I did not cry when she died. Not even a single tear drop. I don't know why. The events preceding her death are not etched in my memory either. All I vaguely remember are some phone calls informing that she had been taking to the hospital, probably for the last time, and that father and brother are with her, along with the rest of the family. And that I was supposed to stay put where I was for I had already met her recently, and taking care of my mother and children was equally important. It is unclear why though, especially because all other such events are etched in my mind.
It could be because I was 2000 miles away and too preoccupied with caring for a mother who had been brought back from the dead, a toddler, a home, a husband, my work, and was carrying a little life inside me. But I think more than anything else it was the relief, happiness even -- of her getting rid of the pain and suffering she had been in for over six months.
I had never seen my grandmother weak or frail. Not when half of her lung was removed due to tuberculosis at the age of 20, not when she lost a son at the age of 50, not when she had to care for a sick husband at the age of 75, not even after his death. While most other women of her time and age would have surrendered to life's miseries, she only went from strength to strength, remaining the head of the family she always was.
My dadi had only one weakness: her love for her children -- and their children. She loved all of us to death and would do anything for us. I remember her making fresh rotis for the whole family even at a time when all mothers-in-law did was order their daughters-in-law around. Every festival, she sent all the daughters-in-law out of the kitchen to enjoy while she prepared the most elaborate and beautiful meals all by herself. She traversed the country alone for them, showered them with gifts and love, and expected very little in return. No, not even a son. If anything, she loved and pampered girls more than the boys.
I was born at a time when the birth of girls wasn't usually celebrated. Especially if they happen to be the first born to the first born. But mine was. I can never forget the happiness on her face in the picture where she's holding me, perhaps for the first time. Dadi maa not only loved me to bits -- barring a few times when my brother came in the way -- but she also thought I was the most good looking and the most hardworking girl around. While none of this was true (love is blind, isn't it?), it always made me feel good about myself. Whenever I heard her talk about me to her friends or a relative, my heart would fill with joy and pride.
It has been six years since I felt that joy, or pride. And a little over six years since I last saw her . She had told me, yet again, how much she liked my 'gol chehra aur salona rang'. Six years since she reiterated how wonderful a job my husband has done of taming me. "Debashish, aapne to Puja ko ekdam badal diya hai" she would tell him and he would beam.
As I write this, I can almost see her sitting oh her bed in my aunt's home in Calcutta. Her face pale with pain, her eyes yellow with jaundice, and her body just a faint shadow of the robust, ample strength that it once encased within itself. I can hear her telling my aunt that she still cannot cook properly while halfheartedly gulping down spoons of sooji ki kheer.
But it is not only today, on her death anniversary, that I can see and hear her. I often do. And almost always she is up and about in her starched cotton sari, making a roti, frying a kachauri, walking down to the mandir for keertan, or going to the park. I can hear her hum her favourite tune in the kitchen and tell the same family tale nth time. I can see her sari fluttering in the air from mummy's balcony (she always washed it herself) and her pale glass churis jingling (she never wore bright gaudy stuff) as she knitted yet another frock for my daughter. But I miss her the most when I try to cook like her and realize I cannot.
Apart from cooking I am what my dadi was in many ways -- both good and not so good. Just like her, I am a strong willed, protective, hard working person, who is also stubborn, fiercely independent, and fond of a good life -- and like her, love happens to be my only weakness. Even though I may not have cried when she died, my heart cries for her more often than I ever imagined, and sometimes my eyes join too. Especially when I ruin her bharva tinda recipe. I am sorry, dadi maa!