In a forgotten corner of Nani’s armoire, I found it, a weird looking contraption. I turned ‘it’ around in my hands. A bulky exterior, multicoloured buttons and an antenna sticking out on top, encased in dull chrome.
‘Nani, what is this?’ I asked pulling it out.
Nani looked at me blankly. That was nothing new. Dementia had robbed her not only of her memories but also of her recognition of us. Her beloved had become strangers.
Oh, she did have her good days. On the good days, she even knew who I was. But, the bad days…they were quite tough, especially on mom.
‘What is it?’ I asked again.
Nani reached out a hand and took ‘it’ from me. Something glimmered in her eyes. Was it recognition?
Quietly she replied, ‘It’s a transistor radio.’
I gaped at her. Had nani actually remembered something? Was today one of her ‘good’ days?
‘It belonged to your Nana,’ she continued.
‘What does it do?’ What’s it for?’ I asked eager to keep her mental cobwebs at bay.
Nani sighed. ‘In our time we had no TV or internet. We only had radios.’
‘No TV…’ my voice trailed off. What sort of world had she lived in? No internet…
‘Air India Radio would broadcast programs,’ Nani continued, ‘we would listen to news on it and they played movie songs on request.’
I peered at the radio sceptically. ‘This could do all that?’
I wasn’t convinced, not by a long shot. Alexa played music for me. In fact, Alexa catered to all such needs of music, news, updates and whatnot. Was my Alexa a radio?
‘I married your nana because of this radio?’ nani chuckled.
I gawked, first at nani and then at the radio. How…?
‘Your nana was our estate munim’s* son.’ she began. ‘As we grew older, we realized we loved each other. But my family would never have accepted a lowly employee’s son as a suitable match. So…’
‘So?’ I gently prodded. The cobwebs were lurking at the fringes again.
‘Your nana vowed to prove worthy. He shifted to Bangalore for a job. But, before leaving he told my father of his intentions. And, he told me ‘Urmi, I will dedicate a song to you every night. Listen to it and know that I will be back soon.’
Aha! Now I understood. If you could ask the radio for songs and stuff then it was exactly like Alexa. Cool!
Nani continued, ‘That is how I spent two years apart from him.’
‘But, marriage and all…’ I asked.
‘Your nana returned. The last night before he got back he dedicated a song to me and I knew he was coming back.’
‘Wow! What song?’
Nani’s eyes lit up. Shyly she said, ‘Ghar aaya mera pardesi.*’
‘Hmm…so that is how you got hitched,’ I teased. I hugged nani and ran to fetch mom.
Sadly, the cobwebs were back by the time mom came. But, nani…she had the most beautiful smile on her face.
Munim – Accountant of large estates in India
Ghar aaya mera pardesi – A song from the Indian film Awara (1951) which translates to ‘My wanderer has returned home’
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