Mumma, as we embark into the new year with a hope to create more magical moments and unforgettable memories, this note is from Peihu, the सबसे सीधी सुशील लड़की (the most simple virtuous girl) as you called her. You believed in her, you encouraged her and you loved her immensely. In her words:
“Daddu-ji you were my favourite story-teller. Growing up, every night that you were in the same country as us, you committed to telling me a bed-time story, no matter how tired you were. Some had morals, some were silly and some recounted complicated Indian mythology, but they all had one thing in common- a grocery list embedded into the storyline somewhere. To explain- when dadda got sleepy while telling a story, cuddled up with a grandchild in the dark, she often deviated from the core plot, and started listing off things we needed to buy- आटा,टमाटर, खीरे (flour, tomatoes, cucumbers). At this point, I gently jostled her and whined “दद्द्द्द्द्द्द्दा”(daddaddaaa) she would snap out of the grocery dream and back into the bedtime story without missing a beat. It was a hilarious and surprisingly consistent occurrence during our nighttime ritual. Despite these brief sidetracks, your stories were full of wonder, excitement and life lessons. You told and retold them to me so many times, I still remember each word for word- the monkey and the alligator, the boy and the roti flipper, the monkey and the queen, the frog and the crane, and many more. I will make sure these stories are not lost with you. I miss you and falling asleep to the sound of your voice drowsily reciting fables and shopping lists.”
Missing talking to you mummy and getting your आशीर्वाद (blessing) so much today, on this 1st day of the new year.
Mumma, today this heartfelt tribute comes from your darling granddaughter, Parul, the stellar performer amongst the family kids, ideally an example to follow kind of girl yet lovingly called बिगड़ी हुई लड़की (spoilt brat) by you. This dedication written by her brought tears to my eyes. It is true that between the earth and sky above, nothing can match a grandma’s and grand child’s love.
“I’ve attempted to write this tribute to you about a dozen times. Each time, I’ve failed miserably in doing justice to penning down something that conveys my feelings in their simplest and truest form. Believe it or not, I even attempted poetry but alas! I have none of your wit or humor. After thinking long and hard, I reached an important realization that has also helped me better understand and come to terms with my grief at not having you around me physically. While I will always be in awe of your indomitable spirit, your sheer will to live, your malleability to people and situations alike, and your ever-beautiful soul, what is most dear to me, and what I will cling onto, most dearly, are the memories that keep you alive in my everyday existence. One of my favorite memories of you is from my graduation ceremony from law school in Bangalore earlier this year. You had made it a point to ask me for the link to the live webcast of the ceremony. You had also ensured that you had it all set up on your iPad well in advance so that you could watch me get my degree from your bedroom in Delhi as your health did not allow you to travel to Bangalore. As I stepped onto the stage, it felt so nice to know that you were watching over me, as always – quietly, from a distance, without any judgment or comment but with utmost love and affection. It is ironical that my most vivid memory of you is from a time when you weren’t even physically present with me, but I’m not too surprised. Being able to make your presence felt from across seas and landmasses has always been your superpower!
Something else that ensures you make frequent appearances in my thoughts is your love for ताश (playing cards). Ever since childhood, I remember looking forward to vacations when we would visit Delhi and you’d introduce us to fascinating new card games. Some of my favorite, in order of complexity, were – पत्ते पे पत्ता (Patte Pe Patta- a card game where each player puts one card on the pile on each turn and the player who deals the second matching card gets to keep all the cards in the pile), ग़ुलाम चोर (Gulam Chor-the one who is left with a Jack at the end of a series of tasks loses and is invariably made fun of!), तीन दो पाँच (Teen-do-panch- a game involving sequences of 3,2 and 5 cards), सात आठ (Saat-Aath- another game involving sequences of 7 and 8 cards) and my most favorite, Bluff (where the one who gets rid of all their cards the fastest, more often than not by employing stoic deceit, wins). Each time I chance upon a deck of cards, whether on display at a curio store in the touristy area of a new city I visit, in the personal kit that airlines sometimes hand out or an old deck gathering dust in a drawer at home, I think of you. I am immediately transported back to those post-lunch ताश sessions when all of us would sit in a circle on the bed, carefully hanging on every word that came out of your mouth, as you explained the rules of a new game to us. More recently I remember being so confused in a curio store in Rio about whether a deck featuring a picture of Christ the Redeemer or one with the Copacabana Beach would be the perfect gift for you from Brazil. And while I still haven’t fully come to terms with the fact that I won’t get to buy cards for you anymore, I’m glad I still have all the good memories to think about, each time I spot the pack of 52 plus two Jokers!”
