He bawled incessantly one afternoon. Kept crying out for Babi. Everyone at home was alarmed. We didn’t know of a Babi. But he wanted only her. We called him cranky, sleep-deprived and delusional and fed him extra mithai post his afternoon snack. When the grandmother returned home that evening, he just wouldn’t let go off her. He had found his Babi. Because he called the grandfather Baba, the spouse automatically became Babi. And so she remains Babi every time someone speaks to him of her.
She got married in her early teens. Came to Bombay and embraced a whole new lifestyle to suit her in-laws. She barely attended any school, let alone any college. But she taught me pearls of wisdom that no school ever will. She’d see me pore over my study material late into the nights, especially before exam nights. But she never said anything then. The next morning I’d be greeted with a gentle reprimand, “One night of studying before an exam isn’t going to take you far.” Nani, till date, remains a woman of few words.
Some days, our words get lost in translation. She is not too fluent in English but she was keen to learn the language. The mother regrets that as children they didn’t speak to Nani in English often enough. But Nani never complained. Calm, collected and poised, she is the life of the household.
The mother would have preferred that I call her Naniji. But I think dropping the “ji” was one of my first acts of defiance as a teenager. Besides, it sounded more informal and homely. And while I call her Nani, I always refer to her as Naniji. But when I talk to him of her, it is always Babi.
It’s been ten years, maybe more, since he called her Babi. That phase lasted a few weeks at best. Today, he fondly calls her Dadima.