NANIMA-THE LADY WITH THE TOOTHLESS SMILE! by Bhavna Dev Choudhury

I sat down on the sofa, my eyes still on my phone and my mind wandering back to a decade back. Yes, I just heard her voice. It was the same warmth and same tenderness in the way she said “tumi keneke asa beti?”

I was probably in class V when nanima, along with her husband, whom we called daju, had come to our home in search of work. The couple was old; old enough to bear signs of age old experiences and hardships. Clad in a pink saree and  typical nepali ornaments, she and daju were standing at our doorstep with hope in their eyes. Since my mother already had a required helpmate and since nanima and daju seemed too old to work or to even make them work, she politely refused. But nanima was a smart lady.She looked at us and with her wide evergreen toothless smile said ,” apko bachon ko pyar dungi….”. Well, it was not the reason that she was ‘hired’ but her innocent, toothless smile did work wonder. My mother just had nothing to say. While, we three kids were happy to have a company, that too like our aitama  (meaning granny), whom we missed a lot, we were pondering about with what name to call her. She was too old to be called by her name (besides,we didnt know her name.We still don’t know ) and aitama (meaning grandmother) was a name exclusively reserved for our own aita. Sensing our dilemma, nanima said’’ mujhe nanima bulaiye”. Yes,that was it. What could be better name than calling her nanima. And that is how she became  our very own nepali version of aitama.

Soon nanima and daju became a part of our family. As typical with all married couples, while nanima used to talk endlessly, daju was the silent listener. Nanima was a child,a woman and a grandmother,all at the same time. She would give all kinds of advice to my mothers kitchen queries,would tell us stories of Nepal, and would also play with us. Me and my dad had the habit of playing badminton in our courtyard every evening. I remember while we played, nanima would stand in a corner observing us and as soon as the shuttle falls in the ground, she would run quickly to pick it up. That was her favourite moment I guess. Her enthusiasm shone on her face when the shuttlecock fell. Aah…she would be so happy to do just that;pick up the shuttlecock. But i realised we questioned her capability by let her being satisfied only with the pick-up-the-shuttle part of the badminton game. And I was right.Her capability was much ahead of that.She was  old only  in terms of her chronological age but mentally she was as young as we kids were. And let me mention here that when I invited her to play badminton with me, she defeated me twice and the first thing she did was to share her victory with daju ,as if she is showing her report card full of A+ to him. (I am sure if given a chance to study in school, nanimas report card would have been just that-filled with A+s.).

Nanima just could not stop talking. She just needed a listener and she could just go on and on.While back home daju was her target, at our home it was my mother or if she was away,her talking would descend to our ears. Nevertheless,we had no complaints. Nanima and we complimented each other.While nanima needed a listener ,we needed a story-teller to pass our time. Thus while our mom would go for some work in the evenings,with strict instructions for us to study and for nanima to supervise us,nanima would try hard to control herself and would sit silently in a corner.I guess we kids were more desperate to listen to her than she was to talk.We would promise her that we would score good marks in our tests and that mom would not have any complaints,and as if waiting for just that moment,she would slowly open her storehouse of stories to us.Sometimes she would cry in front of us remembering her sons and we would console her. Nanima had always covered up for our mistakes but at the same time,she also  made sure that we do not repeat it again. She always used to tell us that being our nanima, she is entitled to know the truth and  to teach us from our mistakes and again  being our nanima it was her duty to save us from mom’s scolding. It was a pact between us. She would cover up for us and we would do the same for her leaving our parents confused and ourselves in delight. She spoilt us with endless love and care.As she would often say,that is what grandmothers were for.

And one evening,she and daju broke the news that they are going back to Nepal to their sons. I knew  why they had to leave,because we had seen the tears in her eyes remembering her sons in nepal  but we were still hurt and felt dejected because we loved her and just could not bring ourselves to think our life without her;without nanima. While mom lost a helper and a guide,we lost our friend and childhood company (also sometimes partners in crime),the best ever. As Paulo coehlo said “if there is any possible consolation in the tragedy of losing someone we love very much,it is the necessary hope that perhaps it was for the best”. We also took consolation in the same fact that she left us for the best, that her sons needed her more than we did.

That was the last time we saw nanima. She left us in tears but our love and respect for her never decreased. We missed her every day. Nanima became the hot topic in our dining table conversations. Whenever we became sad  image of nanima’s toothless smile would cheer us up. Eventually we learnt to live our life without her. We grew up but we never forgot her. Her pictures still adorns our family album. We thought we will never hear from her again. Sometimes , in the same dining table conversations,when nanima’s name come up, we would shudder to think if she was alive. The uncertainty would send a chill down my spine and the topic would be changed immediately because none of us could bear that thought .But we got back the lost hope when after a decade nanima called us from Nepal that day. It had been almost ten years and nothing was changed. Nanima,that old lady with the toothless grin still remembred us. She went on and on with her life in Nepal and cried like a little child when she said how much she missed us. I tried to picturise her wrinkled face,the innocent yet mischievious smile, grey hair, pink saree and a traditional nepali ornament. She was the same and she was happy (I asked for daju and shesaid he is fine but he is deaf now so can’t come on phone). To be honest,my first reaction to the phone was thank god they are safe and sound. Now topic of nanima would no more be changed immediately, no more would we shudder to think the worst.

After keeping the phone,I just sat on the sofa,going to the flashback mode to all the priceless moments we shared with nanima. Suddenly nanima became tagore’s kabuliwala who comes to his Mini on her day of wedding after ages.

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