Ma insisted I call her Naniji. Said it was only fair that I show some respect. Dropping the ji after Nani was one of my first acts of defiance as an adolescent.
It was at a busy street in Bandra. I was calling out to Nani, who was standing out at the other side of the road, and suddenly the “ji” became so cumbersome. Ma, being Ma, reprimanded me even then, on the middle of the road. But by then I had already decided that Nani sounded much nicer.
It is Nani’s controlled voice that I want to hear each time I dial the landline at home. And it’s always a bit of a disappointment when I come home early only to learn that she is yet to return from her evening walk. And she would come, her arms laden with goodies. Farsan, dessert or a new accessory. I just have to mention my favourites to her. And she will procure them for me.
Nanaji, on the other hand, remained Nanaji. Pampering me in equal measure. I remember making a birthday card for him twenty-odd years ago and insisting that I’d give it to him only once he handed me a return gift that evening. They gifted me a pair of earrings that night.
Our annual trips to Jaipur were the highlights of my early years. Nanaji would patiently await my arrival at the airport while Nani would prepare my favourite dishes at home. And for that one month those few years, I had their undivided attention. Feeding me, placating me, spoiling me rotten.
I made my first cups of tea and coffee for Nani. She coached me patiently. She taught me how to cut a papaya. She trained me to shop for vegetables. She’d see me pour over my study material late into the nights, especially on exam nights. The next morning I’d be greeted with a gentle reprimand, “One night of studying before an exam isn’t going to take you far.” Nani, till date, remains a woman of few words.
Some days, our words got lost in translation. She is not too fluent in English but she was keen to learn the language. The mother regrets that as children they didn’t speak to Nani in English often enough. But Nani never complained. Calm, collected and poised, she is the life of the household.
It’s such a fun to see Nanaji and Nani quibble with each other. Minor idiosyncrasies, disappointments and differing choices. But underneath all that sub-text there lie strong roots and a determination to sustain the joy. Each working towards it in their own way. And when I see them exchange a few words every evening, him with a drink in hand, her snacking on some bhel, I feel blessed. For them having raised me, for giving me my mother, for making me a part of them.
Happy anniversary, Nanaji and Nani. You were the best thing to happen to me. 🙂