We called her Biji. Ever since I had known her, ever since my brother had known her. Over a decade and a half has gone by since she passed away…I was in college then. I have hardly mentioned her. She lives in some secret hidden chamber of my being…
The one constant memory I have of her is taking her to the Gurudwara every Sunday. I was in Dimapur which is (or used to be rather) a small rustic town in Nagaland. I was five? Six? Seven? Never mind. That’s not the point.
We would go in a rickshaw, holding hands; mine a support to her and hers a safe sanctuary. She had the silkiest of skin, wrinkled but so amazingly soft. I can remember how the nerves stood out, how the bones jutted out and her bony fingers gripped mine, firmly, gently.
The Gurudwara visit every Sunday was something for her to look forward to. Dressed in her whitest best, chiffon chunni, sometimes sprinkled with tiny glittering transparent stones, sometimes delicately bordered with lace, the chiffon all soft and light; she stood tall, kind and sweet. For me, it was to be out with her, be able to meet my closest friend Avineet at the Gurudwara among scores of other classmates who were sure to be there.
Biji would always tell me that I was wise. I used to be ever so pleased with that. A child likes to hear that. I did. Was she religious? As far as Biji was concerned, yes she was religious. She would tell my brother and me stories of all the Gurus and I would listen on while my brother always ran off in the middle of it.
She was the one who first taught me how to cook. I was seven then and she taught me counting in Punjabi…she taught me a lot of things really. I have missed her. Not devastated or anything. Perhaps, in my family I take death better than the rest, so far at least, but I think of her with fondness. I remember her wrinkled face, her cheeks hollow because she would wear dentures. The dentures were a focal point of interest for my brother and me. She would clean them and we would ask her if we could also do that with our teeth when we got older. She would smile and say it’s always better to brush them inside your mouth…what if someone stole them?
Most of my childhood curiosity-filled questions would find its way to her. She made those amazing churi (hot phulkas smashed in hot ghee and shakar), she would feed us and we would listen to stories she told us. The Ramayan was her particular favourite. I would always argue about something I never understood about Lord Ram…why did he drive Sita away from the palace…it was unfair. I still have my moot point on that. My favourite was the Mahabharat somehow.
She peeps out from that hidden place deep inside once in a while. I wonder if I really miss her. Sometimes I think I do. Other times, I just am grateful I spent whatever time I did with her. I hope she is happy wherever she is and keeps her hands over my head as she used to…I would hold them, cover them with my own then and bring those wrinkled hands then to my cheeks, feel the warm softness of it, with a hint of Charmis cream teasing my nostrils, feel safe, loved.
I would smile. In my absolute childish innocence I loved her, completely; my Biji, my grandmother.
I am smiling.
(I found this piece I had written about two years ago. Doesn't change a thing today)