Dadi, dadima, granny – we did not address her by any of the names reserved for grandmothers traditionally. We called her what her children called her – mummyji. My paternal grandmother – a woman who will always be young in the memory of her children & grandchildren, and all who knew her.
Mummyji was ahead of her times. Mind you, I speak of the 80s here. Long before ‘feminism’ was in vogue. She found her first name to be old-fashioned & unsuitable to her personality. Yes, it was the name of one of the major rivers in India. But, plain & simple, she did not like it – just the way you dislike ‘karela’ or ‘tinda’. In the age where women were not supposed to have preferences, she was a woman who defied all odds. She reasoned – Would her changing her name make her care less for her family? Will it make her a less loving person?
But, of course, there were complications. If Mummyji changed her name, she would have to get her driving license changed too. It was bad enough the first time. The transport office men had looked at her strangely as though a small – city woman was forbidden to drive. One had had the cheek to suggest, “Sahib Se boliye, driver rakh denge” (Tell your husband to employ a driver for you). Why did she need a driver? Worse, why did she need to ask her husband to engage a driver? She could very well do it herself, but the point was – she wanted to drive her jeep. She did not want to be dependent on anyone every time she wished to venture out. Moreover, have you heard of a chauffeur – driven jeep? Preposterous, is it not?
And then there was Mummyji’s ‘bhajan’ gang – her group of devout women who conducted weekly ‘kirtans’ by rotation. They would find it difficult to believe she changed her name. They may snigger or not remember to use her new name. But they were sweet ladies. After the initial shock, they would accept and welcome the change.
The pros outweighed the cons. The colony children who came to watch the television in Mummyji’s house would find it easier to address her by the new name. Those were the times not every house had a TV. So, she took the onus of making TV-watching a community event. Not for her was the false sense of superiority that came to those few who owned televisions.
Moreover, the Americans would find Mummyji’s new name easy. She had a tough time when she flew to the USA with the non-Indians struggling to pronounce her name. She had smiled remembering it to be such an event when it was decided she would travel alone. Women barely stepped out of their houses without a male companion and here she was, crossing oceans to see a new world.
Mummyji wished her daughters and her daughter – in – law would understand it was okay to have likes and dislikes. She wanted her son and her sons – in – law to value the preferences of their wives, mothers and daughters. I silently thank her for being a mother to my mother, rather than a mother – in – law. What is seemingly normal today could not be taken for granted then.
Mummyji – we lost her to breast cancer when she was young, not even 55. Her life reminds me of the line in the movie Anand – “Babumushoi, zindagi badi honi chahiye… lambi nahi!”
I was barely five when Mummyji passed away, but she still lives in my heart. Every girl has that one strong woman who inspires her. I find my inspiration from her. I feel a connection to her. A connection that even death could not severe. Mummyji, you will forever live on…
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