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The naani cool

This picture is used for illustration purpose only. File photo   | Photo Credit: M. Vedhan

Apart from the fact that she resembled Madhuri Dixit (this is from our sneak peek into her only black and white picture available), she was a remarkable woman with a blend of qualities that are hard to find in any one individual. She was affectionate and indulgent with her grandchildren, yet she had the ability to discipline them if they crossed the line. Often people are described as ‘hard outside, soft inside’, but she was ‘soft outside, hard inside’.

Born in a family of zamindars, my maternal grandmother was accustomed to doing laborious work. She could wash kilos and kilos of wheat, spread it out on the terrace to dry and then scoop it up to be stored after drying. As a child, I have really admired her when she would clean up those huge heaps of the tiniest fish imaginable and cook them to perfection. The task required patience and deftness.

I often saw her using the mathani — an earthen pot with a lid and a handle inserted in it which had to be rotated repeatedly with hands to churn curd. This device alone can give any modern-day gym a run for its money. It was no wonder that she remained really slim all her life. After the butter was extracted from curd, there was a byproduct, which was distributed to the poor in the village who perhaps could not even afford to buy dal or lentils. They would line up their vessels to collect this and she distributed it equitably. Although she belonged to an upper middle class rural household, she was not oblivious to the poverty around her. It was far easier to dispose of this byproduct than to summon the needy and then distribute it to them. She was also generous with other people around her, such as domestic helpers or relatives who were in need. To me, she was the lady with the golden heart.

Quite the taskmaster

I saw her supervising work tirelessly and she was a taskmaster. The only time she relaxed was during her customary afternoon nap. The lady was a compulsive speaker too — I mean, I could hear her muttering to herself all day long. Most of the time she was upset at someone for their tardiness or for not doing their work to the highest degree of perfection. If not, she would curse the flies for buzzing all day. The woman was a perfectionist. In the corporate world, she would have been equivalent of the boss who would ask for PowerPoint Version 20, till it was perfect to the last full stop.

She was a domestic goddess, running the household efficiently. My mother told me she raised her children with simple, good values. Living in a joint family, she constantly shielded them from polarising and negative influences. There were strict instructions to not indulge in useless gossip and focus on day-to-day work. I often saw her handle huge amounts of money for my grandfather. I can't say for sure, but I guess she did manage his finances too. In a social system where women’s opinions were not really considered, I often saw her giving advice on different matters.

Assertive, decisive

She was one of the most assertive and decisive persons I have known. She was quite direct and spoke her mind, to both men and women. I think it was this quality that made me differentiate her from other women and she has certainly inspired me in being an assertive person. She evoked love, respect and also some amount of fear in people. She was fair to everyone, whether it was in delegating responsibilities or distributing goodies.

There was a deeply emotional side to her as well. With three daughters and three sons, she had about 20 grandchildren. She was interested in and updated with what was happening in the life of each of them. More than that, she was an affectionate naani or daadi to everyone. A lot of my fond childhood memories revolve around her. The only time I would see her crying was when we left to return to Delhi post-summer vacations.

The fun side

There was also a fun side to her. Now, I found this angle of her personality to be the most refreshing. This was not ‘usually expected behaviour’ from an ‘old person’. She was a lady with spunk and wit. She had the most innovative responses ready for anyone who dared to mess with her. She was an expert dholak player and singer. Her repertoire of wedding songs ranged from the demure to the ‘not-so-demure’ numbers. When the latter category was sung, the children were usually asked to retire to bed. Of course, we used to hang around somewhere, catching snippets of these forbidden songs! Her ‘gang of girls’ would continue to sing till the wee hours of the morning. These women sure knew how to party!

Often, when she was in a good mood, we would ask her about her life as a young girl before marriage, how was her life after marriage and so on. She would indulge us with some wonderful anecdotes of her life. These discussions always ended with her asking me when I would get my nose pierced. This was a big deal for her somehow. I always told her I would never get my nose pierced for the sake of wearing an ornament on my wedding day. And she would be really alarmed, and say, ‘How would you look as a bride?’. True to my word, I never pierced my nose and still managed to wear the ‘nose ring’. I am glad she was around to see me as a bride and her worst fears did not come true!

As a devout Muslim, she never missed her prayers or fasts. Even in her last days, when even religion gave her the choice of not fasting due to old age, she continued to do so. She loved eating spicy food and rarely paid heed to doctors who asked her to reduce her salt and spice intake. She lived a fulfilling life, well into her eighties, and was blessed with a dignified death, surrounded by her loved ones. There was a huge crowd at her funeral with people from far and near villages coming to pay respect.

What I learnt from her was how to be a genuine person, bereft of any pretence. I learnt that you could stand out in a crowd just by being true to yourself and doing what you believe in. Rest in Peace Naani, you nurtured an entire generation who continue to live by your value systems. And above all, thank you for all your love, without which I would not be complete.

nousheen.khan83@gmail.com


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Printable version | Sep 25, 2021 1:31:41 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/open-page/The-naani-cool/article16717445.ece

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