When I think about my great grandmother, whom we called bebeji, there is only one word that comes to mind: resilience.
The name given to her at birth was Luxmi and she was fondly called Lachhmi by my great grandfather, her husband. Bebeji was 104 when she died. She enjoyed excellent health and was confined to the bed for barely two days before she left this world peacefully.
When I would visit my nankas (maternal grandparent's place), I would run first to my slightly hunch-backed bebeji to greet her affectionately.
To my 12 years, she was a towering personality. She walked without a stick and did not wear glasses or hearing aids. She could climb a whole fleet of stairs unaided; she walked to the local gurdwara in Patel Nagar, Delhi, at 4am daily. She liked lassi with paronthi in the morning and downed with equal gusto two tablespoons of brandy that my mamaji, her grandson, gave her every evening. Above all, she loved mutton, which she chewed with her toothless gums and enjoyed both rajma and mah di daal without any digestive problems. She was active and had no sugar, BP or heart problem. And yes, she abhorred Dalda, only desi ghee for her.
I was her fan so I made sure that my Sat Sri Akal was clear enough for her to hear. Bebeji would then look closely at my face, break into a toothless smile of recognition and give a warm hug. The feel and scent of her fragile, shrunken body remains with me till today and comforts me each time I miss her.
She would bless us all with a generosity that only the very old or only the very wise can. The mulberry tree outside her house was a source of irritation to her in the summer afternoons as children in the neighbourhood could never resist the luscious fruit and would constantly throw sticks and pebbles at the branches in a bid to shower them down.
This would awaken one of us from our slumber. Bebeji would walk up to the door each time an ill-directed missile woke us up and say firmly to the offenders, "Ve tuhaada kakh naa jaave (May you never lose anything of yours)." The whole family found this hilarious as it was more of a blessing than a rebuke!
This rock of a woman was a source of strength to both my grandmother and my mother. She had outlived her husband by 40 years and her only son by 22 years. Her's had been a riches-to-rags story.
Born and married into a wealthy family, she had lived the life of a queen before Partition happened and tore her life into shreds. She saw her fortunes change overnight, saw her grandchildren becoming destitute and also witnessed the death of her only son at age 57.
She bore every loss stoically and remained cheerful till the end. To this day, her memories fill me with the joie-de-vivre she embodied. Here's a toast to her invincible spirit.