All my grandparents have now come full circle; my beloved Nani Amma, the greatest love of my life, has been laid to rest next to my darling Daddy, just like my Dada and Dadi.
I haven’t even been able to process life without her yet—she was my mother always and my father when he was away for 11 years. Though I still can’t really wrap my head around it, not being able to see her the moment I walk into my uncle’s home sitting there reading a newspaper, I’ve been eulogizing her in my head all week, and need a place to spill my thoughts so please bear with me. I don’t have much to give back to her, but I know I can write, so here goes nothing.
My nani was a true inspiration. She got her Masters in Education from Claremont University on a Fulbright scholarship program after having four children in the 60s. She pulled a woman out of a vicious domestic violence cycle and opened up her home to her permanently. She feared nothing—Nani scared away a thief from her home once before he could harm anyone. She ran after countless lizards and cockroaches with a shoe in one hand and the hem of her saari in another, for my mother and I (respectively) because we are terrified of them (Lord knows I missed her when I encountered one this morning).
Nani spent an hour styling her sassy self up every day; never a hair out of place with that 50s scrunched up front look, her saari always tied perfectly and her fabulous gold bangles on her wrists, which she would always insist you take if you complimented them. She would’ve done the exact same thing—dolled herself up—had she woken from her afternoon nap last Wednesday.
Nothing was more important to her than her family and she served us all 100%—especially me, her littlest grandchild and her biggest pain in the ass. She slept in my room for years while my father was away, traveled to our house daily to protect and tend to all my needs. She picked and dropped me off at school, and all that other mundane stuff with utmost joy… but most importantly: she fed me. She bought me a dozen Dunkin’ Donuts every week for breakfast in hopes of making me gain weight (mind you, I’m 26 and under 100lbs)—something she tried to accomplish for a whopping 25 years of my life. She wouldn’t even let me fast during Ramadan because she thought I’d lose more weight (but then again she also claimed she prayed some prayer that makes her exempt from prayer for the rest of her life, oh Nani). She hand fed me my whole life (literally FOUGHT with me over my plate, insisting that I be fed), even earlier this year when I visited her and her hands were shaky—she fed me parathas for breakfast, which I can no longer eat without tearing up at the thought of it. I’m on a mission to learn to make best aalloo (potato) parathas of all time.
She was nearly my middle school principal because of her incredible dedication to education, plus she was my school’s owner’s neighbor. Thank God she rejected the offer, or I’d be getting called out about what the hell I ate for breakfast every morning in front of the whole school on the mic.
If you’ve met her, you must know of her deep love of dessert and Indian soap operas—my own favorite was Kyunke Saas Bhee Kabhi Bahu Thee (“Because once the mother-in-law was a daughter-in-law, too”). I’ll never forget our consistent bickering over her second ginormous bowl of ice cream (literally had to PULL it from her hands) and my lack thereof, hidden chocolate in her room (which her nurses would get yelled at for if we caught her in the act on both ends, by us for letting her eat them, by her for letting her get caught—she was diabetic) and whether she could watch her daily dramas or I could watch the Grammy’s. Nor will I never forget her utter bluntness and no tolerance for B.S. She once explained the literal meaning of the word ‘bastard’ to me in the context of an Indian soap opera. She would try to convince me to marry my second cousins because she believed ‘a known devil is better than an unknown devil.’ When she would see male friends of mine she thought were cute, she made it very clear she was checking them out for me (much like the grandmother in Mulan); with her eyes wide and excited she would greet them ‘Ohh hello, come in and sit with me and tell me what you’re doing with your life (so that I can see whether you’re worthy of my scrawny little runt!)’. And I would tell her, “If you like him, YOU marry him!” and she would laugh that silly cackle laugh of hers that still rings in my ears.
Her best catchprases:
Beta (child), work on your figure development. You need to be ROUNDER in some areas.
