My dad used to take me to school on his scooter everyday. It was a source of plenty frustration for me 'cause he was not to be hurried. And I wanted to get to school as early as I could, so I could play with my friends. On the way to school (and his college, which was next door), we would stop off at Paati's place. She would have a small cup of coffee & a bowl of milk cream ready for us. Though why one should stop literally 3 minutes after leaving home, I don't know. But that milk cream with sugar - which I love loved (still do), was amazing.
I wanted a salwar kameez for my birthday when I was 10. My mom would have none of it. I was a pint sized runt and she was convinced it would look terrible. Paati stitched me a pink and white thing. It was pretty awful actually but I enjoyed it nevertheless! She was super duper crafty - her crochet-ed pieces are still all over all our homes, I have jealously guarded it from marauding hands, and transported it through all my various moves. She converted all our old school uniforms into sturdy bags, which were so handy- back when plastic hadn't overtaken our lives, this was. (I have valiantly tried to do this... but my skills - both on the machine and in time management - are poor).
Somehow I remember this slightly dark place they lived in in Bangalore, where they had no fridge. She used to boil milk several times a day to ensure it wouldn't spoil. And she would describe all these recipes - many of them ways and means to stretch out the monthly budget a bit more, feed the hungry mouths somehow. Like her paruppu urundai kuzhambu - which, under her slightly garbled instructions, I made in my mom's house a few years ago, making my mom break out in hives thanks to the mess it created.
Slowly, over time, as her memory started to fade, we got into a routine where she would ask the same set of questions every time she saw me. She would take a nap and come out, having completely forgotten I was there, her eyes would light up in happiness (I don't recall her being too happy with me in the growing up years, but now, she was super duper proud of me and the kid, somehow, don't know why!).
* When did you get here? (Just now, Paati)
* Are you staying long? (No Paati, have to leave tomorrow/day after/next week)
* What time do you leave for work? (9-ish)
* Do you finish off the cooking before you leave?
* How about the child's dabba?
* Are you home when she gets back from school?
* She is very smart like you, isn't she?
She would get very very worked up if I visited without the kid. Like the last time I saw her, in February. Where is the child, how can you leave her alone there, she kept asking me. I tried telling her that her dad could handle her, but she was never satisfied with that. Finally I cottoned on and said my mother-in-law is home. That made her happy.
Why do you call your daughter that - doesn't she have a proper name, she often asked me. This 'cause of the nickname we use at home for her - we have actually named her after our two grandfathers, one of whom is her husband, but she never recalls that. Sometimes I would explain this to her, hoping I guess, for some approbation. But she just said hmm, must have thought we are totally random, we 'modern' people.
She wasn't the type of grandma that was overly affectionate and coddling. In fact, when we played games with her, all those olden day games with dice and shells and stuff, she cheated quite rampantly :-) But 91 years is a long time, and especially in the past decade, unfortunately even as she was losing her memory rapidly, I had grown so close to her. It's hard to put into words. And it surprises me very much at times, I have always assumed that I preferred my simple & straight forward grandfather over her. But lately, I would find myself appreciating how very smart this lady was - I mean she was seriously intelligent - much more than others in the family. I miss her very much, and I am deeply sad about the end of the era.
At more or less the exact time of her passing (in Mysore, in a hospital, a few weeks ago), I was eating a delectable basundi at Woodlands here in Chennai, a sweet I loved with all my little heart in my childhood. I haven't eaten it in a very long while. I really enjoyed it that day, almost as much as I used to enjoy the milk cream and sugar that Paati saved every morning for me...