Layers of My Lola: A Love Letter to My Nani
My grandparents migrated to India (Mumbai) from Sindh during the partition in 1947. After coming to India, my Nana (maternal grandfather) set up his own textile business from scratch. My mom and her siblings fondly recall his ability to perform calculations speedily and without a calculator, even though he only studied till 5th form.
Despite being uprooted from the place they once called home, they did not lose hope; they sowed the seeds of hard work once again, watered it with love and patience, to bring back the blossom in their life that had been lost (snatched, rather). They had the rare ability to withstand both the sun and storm alike- with a smile.
My Nani (maternal grandmother) was a woman with a body that never aged, and a smile that never faded. Carrying an energy of charisma and grace, she was the most giving person you might have ever met. In fact, the most polished words of the dictionary will fail to do justice to her magnetic personality. She led a life of discipline- despite being treated for multiple injuries during her lifetime, she never wavered from her schedule: she cooked each meal for her family of eight (including her 7 children and my Nanu), and that too on a sigri (coal stove), watered the tulasi (holy basil) each day, and also went to the temple.
She could not speak English, but she could very well understand the language of the unseen and the unheard. Her faith in Sai Baba was like an indestructible WiFi signal, that could weather all storms, except that of course, unlike WiFi, it was two-ways. Some of this unwavering connection extended to all her children, with my eldest Mama earning the premium package (her attachment with him being one of the strongest as he had left to work in Spain at a very early age).
My Nani was the thread that tied her family together. In fact, her love had no concept of boundary, it extended not only to family and neighbors, but also the families of her childrens’ friends, the watchman, the house helper, the dog that sat near the gate and of course, the cow she fed.
Each day of my mom’s childhood was no less than a fun-filled concert, even more so during festivals. One of the most memorable festivals in a Sindhi festival is Thadri (literal translation: cold). It is the day the stove is turned off, ie, it is kept cool, as all food is prepared the previous day. My Nani would make papads and lolas (sweet thick chapati made from wheat flour, sugar and jaggery) on a sigri (which uses coal, instead of LPG, and is extremely time-consuming). Lolas were served with white butter (homemade too!) and a plethora of aachars (pickle) including those made from lemon, mangoes, dried mangoes (keri), carrot, bottle gourd, etc.
She narrated the story marking the significance of the festival, with such grace, that even the kids would be left mesmerized, as they left their games to come listen to her. She would explain how this day is celebrated to give gratitude to the goddess Shitali Devi, for allowing us to use the stove to heat our food and fill our stomachs. Drops of water are sprinkled on the stove to please the goddess. Miniature versions of these lolas were held to each eye, during the puja, as a mark of respect and reverence.
She always ensured that the food was abundant and that no one left the house with an empty stomach. She never complained, despite having to feed so many guests. Cooking for others gave her so much joy and satisfaction.
Someone wise once said that studying social sciences is all about discovering everything your grandma already knew. As I move into the final year of my degree, I realize that I may have mastered a fraction of economics, but Nani had rightfully earned her PhD in storytelling, emotional intelligence, and of course, domestic engineering, which is one of the toughest kind that there is.
Nikita Asnani is 20 years old and is pursuing her Masters degree in Humanitarian Engineering with Sustainability at the University of Warwick. A Sindhi woman of Indian descent, she was born in Dubai and has lived there all her life. She takes great pride in and inspiration from the culture she comes from and others of cities she has lived in, that have slowly infused into her, leaving indelible impressions. She loves expressing herself through creative mediums, be it calligraphy, mixed media painting, decoupage, poetry or learning new languages. Apart from English, she also speaks Hindi, Sindhi, Arabic and French, and looks forward to learning a lot more!