Mumma, you have held your grandchildren’s tiny hands for a while but you have held their hearts forever. Starting today, for the next 5 days they are opening up their hearts to you. This first one is written by your so called घर का चिराग़ (light of the clan), Meizu. You have loved him since the time he was born and he has loved you all his life.
“Dadda, over the past few weeks we have heard of the many ways you were ahead of your time. From playing video games to using computers, cell phones and iPads, to travelling all over the world, you were truly a trailblazer. For me though, what really sets you apart as being a visionary is your tolerant attitude and open mind. Even though you were a lifelong vegetarian and teetotaler, I relentlessly made jokes harassing you to join us in eating our chicken biriyani or drinking a cold beer. You took these jokes right in stride, suggesting that you would definitely join us in enjoying these vices in your next life. You were never offended or angered by our pestering, and as has been recounted recently, even remarked at the naturally vegetarian nature in which alcohol is created, suggesting that you were truly looking forward to trying it out but only in your next life. Similarly, while you yearned to see your grandkids “get settled” and find a सुशील (virtuous & lovely) wife or husband, you became very open and accepting to my jokes that I had many girls in mind to marry of all races and religions. While others were opposed to even the suggestion that someone from a different caste or darker skin tone would join the family, you warmed to the prospect of welcoming brides and grooms who are completely outside the norm. This progressive attitude of yours will continue to stand as a stellar example for generations to come. We miss you immensely but will be continually inspired by you as well.”
Mumma, starting today, the 70th day of this tribute to you, I will be posting notes written for you by your children and grandchildren. The first note has been written by your most mischievous kid, Manoj, who recounts your memories as follows-
“I coined the term BOSS for you and this is how you were addressed by me for over 35 years. You were loving yet strict – to make sure that we boys would be at our best behavior in the presence of others. You were our shield from Papa and would alert us on his mood. You would know exactly what was the best time to ask for something like going for a camp or asking for an expensive thing to buy. With Papa’s career as a sports journalist and his extremely busy schedule, including frequent trips within India and overseas, you were the one who attended our parent-teacher meetings at school. These were mostly with my teachers as I was the academic weakling in the family. Until 10th grade, I would barely get passing grades in almost every subject. Every semester you had to listen to my teachers complain that I didn’t concentrate in class and I would not say a word when asked any questions. The teachers would ask you to speak to me only in English at home. Boss, you had no other option besides nodding and agreeing to all the recommendations. However as soon as we reached home, I would get a piece of your mind and a BATA चप्पल (flip-flop). Both you and I would then cry together. I, for the Red Marks of “Courage” on my back and you, for losing your temper. It was only later that we got to know that I had dyslexia. My English spellings were and continue to be the worst, even today. In fact, this revelation came to us only recently after watching the movie – तारे ज़मीन पर (Tare Zameen Par, a Bollywood Movie). We realized that all along, in the school years, I had this learning disability which prevented me to write proper English. I have to admit that even today I seek help from the kids and Lavina with the spellings of common words.
It was your constant struggle to make me study and prepare for exams, which you never had to do for Pankaj or Lali. I dedicate my success in life to you, Boss. Your love and encouragement was the fuel that made me do things that seemed impossible and the best part was that you did not expect any great results. This gave me the space to take life easy.
