An unusually warm day greeted “Big Dadi’s” frail frame. Unaffected, she breezed around completing the daily chores. It was a routine for her, waking up to the village gurudwara* loudspeaker at 4 am daily, making sure she was at the gurudwara by 5:00 am, in time to sweep the courtyard before the neighbour. This was her share of ‘sewa’* she must do, to earn her righteous place in heaven. This is one of the distinct memories, I have of her. A toddler, I was left in her care by parents who moved to Delhi in search of brighter prospects.
“Big Dadi”, my paternal great grandmother, with an unusual christening by the others in the family. I would have so loved to call her “Beeji”* like everyone else in the village. My tender mind took to her fondly; I was her shadow, following her everywhere. I looked upto her as a strong woman, single headedly managing the huge mansion. Making sure the helpers performed the designated tasks. Her warm hug and peck on the cheek was enough to win my heart and I stayed in her care for four long years. Those four years are still the most cherished recollections etched in my mind. In addition to catering to my routine needs, Big Dadi was prompt and aware enough to know that at 4, my idle mind needed direction, some preoccupation to tame my toddler energy. This is when she introduced me to the world of alphabets. Included in her daily rituals was the task of marching me to the village school. I was treated as a VIP, the child of city folks, provided a special clean mat for sitting. A shiny wooden board was to be my first notebook and the glistening alphabets in the black ink not just carved a mark on the board but also deep in my mind. Initially my mind was blocked with anxious thoughts when I was led to the dilapidated building that housed the school, the wooden board that was to serve as a notebook and of course utter reluctance to walk down the shabby, paved village streets. But ‘Big Dadi’ seemed to catch my pulse easily. The disinclination to step out of the house was well known to her, so she started the morning, narrating stories from the Panchatantra translated into Punjabi. I would feel so energised listening to the story of the brave monkey who outsmarted a clever crocodile that all mental blocks and anxieties would vanish with a whiff. Smiling to myself, I would feel lighter and confident to take on the world (especially the bespectacled, over inquisitive teacher at the village school).
Sometimes her stories were warped around her own life as a lonely only child, raised in a restricted social set up. I was too young to realise this at that time, but today when I sit at my writing desk scrambling for ideas, dwelling into the past, it dawns on me that the story telling was ‘Big Dadi’s’ venting out mechanism. It let her emotions flow, unrestricted because the child, her companion would never judge her.
In my fifth year, I was well blended into the village life, thanks to my constant mate, ‘Big Dadi’ and her persistent endeavour for my comforts! But the smooth ride was halted by the sudden jerk of my parent’s arrival. Their tone and tenor seemed suspicious to my tender mind. And yes! for me my world of stories came crashing down with the announcement that I would move to the city with my parents. I spent the whole night in Big Dadi’s lap, the gentle hum which narrated to me yet another episode of bravery from her assortment of stories. I often wondered how the protagonist in her stories always had a message for me, how easily my blocked thoughts melted as I identified and merged into the character presented to me.
With a heavy heart, I bid goodbye to my wonder years as I perched on the carriage that was to transfer me to yet another world of opportunities and dreams. As Big Dadi’s frail frame disappeared into the horizon, I pondered how easily she took away my anxieties and apprehensions through her stories and prayers. I knew what lay ahead for me and thus began my romance with alphabets, words, stories and books.
Today, as I stand at the podium all set to thank the jury for being adjudged best debutant author for the year, I can’t help but share my journey from a fearful, nervous toddler to a persuasive writer. The one person who shaped it all….. “Big Dadi”.
*Words from the Punjabi Language & their meanings
Gurudwara – place of worship of the Sikhs
Sewa – service to the community
Beeji – grandmother
Dadi – grandmother
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