My earliest memories of my maternal grandmother (beeji) were eating her vegetarian savories, her mild reprimand of my handwriting and her 40's style spectacles.
She was a typical immigrant from West Punjab, Kasur to be exact. They had lost everything in Partition and then after coming to Delhi, she lost more. Her husband died when she was in late thirties. Story goes that she started operating coal trading business from walled city premises in Delhi, turned around a sinking business and when her children started getting married, sold the business away. At slightly less than 5 feet, with small build that she had, I still cant visualize her working in a coal trading shop, let alone managing the entire business from manpower to trade deals to procurement. But my beeji was tough as steel, strong willed woman who seemed rooted in her belief that education is the only way for her children to get out of the rut that circumstances that forced them to be in.
Misery did not leave her after her children got married off and an estranged relationship with her son ensured that she was forced to live with her 3 daughters, in turns. It is ironic that a person of her caliber could not avoid financial dependence but then more astute people have been guilty of gaffe or two. This was her sole blemish as far as i can remember.
As a grandparent, she was awesome. She could teach me and my cousins all subjects till we were in 5th standard. She had studied till 8th (she was born in 1919) , but I can bet my life that she could have easily been a post graduate in these times. She kept a sharp eye on our studies - her constant reprimand was - "saare majboona (subjects) wich number change laine ne" which was in response my asymmetrical report card which always showed variance away from languages.
Born into a progressive khatri family, she was more of spiritual person than a religious one. I did not see her spending time in front idols, instead she would wake up at 4 and meditate silently. Though she did not articulate it, she to my knowledge was a firm believer of faith being a private matter. Till the day, I find her to more progressive than the next generation or for that matter one after that.
Her last few years were very miserable, she was diagnosed with Alzheimer's. Slow but steady decline into dementia followed. It was very ironic to see her lose control, especially since I had always seen her composed and firmly in command as far as her life was concerned. She used to tease me that I had got cavity in my molar at the age of 21 while she had full set of 32 at 80.
In 2007, she quietly passed away in my mother's arms.
I was not around, and I wept like a baby on her "chautha". I do miss her much, but I do not cry whenever I think about her. Just as she never cried when faced with adversity in her life.