Nani was a heroic woman in my life. My childhood nostalgia is a basket of memories that arrange themselves as beautiful, sweet-smelling flowers. I was Denis the Menace as a four year old. I did everything from making her sowing drawer fall to the floor and scatter bobbins and pins all over, digging into her secret hiding places for cookies and chips, and running around the house while she cooked and cleaned. Each evening at 4 she would brew up Chai and give me a little with cake rusks. Herself, she would put sugar in a white bread slice (untoasted) and ate it with tea. She had a big sweet tooth and sugar and bread was a seriously peculiar favorite of hers. Sometimes, she would fry Kachoris and Namak Paray. On festive occasions she had a trolley cart ready with vermicelli, halwas of many kinds, and kababs.
Her daily life was a story of exemplary homemaking. I am attempting to continue her legacy but I fail in emotional management. She never complained, never had mood swings that would make the world feel miserable, never backed away from work, and never argued. She had a lot of drama on her plate but she live so gratefully and dismissed every nonsense that came at her with a signature wave of her hand.
A lot about her became known to me through the stories my mother tells about her life. Nani's family in India is of noble heritage. Her father was the mayor of Tonk and he worked and dined with great leaders, nobles, princes and maharajas of Rajisthan, and the freedom fighters of Indo-Pak subcontinent. When the family migrated to Pakistan, they left their riches behind for the dream of a free country. Nani's lifestyle and circumstances changed from regency to mediocrity. But she did not complain. She married a mediocre, religious man and built a dream kingdom of her own. She worked about the small house to raise many children, many animals, and many dreams. Her comparatively well-off relatives said that she did "a lot in limited resources". Her mannerisms remained royal!
When I grew up I realized that there was a fair share of nasty going on around her, as usual. But she managed to keep her gaze away from evil, ears shut from nonsense, and lips sealed from cussing and ill-speaking. I still found her, in the most tough of circumstances, putting bird feed in the cages and on the roof, pouring milk to stray cats of the neighborhood who became so friendly they had babies in her house. I still remember my uncles throwing a tantrum about the cat giving birth because she fed her milk and made her a pet. Nani couldn't care less. She continued with her slightly hunched arthritic back cleaning and feeding those kittens.
She was always ready to hand us something when we visited her. From her huge metal trunks, she would dig up tiny little ancient treasures to give us. I retain her ruby-studded pendants, a silver perfume holder that belonged to her father who must have sat with it among the royals, and old jewelry that belonged to my mother. She had old photographs to show! Her memories were her entertainment.
To us, Nani's House was a location of fun! She loved having us, and we loved going there. There are warm, yellow afternoons that I remember nestled up on her mattress listening to her stories about her past life, my mother's childhood, and how she raised six mischievous boys. Then she would make Chai! I owe my addiction to her, really. I remember the white porcelain mug with multi-color dots that she gave me Chai in.
She became seriously ill to Multiple Myeloma that began eating her gradually. Her body grew weaker, her bones grew brittle from lesions, her posture became more hunched. She became more and more isolated and less taken care of. My mother brought her over to stay and live at our place. It was the happiest day when she moved in, and the saddest because her doctors said she had less than three years to live. It was no less than a miracle that her cancer grew super slow and she stretched out 7 years. Mostly, she was asleep and when she awoke she displayed signs of dementia. She had aggressive episodes, and she wouldn't eat much. Still, her old memories were precious to her and the stories remain unchanged. Cancer ate up her skull bones but it could not touch the mind and soul that was inside this very strong woman.