Mamma and me


It's hard to believe that we said goodbye to Mamma aka Manijeh Kerawalla aka Kainaz's grand mom today. She is possibly the person Kainaz is closest to. This diminutive, 86 year old lady, leaves behind gigantic shoes for the rest of us in Kainaz's life to fill.

Her photo which we took on Kainaz's birthday earlier in August reminded me of ET in Spielberg's film of the eighties. Like ET she was a fighter, she was loving, she was very warm and caring, broad minded and very very unforgettable.

Difficult as it is, I guess I have to get used to thinking of her in the past tense.

She grew up in austere times, moved from the small town of Surat to the bustling city of Mumbai, raised her children through a lot of hardships and sacrifice without a grudge or word of protest. Kainaz told me today that Mamma was the first person to have seen Kainaz and raised her ever since she (Kainaz) was twenty days old. Kainaz has many stories of her. But that's a story for Kainaz to pen.

This is the story of Mamma and me, a story which is a bit over seven years old.

I first met Mamma when I was courting Kainaz and I was trying get accepted by her Parsi family as I belonged to a different religion. The first time we met was at Mamma's house where she had prepared close to a bushel of chopped boiled eggs spiced with salt and pepper. She kept urging me to eat more. The abundance of food at her place and her keenness to feed me formed the foundation of our relationship.

Kainaz and I got married soon after. On our wedding day, the then 80 year old Mamma, went all across town with us, without a word of protest against our mixed marraige or the unconventional arrangements of the day. She went to the wedding lunch at Starters and More and our dinner at Gallops. That was the last time she went out to restaurants. Kainaz told me that Mamma loved going out to restaurants. But as the laws of life go, she was unable to go out much by the time the family was financially settled and by the time eating in a restaurant was not a very rare occasion. She did come to our house for lunch a few times after that though.

Marriage introduced me to 'Mamma's daal', the legendary family dhansaak daal (Parsi lentil gravy), which she made in a huge pot and brought to the table despite her ailing health and weakening body. She would make pakoras for us and even meticulously crush whole spices and coconut to make her secret masala for us to take home and cook in. She would quietly wipe the table clean with a swap after we ate.

A hip injury put an end to this four years back as she was bed ridden. However, she had taught her son the secret to this daal. And as I told Mama (her son) today, she had taught him well.

Being bed ridden didn't diminish her desire to play host. Even though she couldn't join us at the dining table, she would exhort me to eat more, to take another chapati, to take more daal, even while lying on her bed. And before one got a chance to digest this meal she would start looking out for our evening tea and would direct Mama to get out chips, biscuits, cakes, chocolates and everything else that the house would have.

Being our grand mom, it was but natural that she loved to eat. She held on to her last remaining tooth so that she could have mince chops we would get for her from Candies or the rui fish I would fry and get for her. She loved chocolates, she loved cheese and above all she loved meat. Kainaz would get her a Cadbury Dairy Milk chocolate and Britannia tinned cheese week after week. I had also began to make her appreciate Bengali sweets especially the ice cream sandesh of Sweet Bengal.

She was not a person to curse her fate or complain about life. She would keep smiling through the most severe of pains and through the inconvenience of being dependent on others for her most basic needs. While her every bone ached she would enquire instead about my comparatively insignificant back pain.

The last time we met her, before she has her final stroke, was on Saturday, 27th September, when we celebrated Mama's birthday. She relished the excellent tandoori chicken and chicken curry that he had got from the Tata Star Mall. The fact that the mall was run by the Tatas, a Parsi industrial, group seemed to tickle her no end.

When she got her stroke on the first of October, she was still able to respond to Kainaz's and my presence by firmly gripping our hands and kissing us even through her paralysed state. Such was her love for us. The next day I sent her favourite roses through Kainaz and she apparently kept kissing them and kept asking for me. I had planned to space it out and visit her on Saturday. Little did I know that she would be in the hospital by then.

Mamma passed away today, at home, the way she would have wanted it, with all of us, her son, her daughters, son in law, Kainaz and me, around.

When it was all over today my mind wandered to the the many Saturdays I could have visited her with Kainaz but decided to relax at home, the many times I could have called her but was too busy, the many things I could have spoken to her about when she asked for 'koi nai khabar (any new news)' but didn't under the guise of a language barrier and a generation gap.

But I know that she would not want me to feel small. That she has found her heaven of good health, independence. That she is now at a buffet of her favourite dishes of fried fish, her beloved mutton, cheese and chocolates at a restaurant at the end of the universe.

I take solace in the beleif that she is looking after us from there, flashing her beautiful single toothed grin.

And that she would possibly read this post proudly as we had recently introduced her to the blog.

- Kalyan

PS The title of this story is inspired by John Gregory's story of another amazing love story, 'Marley and Me'.
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