Dear Vaaji

“It is hard to forget someone who gave you so much to remember”.

It has been exactly a month since the passing away of my dear Vaaji, my paternal grandmother. And there hasn’t been a single day since that I don’t remember her. I have been meaning to write my thoughts about her for a while, but a part of me still can’t believe she has left us for her heavenly abode.

Both my grandmothers (Nani and Dadi) left no stone unturned in going over-board in showering us, their grandchildren, with unbridled affection, love and support. Both of them exuded with their strong presence a sense of invincibility which I thought would extend till eternity. Losing them both within a span of just 6 months (My Dear Nani) has been a tragic loss.

Even today, I expect to see Vaaji smiling at me, from her seat by the window in the masjid or from her favourite chair in her bedroom. She had a habit of selecting a place to make it her own wherever she stayed and that habit extended to her place in the car as well. Happily I treasure the last few months that she stayed with us and the sight of her favourite spot in our home reminds me of her daily.

Vaaji was born in Nagpur and as a young bride moved to Vizag after her marriage to Mr. Hussain Safi Mehdi, my grand-father. Living in a joint family, as my aunt reminiscences to me-“she was the favourite daughter and sister-in-law of the family”. Always willing and ready to share and give anything she was asked of. She was a pillar of support to my grand-father and to my father, uncle and aunts at all times.

She was a very determined woman. Quiet, but had immense strength and will-power. Her disarming smile carefully hid all her emotional and physical pains. She had a will to live and make the most of her life. She lost her eldest teen aged son whom she doted on, to cancer. But this did not break her. She became even more determined to give the rest of her children the best that she could offer. She herself was a cancer survivor and through her months of recovery, she smiled and bore the pain, never complaining.

She was also fiercely independent, right up till the end. She calmly went about doing her own chores even though she was frail and getting on in years and even helped with prepping vegetables in the kitchen. She would chide my two little naughty nephews, (her great grand-children) when they did not clear up their toys after playing, but would readily pick up after them when they left for their home each evening. I know she did the same for us as well when we were kids.

As most grand-mothers are, she was a fantastic cook and had some interesting multi-cuisine recipes of her own. My dad recalls how his friends loved to eat her version of the French toast (a fusion of sweet and savoury flavours) and they even renamed it ‘Vaaji’s French toast’. She enjoyed reading, and I remember the Manorama magazine subscriptions she looked forward to every month. She was a devout and spiritual person and like my Nani (My Dear Nani) had a progressive and modern outlook to life. She liked the outdoors, loved travelling, especially going on long road-trips. At the drop of a hat she was ready to accompany us on our many long distance road trips all over India. I especially remember as a child, how much I enjoyed the cycle rickshaw rides she took me on every evening.

As in health as in sickness, she was never a burden on anyone. Her spirit for life and her kindness towards everyone was such that even while she was seriously ill, she would ask about our health, and inquire about our day or whether we had eaten on time. She was a humorous and witty person, and despite her discomfort took part in and enjoyed all our chatter when we visited her at the hospital.

She was loved by one and all as was evident by all the well-wishers who came to meet her at the hospital. She was born in a large family and was the eldest of the many siblings she had. When she breathed her last, a few months shy of her 91st birthday, she was surrounded by all her children, grand-children, great grand-children and her sisters.

I miss her at all times, especially during this month of Ramzan, as I daily read the duas she helped me translate many years back. I can vividly remember that day, as if it was only yesterday. May she Rest in Peace and may Allah grant Heaven for my dear Vaaji. Ameen!

“When someone you love becomes a memory, the memory becomes a treasure”.

09Mrs Asma Hussain Mehdi- 21st November 1926 – 10th May, 2017

-Tamanna S. Mehdi

My Dear Nani

Just the other day I was saying to a friend, “why do people wait for a person to die to say good things about them?” (Dear Vaaji)

My Nani- she often told me I was her favourite grandchild, but I am sure she said that to all my cousins because she loved all of us equally (I was certainly the most troublesome for her) 😉

Even though my Nani was born in 1932, she had a plethora of knowledge and her thoughts were more progressive than most of us now. Growing up in an age of no Google and with little means of education at her disposal, she nevertheless utilized every opportunity that came her way and completed school. She was a modern thinker and used technology to keep in touch with her siblings, children, in-laws, grand-children and her great grand-children.

A master at languages-she was fluent in English, Gujarati, Urdu and Arabic. Her lucidity in thoughts were clear from her many writings and poems in both English and Gujarati. She was praised by one and all for her well-thought out writings in her free-flowing style.  She read everything I wrote and listened to all the audio and video clippings I sent to her and critiqued, appreciated and encouraged me to nurture my talent.

A voracious reader, she read everything in her sight-magazines, novels, newspapers from cover to cover. Her favourite past-time was solving crosswords and one of her most valued possessions was an old tattered Webster dictionary that she would constantly update with new words in her clear handwriting. (I think she mentioned that she had won that as a prize in some contest at a time when she could not afford to buy one for herself). She was very possessive about it and I remember many a time she chided me for taking it without her permission. 🙂

As a teacher for many years at school, my Nani was loved by all her students. She would often tell me stories from her school days and about her students. She had great oratory skills and me, my sister, brother and cousins have grown up on the very many stories she would tell us.

