ear-mark #8

I miss my nani.


It has been four years since she’s gone. Two years ago, I met a new reason for why what I missed was special.


I’d given my students a creative assignment to address a problem we were facing as a class. (Problem: I used to tutor a course, ‘Indian writings in English’, & we were scuffling with a specific concern about the selection of writings in it – whether they were inclusive &/ or representative enough. My Ist year kids were unhappy that most of the Indian writers they read for self/ leisure were not on the list of prescribed reading. Definitely none of their favorite ones. The creative assignment became a way of exploring and sharing the range of writing that contemporary India could do in English, through a sample study of our own little group of 30.)


This is what R wrote. She called it ‘Nani’. This:


My grandmother

is the original Mrs Malaprop.

Very few people, after all, can

inform her guests at a dinner party that

she saw striptease artists flying across stage at

the Russian circus, or

that the bust of her new blouse didn’t fit.



makes peanut chikki every Diwali.

A basket of brown wafer thin,

sugary peanut squares that she

crushed and cooked and rolled out and cut up


for every person she knows.

One year, she made one hundred and fifty extra baskets

for every single teacher in the school she works for.



is a devotee of Dadaji.

Dada J. P. Vaswani, nephew of the great Sadhu Vaswani himself.

She is one of his loyalest followers;

she even has a watch that says “deen bandhu deena nath”

in Dada’s voice, every hour.



calls my nana “Mr. Mathrani” when she is happy,

and Ram only when she is upset.

She worries about him endlessly,

and when he takes five minutes too long on his

evening walk,

straps on trainers under her sari and goes

looking for him.



dissects everything she eats

pulls it apart at the table, lists its ingredients

hypothesizes about how it was made, and declares

that it was not worth spending money on,

she could make it ten times better at home.



the first time she met my boyfriend,

told me in Sindhi,

while he was smiling, blissfully unaware,

that the “charya” should shave off his beard,

it made him look like a Muslim.



also, incidentally, is fluent in Sindhi, English,

Hindi, can read Gurmukhi and Urdu, and

is a strange hybrid between Sikh & Hindu.

Is it so odd, then, that her favorite exclamation

when something goes wrong is




swims like a big stately ship

in a swimming costume with

polka dots and a respectable frilly skirt

she sedately makes her way across the pool,

propelled solely by the movement and splashes

of people around her.

She taught me how to swim,

and it used to be our one thing to do together;

gymkhana club afternoons, eating french fries

on the lawn afterwards.


When I was smaller, she

would hug me when I got shouted at

and help me play hide and seek

by hiding me on her lap under the pallu of her sari

while everyone pretended not to notice the strange,

giggling bulge that had suddenly appeared.


only wears white saris.

It’s very odd, no-one really knows why.



wears a big maroon bindi

and her hair reaches her waist.

She leaves a trail around the house,

her hairnet fallen in the corner of a room,

a hairpin or two,

and her bindi absentmindedly removed

and stuck onto the next flat surface.

I was always fascinated by the bindi collection

on her dressing table mirror

a variety of maroon circles in varying sizes,

arranged haphazardly in the corners,

framing her face as she twisted her hair

into a bun,

and deftly stabbed it into place with long

u-shaped pins.



wears bifocals with black metal rims,

her vague smiling eyes magnified into half moons,

with the round frames softening the rest of her face.

I’ve always thought her glasses made her look more

beautiful than she does in her old photographs.


I could tell you all about her;

I could tell you the exact procedure

involved in the monthly hair coloring ritual;

I could tell you about her childhood

and the mango tree, and thirteen siblings;

I could tell you about her unwavering faith

in nutrition columns,

her secret love of shortbread and marshmallows;

and how when she was learning to use the cellphone,

she proudly typed her own SMS,

and for two months,

was under the impression that

there was no mechanism for inserting spaces-



But I can’t seem to tell you how beautiful she is,

and how much I love her.

Grandmothers, perhaps, are meant

to be taken for granted.


& then, the quiet, soft-spoken, calm girl wept. Her nani was unwell those days, & a pundit they believed in had predicted a tough time. We, everyone in class, silently sat with her. She’d written this out in a mix of dread & prayer.


I came back home, & wept again. Silently. For R. For myself. It’d been two years then, the first few months of which I’d missed her intensely, imagining she’d left for her village in Bannukot. Then, eventually, I had come to believe she had returned, to watch over me. Accompany me in my humdrum. I believed this so fully that I even found her agreeing to decisions I made with conviction, or helping me let up my doubts when I had any. By that year’s end, I got her name tattooed on my wrist, like she was playing a role in all my handiwork. Writing (that poem, her name, this post) has a side-splitting relationship with living.


R’s nani got better. She is nothing like mine. I’m certain, although we are yet to meet. I have tasted some of her cooking, though I’m still to sample her chikki. My nani’s special annual feast used to be maalpuas on Lohri. The tattoo is in Pashto, because that was one of my nani’s languages, not Sindhi. But I can’t seem to tell how much I love her either, & I won’t even try. I am still angry with myself for taking her for granted.


Grandmothers are unique. Each one, a singular blessing. But after that afternoon, I can see my nani’s face in hers. And that, is special.

6 Responses to “ear-mark #8”

  1. A Says:

    Don’t we all take our grandparents for granted?


  2. Jim.... Says:

    You made an almost fully grown man cry. But if you don’t wish to die a painful death, you’ll keep this a secret. That moved me more than i’d like to admit. They say sadness is a good thing, for if nothing ever saddened you, you’re probably already dead. Thank the writer for me.

  3. manpreet Says:

    Jim! You still read my blog. :) I love you, but I am cheap & I’m not going to keep this a secret, so your comment is going public. I shall thank her. Writing this post has encouraged me to do something out of the box this semester with my courses. Also, HOW exactly are you planning to painfully terminate me virtually? Because we never actually meet. You know. :P

  4. manpreet Says:

    aage se nahin karne ka boss, baad mein dukhta hai. you know the story. also, cram some ghalib & recite to him. better, make him a ghalib card. waah, i love my ideas! :*

  5. Jim.... Says:

    I come a’visiting from time to time. :)
    I was trying to cast my wispy influence over you. I would’nt willingly hurt you even if I could. I’d be willing to bet you knew that when you so sweetly decided to make me public. :P

    btw, there’s something wrong with notifications. I don’t get informed if someone replies to comments here.

  6. manpreet Says:

    I figured! They’re also not in-line. & it forces me to write in a font I do not appreciate.

    I love it when you make time! & I didn’t realise you were in Dubai! Also, this is really a private forum. No-one actually comes & reads posts on my blog, let alone comments. :) We’re safe! ;)

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