Everyone’s Nani

On the 21st of October 2008, I lost my grandmother, Bimla Harbans Lal Talwar.  It was possibly the most difficult loss I have ever dealt with in my life….and even today I miss her every single day.  To those of you who didn’t know “Nani” its really difficult to describe just how special she was.  She was a feminist and a leftist before it was fashionable, she was unbelievably smart, even more unbelievably kind.  And she was the most amazing cook!  Like my dearest friend Enola said…”She was just EVERYONE’S Nani”

This is the eulogy I gave at the memorial service we had for her…I promised myself I wouldn’t cry when I gave it…and I didn’t!  I wanted to share it…

Thank you all for being with us today to celebrate my Nani’s life.  When my mum and maama’s asked me to speak about Nani I really didn’t know what I was going to say.  She was and in many ways still is such an important part of my life and I had no idea how I would be able to encapsulate all that I wanted to share with you into a few minutes.  Almost everyone here will have different memories of my grandmother that they will cherish in their own ways, but I thought I would share with you some of my memories.

I think Nani was the first feminist and the first leftist I met in my life.  She never questioned or even considered that her daughter, or granddaughter or even great granddaughter would do any less than the men in the family, rather she believed that we could do more.

A lot of people don’t know but my grandmother was a gold medalist from Government College Lahore.  She did her masters in Political Science.  Her interest in global politics never waned, and even in the last week when she found it difficult to read the newspaper herself, my mum would sit with her and read it for her.

She was a great Sudoku fan, she never bothered to do the Easy one’s as they were too boring, she only ever tried the hard and medium ones and was generally the first to crack them!

Grandmothers are special, they are like indulgent mothers.  And so many of my and my brother’s memories of Nani are related to the things she used to make for us.  Rabri, for instance.  She had two great reasons to make rabri, her son-in-law loved it and her grandson loved it.  I remember her standing in the kitchen (whether it was at the farm or in Jamaica or at my mother’s house in Delhi) patiently stirring the milk and Arjun (my brother) standing right next to her, jumping impatiently trying to grab a taste when she wasn’t looking.  She’d keep brushing him off and trying to be stern with him.  After all it had to be just the right consistency.  But then once it was ready she would always give him the karhai to lick clean.

And her jams, jellies and marmalades!  I don’t think there was a fruit that she couldn’t turn into a preserve.  Guava Jelly, Grape Jelly, Marmalade, Gooseberry Jam, Strawberry Jam, Gajar Ka Muraba.  Each of us, her children and grandchildren, have a favourite that we will always crave.  For me it will always be Gajar Ka Muraba which I used to eat every night at the farm with fresh cream….its one of the defining tastes of my childhood.  Or my brother who used to pour mounds of Guava Jelly on to his toast and then scrape it off and eat it with a  spoon.

We used to joke that in other families it was customary to boil a patheela of milk when you moved into a new house to start the kitchen, but in our house we boiled a patheela of fruit!

She had such a great sense of humor, and how much we teased her.  About everything, when she had a drink in the evening she always asked for a very small one.  So we would always search for the absolutely tiniest glass in the whole house and present her with a thimbleful of wine!  She always encouraged my brother to speak Punjabi to her and their conversations would always end with him responding to her by saying “Aho ji” (which is kind of like truck driver Punjabi) and she would just shake her head and tell him “Nani nu aho nahi kehende”.

In the last few months she had become increasingly fussy about what she ate, mainly that she didn’t want to eat vegetables and only wanted chicken, fish and mutton.  My mum would get very annoyed and try very hard to get Nani to eat more greens.  But my dad was her partner in crime, much to my mother’s annoyance he would encourage Nani by saying that of course the raw onions she enjoyed with her meals were vegetables, and the aloo in the meat curry and the matar in the keema were all sufficient amounts of greens!  Nani and Dad would have a good laugh!

Her breakfast was legendary; she would patiently chop a variety of fruits, nuts, and dried fruit and then mix 2 tablespoons of 3 different kinds of cereals.  We would joke that she expended more energy making her cereal than she got from eating it.

She never demanded anything from us, she loved all of us with absolutely no reservations or conditions. 

But for me she was my “head office” my guide, my source of knowledge and wisdom.  When V was born and I didn’t know whether I was coming or going it was only by talking to her, with her calm voice and manner as she explained things to me that kept me sane.  I remember when V was very small she became colicky and would cry for no reason.  No one could figure out what was causing the colic, until Nani (who was at the farm at the time) patiently listened to all the symptoms asked me what I was eating and figured it out.  Everytime V has  had a cold or a cough it was Nani who I turned to, to find out what to do.

She had a magic potion for everything….and they generally tasted awful but it was always the quickest way to get well.  But her most famous magic potion was the one she ate every morning for years.  It was made from all kinds of unpronounceable ayurvedic herbs and plants and was black and smelt awful, she kept it in a marmite bottle and had it with her morning tea.  But she swore that it cured her asthma, now when I find myself having a similar problem I asked her just a few weeks ago to make it for me.

I could go on and on, there are so many things that I would love to share with you.  We all drew so much strength from her.  She was so intelligent and strong, even in the worst of times when she was ill or when she broke her hip, or when my nana passed away, it was always Nani who was strong for everyone else.   And yet she was so soft and so gentle, a goodbye always brought a tear to her eye.

After V was born and I was a new mother, always exhausted she once called me up and asked me “Babi meri Babyis (she always called V that) kaisi hai.” I was feeling particularly down that day and I got annoyed and said “Nani everyone calls and asks about V, no one is asking about me, I am so tired” and she said to “Babi bachi, I am always thinking about you” Well Nani I will always be thinking about you.  I love you.


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