The life before…

November 16, 2010

IMG 0399 1 The life before... I visited Nani a couple of days ago. My aunt had told her that I’d be coming around 5 p.m., but like a teenager excited to go on her first prom, Nani wore one of her “good” saris and plopped herself on the couch next to the main entrance at 2 p.m.

There was no way she was going to miss my grand entrance.

After holding me for what seemed like an eternity, crying a bit, and asking me repeatedly if I was happy, she finally felt at ease.

And then began the fun part.

My husband had always been curious about the migration my mom’s parents and grandparents witnessed during the 1947 partition. Since my 90-year-old grandmother was pretty lucid that day, this was his chance to ask all his questions.

Nani started at the very beginning. They were five sisters — Kaushalya, Raj, Shani, Veeranvali, and Daya — and two brothers — Suraj and Shyam. The girls were usually married off on their 10th birthday, but Nani had a pretty “late” marriage — at the ripe old age of 15.

She had attended school until sixth grade when her aunt told her dad it was “high time” they started looking for a groom.

Gone were the days when she would, along with her siblings, go to farms and steal radishes and cucumbers, lather them with lemon juice and salt (“we’d carry lemons and salt packets in our pockets”), and enjoy the sweet taste of freedom.

Sargodha 300x186 The life before...Originally from Janawala (now in Pakistan), Nanaji, my maternal grandfather, was working in a sugar mill in Lucknow. He had placed a bet with his friends that he would get his bride to Lucknow right after the wedding (apparently that wasn’t the norm — since the girls were married pretty young, they tended to stay with the mother-in-law for a couple of years before joining their husbands). “So, there I was,” related, Nani. “Away from my family … with your Nanaji.”

The stay didn’t last long. Eight days later she was on a train headed back to Janawala.

For three years she did some back and forth between the two cities, before she finally settled in Lucknow. Mamaji, my oldest uncle, was born in 1943, when Nani was 18.

“A pundit told me to leave one fruit that I loved,” said Nani. “He said it was for the good of my baby.” It’s been 47 years since Nani has eaten sitaphal (pumpkin) — the fruit that symbolizes the sacrifice she made for her first-born.

That wasn’t the only sacrifice she made.

The owners of the sugar mill where Nanaji worked suggested that Nani start working as a school teacher. She’d only had two kids by then. “They even offered to provide lunch to Nanaji and get me some help in the house,” Nani recounted.

But Nanaji refused.

“Did you want to work?” I asked Nani.

“Of course,” she replied.

“Then why didn’t you fight with Nanaji?” I asked.

She looked at me with arched eyebrows. “Fight with your husband in those times? Are you crazy? He would have left me on the streets — where would I have gone then?”

Instead, Nani went on to bear and raise four more kids.

IMG 0402 1024x768 The life before...Her parents had also moved to India during the partition, stuffing gold in their groins across the border. A family member died in the migration — devastated at the prospect of leaving his land, his home, he had a heart attack.

“I never went back to the place I grew up in,” said Nani moist-eyed. “I miss the wheat and rice fields, the two mango trees we had, the buffalo we raised, the big dollops of white butter my mother served generously with stale rotis…”

It was the life before. The life she could never revisit. The home she could never stay in again. The streets she could never run in with wild abandon. Her childhood remaining as a vivid memory only in her mind.

As I listened to her stories, I wondered what it would feel like if I could never come back to Lucknow — my hometown. If I could never touch these walls, smell these polluted streets, hear the cacophony of an apartment community, taste the home-cooked meals I crave back in the U.S…

Nani’s migration was very different from mine. It was more permanent. More dependent.

“I resigned to the fact that home is where your husband is,” she said to me. “Your Nanaji took good care of me, he was a good man. What more could I ask for?”

Lucknow became her home. And in time, my mom’s and then mine.

For me, though, there are three places I consider home now. My parents’ house, my in-law’s house, and then the nest we’ve created back in San Jose.

“You’re lucky,” said Nani when I shared this with her.

Indeed, I am.

Lucky to be a part of two families. Lucky to have a grandmother here and two on my husband’s side who can still share stories of yesteryears. Lucky to be with them. Lucky to have them enrich my life. Lucky to get their love and blessings.

Nani’s life story had us in stitches and in tears within the span of an hour.

I wonder how adventurous my life will turn out to be.

I wonder if I’ll be able to tell such interesting stories when I am 90…
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6 Responses to The life before…

  1. location espagneNo Gravatar on November 16, 2010 at 11:50 pm

    Really a awesome and heart touching story.Thanks for sharing the experience of your Nani.I like the write up so much and really grateful for this post.

  2. AdityaNo Gravatar on November 16, 2010 at 11:59 pm

    What a nostalgic post. A good feeling sets in as I read. Well written.

  3. arpanaNo Gravatar on November 17, 2010 at 8:58 am

    A touchy and gripping account-your writing has tremendous power.

  4. keerthanaNo Gravatar on November 19, 2010 at 7:55 am

    Nice read!

  5. NeetaNo Gravatar on December 9, 2010 at 2:22 pm

    It is so nice to hear these stories from the granny generation. Recently we had daadiji live with us for 4 months and it was absolutely amazing to hear about life across multiple decades. Life sure gets richer as you grow old! I too felt so lucky to have been able to spend time with her!

    One question though, isnt Sitaphal called custard apple in english? I think pumpkin is different.

    • MansiNo Gravatar on December 16, 2010 at 2:28 pm

      It’s quite something hearing stories of a bygone era, isn’t it?
      As for sitaphal — that’s what Nani referred to as kaddu; she used to call custard apple as sharifa…


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