She was truly a multi-talented personality. She was a good artist as well. She water-coloured, sketched, did embroidery, stitched clothes… She loved trying different cuisines and was also an excellent cook- taught me a thing or two about cooking. She also had a very graceful and keen style sense. Loved colours and enjoyed accessorizing with her clothes. She pottered around her garden as well. She was very Victorian in a way- an era when ladies knew how to do everything. She not only knew how to do everything but did it well. While I don’t paint or stitch, but I think I get my other creative bursts come from her.

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Nani with her grand daughters Afshan and Alwina

She had so many facets to her life. All her very many different talents and certain quirks 😉 live on through her children, us her grandchildren and her great grandchildren. All of us have some part of her living through us.

This year for my birthday she gave me her most cherished possession, a silver pendant with a design made with tree sap that her favourite uncle had given to her as a child. I will always deeply cherish this kind gesture of hers towards me.

She was a devout person and it was her desire to visit Najaf and Karbala and pay obeisance to Moulana Ali and Moulana Hussain and other revered figures. I am glad she could do it. She now rests eternally in the holy land of Najaf. My dear Nani, we will all miss you. May your soul rest in peace and you look over all of us from above.

Perhaps this is why we talk about them after they leave us- so that we can forever remember them.

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Mrs. Zehra Hussain- 26th September 1932-26th December, 2016

-Forever yours, Tamanna

Mysticism and the Kumbh

The term ‘Kumbh Mela’, nostalgically reminds me of all those Hindi movies where children separated in the ‘Kumbh’ only to be reunited years later, and hence I burst in giggles when my parents inquired if I wanted to see the ‘Kumbh’ at Ujjain with them last month.

A succor for travel, the travel bug in me couldn’t pass this fantastic opportunity. Notwithstanding 40C+ temperatures, we set out daily to tour the many grand ‘akhadas’ (pandals) where swamis and sadhvis along with their disciples from all across the  country and the world have congregated for this month-long religious communion called ‘Simhasth 2016’ on the banks of the Shipra river at Ujjain.

What made the trip more memorable was being in the company of the religious head of our Mahdi Bagh community, His Holiness Sydena and Moulana Amiruddin Malak Saheb who was especially invited by Swami Avdheshanand Giri (head or mandaleshwar of the Juna Akhada and the Chief Head of the Simhasth) to inaugurate the nine-day ‘Ram Katha’ discourse by Murari Bapu.

Every akhada where Moulana Amiruddin Malak Saheb visited, He was accorded the utmost respect and was immediately invited for a personal audience with the swami. It was indeed a ‘divine’ example of tolerance and communal harmony. As we, about 100 of us accompanied Him, we were also made equally welcomed and got invited to partake in their ‘bhandara’ (prasad) which comprised of basic but extremely hygienic and tasty vegetarian food.

We were the cynosure of all, when we hired about 25 e-rickshaws one evening and moved in a kind of convoy touring the many akhadas (some big, some small). Many motorists and bystanders curiously kept looking at the lot of us as we passed by babas with fancy titles like ‘Environement baba’, ‘Pilot baba’, the tantriks, the aghoris (they engage in post-mortem rituals), the kinners(transgenders) and the naga babas. There were some babas that have been standing on one leg for many years or some with one arm in the air.

We also walked around the many ‘ghats’. ‘Ram Ghat’ on the Shipra River is where the ‘shahi snaan’ takes place on the first day of the Simhasth and is considered the most holy. To divert the devout and the many crowds of curious tourists and onlookers, many such ‘ghats’ are made along the river, so all can take a dip in the river. Temporary bridges are made connecting the banks of this wide river to facilitate quick movement of people. Strategically made fountains in the middle of the river and water spraying from the bridge, created a kind of a mist, keeping the place cool, despite the bright sun and high temperatures during the day. At night, the whole river was brightly lit up with colorful lights adding to the festive atmosphere.

In the four days of my trip to Ujjain this time, I can honestly say, that this unique experience is going to last with me for a life time. As a tourist at this grand event, to see the magnanimity of it and the bhakti of people from all walks of life- it is definitely to be seen to be felt. Religious harmony in India indicates there is love and affection between different religions in India and these past few days symbolized the best example of living in harmony in our pluralistic country.

The Kumbh Mela is held in Ujjain once every twelve years when Jupiter “enters” Leo, or simha. Hence, the Ujjain mela is known as the Simhasth Kumbh Mela and is being held from 22nd April to 6th May, 2016 this time.

Ujjain city

Apart from this current significance, the city itself has a large population of people from all religious communities living in harmony. The narrow by-lanes of the city are famous for its old architecture with intricately carved doorways and windows.

There is also a huge bangles market. A wide array of food, both sumptuous vegetarian and non-vegetarian are widely available. The sight of the big ‘kadahi’ with gulab jamus simmering away is a sight for a connoisseur.

Connectivity

Indore is the closest airport about 55 kms from Ujjain and is connected by flights from major cities. There is also a railway station at Ujjain.

-Tamanna S. Mehdi

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