Potty ki hai aaj? (Did you poo today?) followed by JHOOT! (LIES!) if I said yes…
Allah ho ghunni! (Oh my God)
Astaghfirrullah! (God forgive me: said anytime anyone did anything disapproving)
Teri chopri torr doongi! (I’m going to break your skull: said lovingly, of course)
Feeeed the cooold!
*ONE single sneeze in any weather* Oh God, you’re sick aren’t you?!
And the all-time favorite…
MEETHAI main kya hai?! (WHAT’S FOR DESSERT?!)
We are so connected that I swear I woke up the second she passed (around 5 am my time) and wondered why I was awake. My meditation that morning was so deep, I have no idea what the hell went on and it went over by 20 mins… ten minutes later, I received the news. I know she was visiting me for the last time to tell me, ‘FOR GOD’S SAKE, GET FAT! WORK ON YOUR “FIGURE DEVELOPMENT!” Ji, nani (Yes, grandma).
My last conversation with her was on Mother’s Day:
Her: ‘Find a boy!!!’
Me: (attempting to escape) ‘Byeee Nani Amma, I loooove youuuu!’
Her: *to the maid giving her a massage who busts up laughing* ‘Every time I mention marriage and men to her she wants to hang up the phone…’
Again, the funniest, wittiest lady I’ve ever known and most anyone who has met her will agree.
I don’t need to even explain how much she was loved by so many people… the ~5000 people that showed up during Friday prayers at the masjid (mosque) to commemorate her did just that.
The last time I was with her, I wanted to test her memory (which she was slowly losing) and showed her a picture of my grandfather. She thought it was Rhett Butler, her favorite actor. When I told her it was actually her husband, she responded, “Oh—I knew that… he’s way better looking than my husband.” Suuure, nani!
I will always regret not taking her to the beach, watching Gone with the Wind (her favorite movie) with her, not being able to discuss her all-time favorite book, Tess of the d’Urbervilles, with her, not calling her enough, and not fulfilling her three dying wishes of seeing me get my Masters, get married or getting fat… but I know she’s left us all in good hands, because she would never have left otherwise. She always finished the job, and finished it with class, wit and the greatest sense of humor an old wise dame could possibly possess. She was as strong, complex, and carefully written a character, if not more than her most favorite ever, Scarlett O’Hara.
I will never feel like this piece does any justice to her because I know I’ll recall something else I forgot to mention because she just left me with a plethora of phenomenal memories. The first song I heard after her passing made me realize why I’ve been starting all my mornings this past month with exactly that track, Colombia by the Local Natives.
The day after I had counted down all of your breaths down until
There were none, were none, were none, were none;
A hummingbird crashed right in front of me and I understood all you did for us.
You gave, and gave, and gave, and gave.
Oh, every night I ask myself
Am I giving enough? [x3]
If you never knew how much,
If you never felt all of my love.
I pray now you do, you do, you do, you do.
Oh, every night I ask myself
Am I loving enough? [x3]
Please pray/send her vibes, whatever you believe in, that wherever she is, she is at peace. Hopefully somewhere with a nice view of the ocean. She loved the ocean. I’ve been desperately trying to recall all my memories of her, so if you have any—please do share them. If you were ever good to me, she loved you automatically.
Once she fed me parathas while I watched a Sharks game… now that is what heaven is like, I’m sure.
I recorded her leaving my brother and I words of wisdom every time I was leaving back for the U.S. Both of us are crying in the last one, and I haven’t had the heart to watch it yet.
Nani Amma, thank you for being the most wonderful person in my life. You truly put the grand in grandmother. Most people start their meals with grace or the name of God—having grown up a Muslim, we started ours with ‘Bismillah Irrahman Irrahim’, meaning ‘In the name of God, the most gracious, the most merciful’. But now, I start mine with your memory, Nani. Every meal of mine is a dedication to you.
In the name of Nani, the most hilarious, the most remarkable…
Adapted from a Facebook post written in June 2013 by Mak Akhtar.
Photo by Michelle White