In the Garden of Memory- Dadi

I always feel that as a child I used to see the world through a different set of glasses than as an adult. In this beautiful place called ‘childhood’ parents were just ‘parents’ and not individual personalities, time seemed to pass at a slower pace, things appeared bigger and grander than they might actually have been, shopping for a new uniform for school held such great excitement considering it was new and not any different from the previous ones, and so much more. Then there were relations, so many of them, some near some far, aunts and uncles, cousins, and not to forget Grandparents.

Grandparents are like a welcome summer rain -cool fun. For me, they were always old, born old. I had and still have a hard time imagining them any other way. I have seen both my grandfathers (maternal & paternal) only in old black and white photographs. It feels strange to look at those pictures. They were living people once, parents to my parents! I did get to spend a significant amount of time with both the grandmothers of the house. My maternal grandmother was this very quiet, timid, small lady. I have heard more of ‘her’ than from her. She was a silent presence in her house but someone who had endured a lot over the years. Then there was my paternal grandmother, a lady with a strong presence, the matriarch of the house.

I remember more of my paternal grandmother or as we called her ‘Dadi’ (paternal grandma in Hindi). She lived almost all her life in a small town called ‘Almora’ nestled in the Himalayas. During the cold winter months, she would come down to the warmer climate of the plains to visit us. Her visits caused much excitement in our house. As children, we longed for the visitor to settle down as quickly as possible and get on with the ceremony of opening their bags-oh the magic of those days! Dadi’s bags used to be laden with goodies- out came the jars of her spicy homemade pickles ranging from raw mangoes, Indian gooseberries to hot red chillies…then the boxes of the sweetmeats made with milk, sugar and other local ingredients, next came packets of different lentils popularly grown and eaten back in the mountains, and last but not the least huge lemons from her kitchen garden…but the one thing all of us siblings loved most was called ‘Chapat’- pouches containing small sweet and sour balls made of sugar, herbs, salt, and spices. They were not available in the city. Each of us would be bestowed with a whole bunch of these pouches full of the savory balls. For the next few days, we would happily suck on them. They still find a mention in my ‘list of things to shop’ (much to my husband’s amusement) whenever I visit Almora.

The next best thing to the visits used to be the story time. I would sleep with her and pester her to narrate the ‘Ramayan’ (Hindu epic). Dadi- “You already know the story. Let me tell you a new one.”. Me -“No, tell me again please!… No, no, no, I dozed off halfway through the story. Finish it for me.” Dadi- “Fine! where should I start from?”. Me -“I don’t know. How about from the beginning.”

The story took me to a world full of people with divine abilities, beautiful maidens, monkey warriors, far of land of palaces made of gold…It was not just the story that lured me to sleep snugly cuddled against her old fragile body, there was more. As she lay there on her back with one hand on her forehead and the other hand fingering the beads of the rosary around her neck I often wondered how it felt to be so old, to have lived and seen so much time pass by. I would gaze intently at her lips as they parted and fused together. Her skin had that strange ‘old people smell’. I remember her white hair and the wrinkles on her thin face. She had the habit of popping two (yes precisely two and no more no less)cardamom pods after dinner and the smell lingered on…

Today, the contours of that face may have faded a little from my memory, I may not remember all but I still remember those smells.

Until next time…

Follow me on Instagram