The earliest memories I have of my Aajji (grandmother) was when I was around four years old. Both of my parents were working and Aajji and my paternal aunt (Atya) were left with a stubborn brat – ME – to deal with for the whole day. My aunt tells me now that I was an extremely difficult child to deal with. No surprises there – It was a difficult phase as I had started school freshly and i was finding it difficult to adjust. But the best memory I have from that period is the scent of my Aajji’s pallu as I would cling to her the whole day after coming home. It was comfort. It was security. It was strength in its own way.
My Aajji was a quintessential Varhaadi woman. In the Vidarbha region of Maharashtra, there is another sub region called Varhaad. It’s nowhere in the maps of India anymore; neither it is in the books. But old people know it. People staying there still call themselves Varhaadi. Varhaad has a similar undertone just like an Awadhi in Uttar Pradesh and Pahadi in Himachal. It is celebrated for its spicy culinary delicacies as much as the spicy and fiery dialect of the people. So Aajjii had both of it in abundance – the language and the food. I don’t remember much of her cooking but I vividly remember her “Basha” with much fondness and nostalgia. So much so that I speak it often although it is not considered as grammatically correct or “Shuddha” in terms of linguistic traditions.
So if someone hears me using “Kaaun”, “Kaayle”, “Bhaitaad”, “Vaandaal”, it is Aajji’s doing. Some might not get the significance of these words. But people from Vidarbha will know how these words are woven in the ethos and lives of us Varhaadis. In fact, they are a small essence of our identities. Though they are slang/cuss words but they symbolize love in the raw, pure form. And for me, my Aajji was the epitome this unique blend, of the rough spicy exterior and the soft loving interior.
She was married very young. She was uneducated. She had four children. And she was a simple house wife. But she exuded strength which was far beyond her educational or intellectual capacity.
Her husband – my grandfather married second time. He had to live two parallel lives which inevitably created a huge strain on his first marriage. My grandfather was a journalist and the already limited income was then divided in two families which further complicated the problems. Being the Vardhaadi woman that Aajji was, she never took anything lying down. She fought for her rights, her children, their rights and yet she never denied anything to her step children (which were four again). She became the “Mothi AAi” to all the eight kids and often she would spend days and nights cooking, caring and raising the entire gang of eight children. Inspite of her constant bickering, she had a strong and pure compassion in her heart which made even her step children stay with her for months on end. One of my dear uncle – Aajji’s step son decided at a very young age that he will stay with his “Mothi Aai” for good – that was the magic of her love.
Aajji didn’t go to the liberal school which taught about equality, freedom and mutual respect. She was a staunch conservative Jain. Most of the time we used to get really pissed off with her “No onion and garlic” in food “stance”. For four months of the year, she didn’t eat potatoes, brinjals, carrots, radish as well. She fasted a lot many times, she ate before seven in the evening every single day. She didn’t let us kids touch anything in the kitchen before bathing. YET everyday she insisted our Muslim maid Shobhaa aunty to sit with her and share a Paan. She was the one who categorically told my mother not to keep any fast – “Tu kaamale jaate. Tula kayle pahyaje upaas. (You go to office. Why do you need a fast)”. And most important, in spite of being her husband’s second wife, Aajji asked my “Chhoti aajji” to come and stay with her in the same house she herself lived in. I cannot yet grasp the conviction it might have needed for her to make that decision.
Over the years, Aaaji had somehow made her peace about her husband marrying a Brahmin woman. But when her son told her that he was about to bring a Brahmin wife – the old scars were opened and a searing pain followed. But slowly and steadily, with her perceverance she recovered from that too. My mom was responsible for it to a great extent, however, Aaaji was equally willing to accept, love and welcome the daughter in law.
Being the Mothi Aai to so many kids and so many relatives, she was never alone. Our house was always full of relatives visiting, festivals, guests and what not. She fed all. She made them all stay. She did not have her own income but she helped her brothers and nephews and nieces from her tiny savings. Its partly due to her love, compassion and empathy that all her children erased the boundaries of “step and real” relations. They remained one whole big family. Today, we – the third generation of our family donot have “step cousins”, but we have our dear brothers and sisters. I donot have “step uncle” but I have my Chhote Baba (younger dad). And I am sure, all this love and bonding is invariably connected to her in some way.
She died of cancer when she was seventy. But she fought a valiant battle till the very end. She was also a diabetic but she made sure she fed us all the sugar in the world.
Her name was Triveni – and true to her name she was an amalgamation of unconditional love, strength and kindness. She embodied the accurate essence of the “Stree Shakti”
And today being DurgaAshtami, what can be better than remembering Aajji and her spirit !!