My Nani Ma: Raji
Updated: May 23, 2022
Everyone loves their grandparents. Today, I want to talk about my grandmother.
Love, compassion and kindness defined my Nani ma. She was a friend, guide and philosopher to all her twenty five grandchildren. It's still surprising for me to think that each one of us was under the illusion that Nani Ma loved them the most.
She was perhaps the only person, who loved us with all our faults. Parent-child relationships are complex. But Grandmother-grandchild relationships are fairly simple.
Grandmas are short on criticism and long on love. A grandma is warm hugs and sweet memories. She remembers all of your accomplishments and forgets all of your mistakes. When Nani ma smiles, the lines in her face become epic narratives that trace the stories of generations that no book can replace. Having a grandmother is like having an army. This is a grandchild’s ultimate privilege knowing that someone is on your side, always, whatever the circumstances. Especially when your are wrong and on the run, then, in fact, grandmother is both a sword and a shield.
I remember my Nani ma as eighty plus with bent back, snow white hair, and an innocent toothless smile. She was tall, exceptionally fair and very hard working.
Her name was Raj Devi but everyone in the family called her Raji with affection. Nani was totally illiterate. She did not know a word of Hindi, Punjabi or Urdu. The only language she spoke was a local language of Pathwar region, now in Pakistan. The Pathwar plateau is located in the north of Punjab and west of Occupied Kashmir, which is the north-eastern parts of Pakistan.
It has a distinct language and culture. Attock District, Jhelum District, Chakwal District and Rawalpindi District constitute the Pathwar Plateau. Since it is adjoining Jammu &Kashmir, the language my Nani spoke was akin to Dogri.
I searched google and found out that while my Nani and locals call it Pathwar, google now refers to it as Potohar. My sister’s daughter, Sona was in Dubai recently. She was travelling in a taxi and driver was speaking on mobile to some one in the same Pathwari language, my Nani spoke.
My niece asked him if he was from Pakistan. As a counter question, he asked Sona, are you from hills. She said we are from Rawalpindi but my great grandmother was from Pathwar. She spoke same language you are speaking. What a coincidence.
my other niece Cheenu narrates another story.
Mataji and Rajji came to Nangal without knowing our address. Mataji knew our location and Rajji was saying Billey de ghar jaana hai..😊 to everyone she met. with this information only they reached our home in the morning ..it was so much fun.. She was happy like a child after meeting us and played with us whole day. Her accent was so cute that I was not ready to move from there till night. We really had fun such find memories..🥰😘
My Nani belonged to a small village, Harnal. Her grandfather was a junior commissioned officer in the British army, a Subedar Major. He was the main link between Indian Jawans and British officers. He was a highly decorated officer. He was a high caste Brahmin.
As was the custom those days, he kept beard and tied headgear, a mark of respect for high caste people. His name was Sardar Nihal Singh. Our Nani used to narrate tales about her grandfather. Once a British officer, along with his wife desired to visit the Indian village and Sardar Nihal Singh invited him to his place.
The entire village was decorated and a guest house was built on the outskirts of village on the banks of a canal. A gramophone was purchased all the way from Rawalpindi along with English, Hindi and Punjabi records. The entire village assembled to greet Sahib and Memsahib as British officers were called.
Sardar Nihal Singh had everything, except a son. When he was 65 years old, he got married to a 16 year-old girl.
God blessed him with a son and there were festivities all around. At the same time, pleased with his services, the Britishers conferred magisterial powers on him to settle land and personal disputes in the village.
As Nani was called Raji, her 16 year-old mother was known as Paichi to every one. Though a granny by her marriage to her great grandfather, she was real naughty and childlike. Raji says once Paichi was cleaning temple. Most of the idols were of brass. One idol slipped from her hand and fell on other idols. All the idols started tumbling down. Paichi raised a hue and cry and started shouting at the top of her voice, help me, all the Thakur ji are running away.
The villagers rushed to help her, fearing some tragedy had happened. What they saw was a hilarious scene. The temple was a big mess, with idols on the floor. Order was restored and elders admonished Paichi for creating a scene. I think that is how simple village folks were.
My maternal grandpa died just after partition of the country of a severe heart attack. My mother Janaki was eldest daughter of the family. Soma Mausi came at number two. Nani ma stayed with both of them for most of the time. Though she was illiterate, Nani had a real sharp memory. She had memorized parts of Gita by heart and even knew location of each word in the holy book. Most of her morning time was spent in Pooja room. She would sit in Padma Asan position and read Gita with her fingers moving on each word.
Her pronunciation in Hindi, of each verse of Gita was perfect. How could she do it is not yet known. She would offer prayers to different gods seeking blessings for each and every member of the family by name. She had perfect eye sight even at the age of eighty plus. No spectacles. With her grand children around her, she would say, now can you see that sparrow at a distance of about hundred yards, I can clearly see her eye. She would than giggle like a child and clap her hands.
She was very fond of sugar and often say, I wish my mouth was always full of sugar. And believe me, she had no diabetes. She had no teeth and never used artificial teeth for eating. She was a woman with simple tastes. Her favourite meal consisted of a parantha with pakoras. Feeding her grandkids was her passion. Yes, she was highly partial towards her grandsons. An age-old prejudice but it was there.