I remember you making my favorite कढ़ी (Kadhi – an Indian delicacy chickpea flour curry) on the days I would get a good beating from you. When I noticed that my favorite kadhi had not been made for a few weeks, I would joke that you should flex your hands on me even if you have no reason so I can get some treats from you.
I also remember putting you in so many embarrassing situations with my mindless and imbecile comments. I have the habit of thinking aloud and saying whatever comes to my mind which landed me in numerous awkward situations but you were always there to cover my back. No matter how old I get, I will always yearn for your unlimited, unconditional and infinite love.”
Mumma, this is an anecdote narrated by बब्बू मामा (maternal uncle), as told to him by your dear niece Guddo दीदी (our elder cousin sister) the eye specialist in our family. She remembers you with a lot of respect for your sense of daring, braveness, and adventure. This is a recollection from a time about 2 decades ago, when Manoj and I were living in Kenya and Pankaj and Simmi were posted in Dehradun. You had developed a cataract and one of your eyes was operated on in Delhi. Unfortunately, the surgery was not successful and you did not get your full vision back. After some time, you decided to get the other eye operated on in Allahabad by Guddo Didi and जीजाजी (sister’s husband). You did not hesitate to travel alone on a train to Allahabad from New Delhi with a full blown cataract in one eye and limited vision in the other eye. Didi recalls that you seemed to have lost the address and only had a phone number for her. You were supposed to have been picked up by Didi but the train arrived at the destination before time and you decided to venture out on your own. You took a cycle rickshaw and based on your memory of a previous visit, gave some hint to the driver of the residential area where Guddo Didi lived. Fortunately the rickshaw guy pedaled you to the right vicinity and you called Didi from a public phone (as there were no cell phones in those days) and shared your whereabouts. Didi and Jijaji got to you in no time and took you home. In the coming days you got both eyes operated on and your vision corrected under the expert supervision of Didi and Jijaji. You even traveled back to Delhi by yourself after the surgery. You put your heart, mind and soul into the simplest of things and that made you extraordinary. Your courage, determination and confidence was something to take inspiration from. The way you managed yourself in adverse circumstances was simply awesome.
Mumma, such was your influence and aura that whenever you were around us we felt alive. Not only did we celebrate your and our birthdays together for so many years, but we celebrated our lives with you.
I am reminded today of all the happy moments we shared together while celebrating your birthdays in different parts of the world. It is so true that the more you praise and celebrate life, the more there is to celebrate.
We lived every day with you like it was your birthday that day.
I remember some of your landmark birthdays like the 70th and 75th birthday. For the 70th one we got you seven surprise gifts including a life size bouquet of flowers. Also, we cherish memories of the 75th birthday that we celebrated in Canada two years ago. You were turning 75, looking 55 and feeling 35. Love you for everything you were Mumma!
An anecdote that is a fond memory of माँसी (maternal aunt) is how as the older sister you were caring like a mother, carefree like a friend, a defender, a counselor and a listener all at the same time for her.
Masi recalls how you used to make her plaits every morning for school. She would not get them done by anybody but you. She felt devastated when you got married and left the family home to live in Delhi. It took quite a few days for her to accept that her dear बहिनजी (older sister) was not going to be there to do her hair every morning and send her to school. Your first job was being an older sister and you took it very seriously. It is true that there is no better friend than a sister and there was no better sister than you.
An older sister helps retain the half child and half adult in you. I recall you wrote a couplet for your younger brother बब्बू मामा (maternal uncle) a few years ago for his 70th birthday that goes like this:
माँ बाप का लाडला बब्बू ,
अब बन गया है बच्चों का दद्दू,
सफ़ेद ढाढी सफ़ेद बाल कमर का बुरा हाल,
फिर भी दिल है जवान ,
भगवान करे यह दिन आए बार बार बड़ी बहन का यही है आशीर्वाद !
“The beloved son of mum and dad – Babbu, has now become the grandkids’ daddu (grandfather)
Silver beard, silver hair, but his heart is still young and fair
May this day come again and again, this is the wish and blessing of your elder sister”
It is so true that some bonds of love can never be replaced.