In loving memory of my nani, Quamrun Nisa and the festival of Eid
Time, some say is a healer, a memory, a foe, a friend and a past in disguise of a future. But for me, time is a glass wall constantly transient between existence and non-existence.
I wish it had never been a healer. Instead, it should have been a past which I could always go back to and live again. I wish it never faded the face of the woman who had raised me in her shabby broken-down home in the lanes of Belgachia, Kolkata, while the rest of the world lived in pomp and style. She was a woman who loved the simplicity of being. I understand that choice now, when every day I see the nature and innocence of life losing out in the faceless crowd and noises of the rat race in depthless pursuits, masking pretense all around.
I remember my childhood spent with my siblings and a parade of cousins in my dear nani’s (maternal grandmother) small one-room society home which was connected to a park, a lake and a chauk bazaar (market) nearby. When it was Eid it used to be a grand celebration with nani cooking sweet roti’s, semai, phirni, halwa for the young ones. She would tell us fabulous stories of fairies and jinns at night while we slept on her big teak-wood bed. I was mesmerized by nani’s sweet roti’s. She would make them fresh while all cousins would sit and wait patiently in the kitchen, to fight over the last piece by the end of the meal.
I had spent a large part of my childhood with my nani because I loved her neighborhood which was carefree and bustling with life. I used to feel like a billionaire when with only one rupee, one could buy toffees, chats, muri (puffed rice), pickles and take ride of merry go rounds with the kids of the locality. During my stay in summers, I would dress up, take my little treasures with me and take a stroll outside the house.
It perhaps takes guts as a five year old to not be afraid of unknown places or things and become an uncanny explorer. I was proud to have that courage in me. I had a map in mind of the places I would explore every day. I made notes of the lovely things I would collect from my expeditions. One of them was my favorite collection of stones and pebbles of all colours picked up from the lake-side. I still have those with me, safely treasured.
I never saw nani spending unnecessarily on clothes, jewellery, furniture or the household stuff; she bought a few saris and wore them till they had no life left. ”Living a life means having control over your desires and loving God; because the moment we desire, we are bound to lose our vision and thus our peace with it.” She would say. I thought she was a philosopher of some kind who knew about the depths of life and afterlife. I loved and admired her for what she was. To me she was a warrior who had, as an eight year old, fought the fear of living with strangers cramped in a house bathed in blood during the Indian Independence war. She had lived to tell the tale. She was an optimistic dreamer who got married during the war to a sixteen year young boy to survive life; she was a courageous mother who having birthed twenty one children in her lifetime, lost twelve of them to disease and death and still believed in God’s will. She was a believer who in her last days never stopped praying to God, asking for forgiveness for whatever little she recalled about her life while lying paralyzed, half dead in soul and body.
Four years back I lost her to an unknown disease which took her memory and her health. That was the Ramzan month. That year for the first time I felt, Eid celebrations have lost their meaning.
People say, those who suffer in death have a special place for them in Heaven. I wish to believe in it dearly because I could never feel good about a living, breathing human who meant the world to me, lying dead under a four by four pile of earth in darkness slowly decaying to nothing.
Such is the end of life! Nothing but a pile of earth and hollow bones we become.
I remember having picked my brush and paints, night and day, to cope up with the emptiness she had left in my life. I became a painter when nani was no more, had my first group show, and understood that I had to push myself in words and colours to get over her absence.
Time took away her face, the soft touch of her wrinkled hands, her white traces, her toothless smile, her voice, her constant demands from me to stay with her when I grew older and got busy in my career. Her shunning me away, when she had a brain hemorrhage and lost all memory of me, still haunts. A complete existence was locked away in a deep sea of subconscious despair.
Time was equally cruel and emphatic towards my ordinary perceptions of things, most of which are beyond control.
It’s Eid again today.
I see a luscious spread of phirni, semai, lacha parathas, naan, murg musalaam, pulau and wonderful mughalai food being devoured by friends and family members, all smiling and greeting each other while feeling content and thankful to God for His blessings through thick and thin of life. I see offerings of morning namaaz, Eid embraces between brothers and sisters, the colourful streets with lights and vibrancy of festival, the peaceful mosque nearby, the loud sermons of hope, the beautiful “Eidi” gift of clothes and shoes, the music in the air and the whole world celebrating in unison, humanity and brotherhood.
For a second of the running time, I try to remember her face in my overcrowded memory. It is difficult for me because she never liked being photographed. She believed that nothing of a person remains on earth permanently and that’s how it should be. “We should accept that we have come to do our bit and vanish into the invisible air,” she insisted.
Today I see my mother loosing the chain of thoughts now and then, while entertaining the guests. I know she misses her as much as I do, maybe even more than me. She reminds me of her because of her simple and sober living style. We, the siblings too got the same upbringing as her. We have been taught to remain grounded to earth while wishing for the sky.
I find a cozy corner near my window and open an old trunk; I take out the old letters I had written to nani, requesting her to take me to her during my vacations. Those were the days when I was learning to write. The letters, old scarf’s, painting tools and a lot more found glory of space in nani’s collections. She stored carefully in her steel trunks, everything that was given to her by anyone. She valued them, cherished them and kept them aside to be used later.
In a way I am thankful to her for leaving me such a memoire of her existence through my letters, her broken glasses, box of beautiful scents, wooden antic wall clock and a bottle of beads.
I smell familiar sweetness of the round sweet rotis, burnt on the edges, which my mother sometimes makes for me to cheer me up, just like my nani used to. I love her for that. Somehow now Eid brings hope of a future when I would be able to follow my nani’s footstep and live life with her values like she had done years ago.
I join everyone in the celebrations, plant a kiss on my mother’s cheeks and devour the sweet rotis with the believe that nani must be looking down from her home in heaven and wishing me “ Eid Mubarak Neelu” as always.