she would patiently feed me and make what I wanted. I always preferred my mom’s cooking and she would get angry at me when I would tell her it did not turn out like mom’s. I loved to see her reaction and guess most times just said it to tease her.
Mothi Aai was an excellent cook, she knew that and she also knew that mom had inherited her skills. After my marriage, when I took charge of my kitchen she was pleasantly surprised to see me cook and cook well – she would often tell mom that I had inherited the best of both. Yes, I owe my cooking skills to her and mumma.
We shared a common love for non-veg food, no one in my house was as crazy after non-veg as we both were. My grandpa was a pure vegetarian and Mothi Aai a pure non-veg. I often thought that theirs was a love marriage as I could not fathom this difference in their eating habits.
Mothi Aai was an brilliant cook especially when it came to non-veg. Her ‘Kombdi – Vade’ were famous and so was her awesome Biryani. When my grandpa retired from his school they started a small business at home. She made the world’s best ‘Shankarpali, Karanji and Chakli’ and supplied in bulk daily to the likes of ‘Panshikar Hotels and Stores’ in Mumbai. So famous was her Diwali ‘Faral’ that people confirmed orders 2 months in advance.
She enjoyed cooking and loved feeding her loved ones. Every day in the evening, Didi and I would get hot, hot Shankarpali with Chai whose taste is still fresh in my mouth. Her Batata Wadas were the best of the lot better than any Mumbai Vada you would’ve ever had. The first time I made them they turned out exactly like hers and she beamed with pride.
We fought a lot, I found her too orthodox and she found me too rebellious and disobedient. I never took things at face value and always had multiple questions to ask. Why are we dong this, Why do I need to do this, Is it necessary to do this, What will happen if I don’t do it? Didi never troubled her and just listened to her quietly; me on the other hand was inquisitiveness personified and drove her nuts with my opinions. In short she would tell me you are a carbon copy of your dad. If she ever said anything against my father I’d fight with her like crazy and not speak to her for ages. If she would scold me I’d always retort – yes I know I’m your step-grand-daughter. That would anger her even more and she would shout if you were, would I’ve taken care of you? Our arguments would continue and eventually mumma would have to intervene and drag me away.
Mothi Aai and I grew a bit close after my Papa’s death and later after Didi’s marriage. Her other grandchildren were not living with her; she and I were stuck with each other:-) She kept mumma and me company till we gathered our lives and got back to our routine. She knew it was hard not to miss my papa but she tried in her own way to give us strength; after all she too had survived 5 years then post grandpa’s death.
She was most thrilled when I announced my marriage. She always felt I would never fall in love and never ever marry, and that worried her at times:-) She loved MDH from the moment he stepped into my house. She was always biased towards her grand-son-in-laws, be it MDH or my Jiju ( Didi’s husband). In her opinion, I was lucky to have found MDH not the other way around. I was dead worried about mumma being alone after my marriage but Mothi Aai gave me a promise which she kept till the very end.
For the last 5 years since 26Dec, 2004 – my wedding day; Mothi Aai returned to take care of her daughter. She never left my mumma alone for a single day and was there at my home every single night to keep her company so that she would not feel my or Papa’s absence. Nothing deterred Mothi Aai, not her age, not her health. She climbed down 3 floors from my uncle’s house and climbed up 2 floors to my mom’s house every single night. She refused to stay continuously at my mom’s house as she needed to pray to her family gods which were in her house.
She made her first foreign trip to my home in Dubai and that was the proudest moment in her life. Until 2006, having lived for 80 years, she had never been to an airport and never seen a plane. Till date, she told everyone proudly that she travelled abroad thanks to MDH and me. MDH held her hand the day she landed in Dubai and did not leave her side till she reached safely back home in Mumbai. She was so proud of him and doted on him. He was the grandson she always wanted, she has 4 adorable grandsons but remember I said she wanted one when I was born, I gave her MDH as my replacement and she was more than happy to welcome him.
Last Wednesday when I spoke to her, she and I were planning her second trip to Dubai. She wanted to see our new house and be driven around in our car. We were planning what she would cook when she got here and what places we must visit. But then the next day she decided to say her good-byes, no warning, no signs, just all of a sudden.
Mom called me at 9.30 on Thursday night and her voice was shaking when she uttered Mothi Aai’s name. At that very moment I knew what had happened. Mothi Aai was no more. My Aaji, my only granny was no more. When I was finally getting to be close to her and letting her know that how important she was to me, god decided it was enough.
People tell me she lived a good life, I know she did. She did not trouble anyone till her death, she was independent, loving, talkative and fun-loving. She travelled places and loved visiting people. She was fit and fine and on her 2 feet despite 3-4 operations. She refused to accept any diet restrictions cause she believed in enjoying her life to the fullest.
She had 5 lovely children, 2 wonderful son-in-laws, 3 doting daughters-in-laws and 8 loving grandchildren. She was not perfect, I know she was flawed, she had her biases , did not make the best mother-in-law but she learnt, tried and improved her self with times. She adjusted to her rebellious grand children and came down to being their friend instead of an over-bearing grandma.
I know she had her favourites and she did not deny it; but I know she had begun to love me equally and we were beginning to forgive each other for all our past misgivings.
She saw her only great grand-child, not many get that privilege today. When she would trouble Didi and me for one more grand-child, I would tease her as to how greedy she was being. She would hear me out and tell me do you know why I’m still alive Minu? It’s because I have the will and hope to see all the things I want to and enjoy what I desire. It keeps me going, all these things. Why should I be content and tell God take me away when I’m fit and fine, even today I can take care of your child single-handedly, even your mumma and aunts will struggle but I won’t.
I know you wouldn’t have Mothi Aai , I know you would’ve taken care of my little one better than anyone else. If I can gather even 25% of the will-power you had I know I will live a long life.
I’ll miss you, I’ll miss your presence forever. When I return to Worli now, there will be no one waiting for me so that we can enjoy Mutton Curry together, no one to get Masala Kaju for, no one to tease and fight all over again. But more importantly, I’ll never again leave the shores of Mumbai carefree when I board my Dubai flight. You gave me the comfort that Mumma was taken care of; I won’t have that comfort anymore.
You do know that I‘ll miss you even though I could never tell you how much I loved you. You were after all my sole grandparent. You knew that didn’t you?
Reliving some moments with you again:
That’s at my naming ceremony – I realised that my nose was like yours and Mami told me we both sleep in the same way. Guess you have left a part of yours in all of us.
That’s at your 50th marriage anniversary with the lovely family you and grandpa raised. Not many make it to their 50th wedding anniversary, you do know you were special
That is you with mumma heading for your first foreign trip to Dubai
That is at the Madinat Jumeirah with Burj-Al-Arab in the background
And finally your smiling face we will always remember, you lead a lovely blessed life.
Mothi Aai we will miss you, you know that don’t you?