“Shoma, meri zara bandook toh lana( Shoma, bring me my gun!)”
I distinctly remember her words which sounded funny even then, back in 1984-85 when I was a 9 year-old who was witnessing violence among Hindus and Sikhs, in the wake of Indira Gandhi’s assassination. Houses of Sikhs were being attacked and burned by Hindu youth and Hindus were being killed by young Sikhs who roamed with bare swords in their hands. One such Sikh man reached our door step while my parents were away on their duties as doctors in the government hospital at Ghaziabad. My grandmother stood near the door and shouted for me to bring her imaginary gun as me and my sister giggled inside the room hidden from the view. The perpetrator scooted off without getting a chance to harm us!!
Whatever little fearless spirit I have is passed on due to my strong Aaji. As far as I remember, this woman, my dear grandmother addressed as ‘Leela Aatya'(Leela Bua) by all and sundry even her own sons, always had silver hair, wore white soft cotton saris, pearl ear-drops, two light gold bangles in her wrist with a small safety-pin hanging in one of the bangles and a thin gold chain. She had this coin sized depression on her forehead…a reminder of a childhood injury.
I never knew my grand father….he died when my father was a mere 14-year-old boy. All the responsibility of four young sons fell on his wife… my AAJI.
She was one hell of a brave woman. When whatever property she had inherited from her deceased husband was lost in gambling and to the money lenders by her brother-in-law, instead of crying and feeling helpless, she shifted to her brother’s house in Gwalior for providing better education to her four sons. But she did not burden her brother with expenses, instead she completed her high school and trained as health-worker and mid-wife. She shifted to Nagpur and taught as primary school teacher for few years but later shifted back to Gwalior and worked in hospitals as health worker. By then my father had joined a medical college and could support his brothers and mother by taking tuitions of small school children after college hours.
Once when she was travelling along with a six-year-old me in second class sleeper via Kalpi, a small town in Uttar-Pradesh, some one tried to snatch her only possession in the dark of the night…her gold chain. She held on to the chain and did not let the thief get away with it. The thief had to release the chain when the train started moving again and pulled away from the platform. Her palm had a deep gash from holding on to the chain and I realised of her injury only when she woke me up the next morning on reaching our destination!
In another incident in 1984, when we had recently shifted to a new house and new city Ghaziabad, three men attacked our home when my parents were on duty. The thieves hit her on head with pistol butt and stole whatever they could lay their hands on. The fearless woman, locked me and my sister in the house and with the bleeding head in a heavy rain, walked to the main road, reached another doctor’s family who had a telephone at their house and contacted my parents!
Years later, in 2003, when my daughter was born, in spite of poor eyesight and failing health, she stitched frocks for the baby fashioned out of her soft saris! She even massaged the baby, cradled her to sleep and sat near me telling all sorts of do’s and don’ts of upbringing a baby.
My grandmother died when my daughter was three years old. Her memory had failed her and she was bed-ridden with many body sores. It was painful to see her in last few days of her life because I felt helpless as she lay in bed unable to recognise me… But her sloppy smile and a faint recognition that lit up her eyes on seeing my three year old daughter is the most important memory that I cherish….I feel satisfied that during her last few days my daughter could bring a little smile on her face.
Memories of her time spent with me and my sister are many…times when she pampered us, scolded us, protected us, made sweets and her special treats, feigned her annoyance, let us do her hair, told us stories, scolded our parents for scolding us…..
Her continuous struggle in life is an inspiration to never give up…stand up against adverse situations and take troubles by the collar….
I wish I had half her courage, I might have been more successful in life I guess……..