Those were the days when entire cooking was done on angithi burning most part of the day with red hot coals. Feeding grandchildren was her passion. She would make me sit on a mat in the kitchen. She would close kitchen door so that no one can see me eating. I had a very good appetite and loved parathas made by Nani. Paratha's laced with desi ghee were literally out of this world. I have never eaten such delicious paratha's any where.
Dal Makhani was another of her specialties. She would serve dal in a big utensil and pour desi ghee in it with a big ladle. After the meal, if you wanted to have sweet dish, she would quickly make for you desi ghee ka halwa or she would pour liberal quantities of jaggery and desi ghee in a parantha, mesh it thoroughly to make sumptuous Churi.
We loved every bit of it. While I was eating if some outsider came in the kitchen, she would make a curtain of her dupatta and raise it before me and give the person a dirty look. She believed that evil eye of certain persons could affect my appetite. So protective was my Nani ma. Suppose I have polished off five parathas and my younger sister eats just three. Nani would tell ma, after biting her tongue and touching her ears, by god’s grace, Harish just ate five paratha's and Rama, my younger sister ate three and was still asking for more. Every one in the family teased Nani for her bias towards girls.
My wife Uma had given birth to my son, Ankur and was feeding him. My Mati had given strict instructions that no spicy food for Uma as it may hurt child’s stomach. But Raji was all fun and easy going. When Mati was not around, she would say, I know you feel like having spicy food. Go take it. I would not tell Janaki (mati).
Such a liberal soul Nani was. Nani once had to go to a doctor. My brother in law, Yashpal Bakshi offered to take Nani to doctor on his scooter. We all put Nani on scooter pillion and asked her to hold Yashpal firmly by his waist. After visiting doctor, she asked Yashpal innocently, is there a restaurant nearby. Yash said why are you asking Raji. Her reply was, Yash ji, you are son in law of the family. I must entertain you with tea and snacks. We all have a hearty laugh even today when Yashpal narrates this incident. On another occasion, her sister’s son met Raji at a wedding. His name was Baldev and he was in the army.
Nani had brought him up but he had never called on her after growing up. He came to Raji and tried to touch her feet as a mark of respect. Nani was feeling hurt . She raised her hand and asked Baldev to stop. She said beta , I am thankful that you still recognize your foster mother. Only formality left between you and me is this mark of respect. Since you are staying for the night and leaving tomorrow, complete this formality tomorrow only. She said so before everybody. Baldev did not know where to hide his face.
Nani was kind, compassionate and loving. Whenever any of us went to touch her feet before parting, she would hug you, kiss you and than place small amount of money in your hand and say, take Nani’s blessings with you. As you turn your back on her, she would say with tears in her eyes, you are showing me your back, show me your face soon.
Nani ma was a pious soul who believed in orthodox organized religion. She loved to go on pilgrimage and had travelled on foot from Rishikesh to Badrinath and Kedarnath in organized groups. Camps were set up along the route where pilgrims like Nani rested at night. She was a regular to Haridwar where bathing in the Ganga and feeding the poor was her favourite.
She was an orthodox Brahmin who believed in caste system . Her kitchen was a sacred place for her and you had to remove your shoes and wash your feet and hands before entering her kitchen . Nani ma firmly believed that food should be cooked sending positive vibes only. She would always be praying to god for his blessings while cooking. Whenever some elderly person came to your house, she would make sure, all children touch their feet and take blessings.
Nani ma was a treasure house of stories and often regaled us with her anecdotes .She had a good memory and knew choice of every grandkid. She was specially fond of my elder brother Shyam, who was a simple soul. He was fond of smoking. My younger cousin, Shivman, was in navy and whenever he came home on leave, he brought some imported stuff. Nani would demand pack of imported cigarettes from Shivman and hide them some where. Whenever, I went to meet her, she would just pass on the pack of imported cigarettes to me and say in a hush hush voice. Give them to Shyam. I know he loves to smoke.
Some of the stories were at her own cost. She was in Rawalpindi at that time in pre partition days. Their’s was the last house at the end of Mohalla. Once she got ready to visit her relatives and left the house in a hurry. It was a Muslim dominated Mohalla and they respected all ladies and girls like their own family. They knew Nani ma was orthodox and would make way with respect for her to pass. Suddenly Nani realized that something was wrong with her. To her horror, she found that she has stepped out of the house without wearing her salwar.
Fortunately she was wearing a long shirt which almost touched her feet. She ran back home to make amends. She would narrate all sort of stories, laughing and telling us, never be afraid of cracking jokes at your own cost.
I miss my Nani even now. I love her from the core of my heart. Grandmothers and roses are much the same. Each is a God's masterpiece with different names. A grandmother is a remarkable woman. She's a wonderful combination of warmth and kindness, laughter and love.
How to describe my Nani ma. Believe me I am short of words. She was a symbol of selfless karma. A woman who gave us all without expecting any thing in return. She truly believed in Gita’s teaching, do thy karma and leave rest in the hands of god.
A grandma is someone who plays a special part in all the treasured memories we hold within our heart. There’s nothing like the love of a grandmother. Not every grandma bakes cookies, but it's safe to say that all of them hold a level of wisdom that can guide us all through life. Our grandmas help to mold our parents into the people they are and do the same for us.