In fact she always used to use that term for my grandfather, “that old fool” and I have reserved it for Devageet – but that “old fool” is dead. My mother…my grandmother is dead – excuse me, again I said “my mother.” I really cannot believe she was not my mother and only my grandmother.
By the way, you will be surprised that all my brothers and sisters – and there are nearly a dozen of them excluding me – they all call my mother Ma, “mother,” except me; I call her bhabhi. Everybody in India always used to wonder why I called my mother bhabhi, because it means “elder brother’s wife.” In Hindi, the word for elder brother is baiya; the word for his wife is bhabhi. My uncles call my mother bhabhi, and that is perfectly okay. Why do I still call her bhabhi even now? The reason is I had known another woman as my mother – that was my mother’s mother.
After those early years of knowing Nani as my mother it was impossible to call any other woman Ma – mother. I have always called her my Nani, and I know she was not my real mother, but she mothered me. My real mother remained a little far away; a little foreign. Even though my Nani is dead, she is closer to me. Even though my mother is now enlightened I will still call her bhabhi, I cannot call her Ma. To use that would be almost a betrayal of one who is dead. No, I cannot do it.
My grandmother herself had said many times to me, “Why do you go on calling your mother bhabhi? Call her mother.” I simply avoided the question. This is the first time that I have spoken about or discussed it – with you.
My Nani has somehow become part of my very being. She loved me so immensely. Once, when a thief entered our house she fought with him barehanded, and I saw how ferocious a woman can be…really dangerous! If I had not interfered she would have killed the poor man. I said, “Nani! What are you doing! Just for my sake, leave him. Let him go!” Because I was crying and telling her to stop for my sake, she allowed the man to go. The poor man could not believe that she was sitting on his chest holding his neck with both her hands. She would certainly have killed him. Just a little more pressure on his throat and the man would have died.
When she spoke to Bhoora I knew she meant it. Bhoora knew she meant it too. When my grandfather started the mantra, I knew he also understood that she meant business.
Twice I was attacked – and to me it was a joy, an adventure. In fact deep down, I wanted to know what it meant to be abducted. That has always been my characteristic, you can call it my character. It is a quality I rejoice in. I used to go on my horse to the woods which belonged to us. My grandfather promised that all that belonged to him would be willed to me, and he was true to his word. He never gave a single pai to anybody else.
He had thousands of acres of land. Of course, in those days it didn’t have any value, but value is not my concern. It was so beautiful – those tall trees, and a great lake; and in summer when the mangos became ripe it was so fragrant. I used to go there on my horse so often that the horse became accustomed to my path.