My grandma taught me everything, except how to live without her.
Appreciate your grandparents when they ask to speak about your day. Appreciate the amount of love they invest in you.
Appreciate the way they fight for you.
Whenever I have to write anything, especially something creative, I always am brought back to my Naniji. I love remembering the good times, but then I can’t hold off the undeniable wave that comes after. I wish she was still here…
And that is exactly what happened while I was writing my thesis. It was all good for a couple days, then I realize that I miss her too much and nothing has helped that feeling go away. She is the first person I think about in the morning and the last in the day.
Here is the thing about my Naniji… She was more than a grandparent. She was my parent and best friend. She raised me for the first ten years of my life.
I learned so much from her about Punjab, where she is from. Hindi (she insisted it was good to learn), Punjabi, chole bhature, mehndi, music, dancing, seva… she shaped my view of India and what it meant to be Indian. I learned to respect the elder members of my family. I realized making them proud was the most important thing for me. Everyday after school, I would go to her and we would spend the whole evening together. I always tried to help with dinner.
When I would make all sorts of shapes for the bread (far from the cute circles she was making) she looked at mine disapprovingly and told me, “You marry a nice Punjabi one day and bring him over so I can cook for him.”
“He has to be Punjabi?” I would always ask.
And she would give me a look like it was the most obvious thing in the world. “Do that much for me.” She would always say…
Then, I would convince her to go get late night milkshakes with me and she and I would make up all of these stories. I would write them on napkins with those waxy crayons they would give with the kid’s menus.
When we moved from Dallas, I wanted to take her with us. But her job was there in Plano. She had worked too hard to lose that.
So there I was, with my mom and dad in the airplane crying my eyes out because I could not leave Naniji. She was there for everything…. even my first bloody nose. She was my mom, my dad, my grandma, my best friend all in one person. I could not leave her now.
Both of us couldn’t deal with it and so she visited a lot. My mom would tell me, “Natasha, let her rest.” And so I did, I just rested with her! When Naniji came over, we would insist on spending every moment together. I would sneak downstairs to sleep next to her so we could talk more.
When she would walk in the malls, she would see these girls with shorts on and she was not used to it. So she always said “shame shame” but her accent made it like “Sham sham!” I would always laugh and drag her to the perfume section. We love perfumes.
When we would get home, I remember dancing with her in the kitchen. And she would teach me to make halwa.
I had a twist on her samosa recipe so I made them with paneer and tortillas… She was so shocked.
I called her everyday when she would leave. And she even asked for my samosa recipe. When your grandma asks you for a recipe, you know you are doing something right.
All of that changed when PSP came into the picture. We took a last family vacation to Hawaii. And we watched Lilo and Stitch to relive the times when I was at her house in Dallas. I asked her to move in with us and leave the job. But, she refused.
The last time she came over, she never told me she was going to never allow me to see her again. I just wanted things to be the same. I tried to dance with her, but she fell and I had to catch her. Both of us were shaking. I wasn’t allowed to eat with her because when she would see me she would laugh and she would choke. She could not walk in the malls anymore, so I would push her on the wheelchair.
I was going to run away from home because I was not used to listening to my mom… I only listened to my Naniji because I thought she made the rules. I was not close to my mom back then. So my mom was upstairs telling me that I had to listen to her and such…
My Naniji could not even walk with a wheelchair but she walked upstairs to my room. She could have fallen. Naniji told my mom to leave. And we sat very seriously. Naniji had tears in her eyes. She was wiping the hair away from her face and her pearl earring broke. Holding it in her hand, she gave it to me…
“You promise me that you will take care of your mom when I am gone. You will always be my princess and I love you so much. But, I need you to do this right now for me.”
I promised her that day. That was the last time I could have hugged her and I wish I never let go. I did not know that was the last.
She told everyone that they could come see her, but me. And I was heartbroken. Did she hate me? Was she mad at me? She did not want me to remember her in that condition.
But, I refused to leave her. She lost her ability to speak. I talked to her everyday on the phone. I sat in the hallway, ate my lunch and talked to her. I read her stories, I told her my stories, and all of our memories. I told her how much I missed her and loved her. I told her how I would pray every night for a cure and how she was going to get better. The nurses would say she would always cry.
When Naniji could still write, she wrote me letters, for when I got married or had my first baby. She knew she had to before she couldn’t anymore. Somehow, no matter what I told her, she was never convinced that she was going to make it long enough to see those events where she could be proud.
My mom would visit but I wasn’t allowed to see her. I thought if I published a book she would be proud of me right away.
Right before the book was sent to printing, she passed away. I was devastated. I did not go out of my room. I did not talk to anyone for a month. My parents were seriously worried about me. But, then I realized I needed to fulfill my promise to her. Especially after I saw my how lonely my mom was.
There were so many times when I needed her presence. And it scares me when my family tells me I am becoming exactly like her. People lean on me like they did to her. They tell me we have the same look in our eyes when we talk about injustice. And that we make chai the same way. They tell me we speak the same way and have the same heart. There is no one I would rather be than her. She was a hardworking woman who exuded kindness in everything she did. My Naniji worked three jobs in London so she never had to say no to her kids. When her husband passed away, Naniji was strong and worked extra hard to provide for all of us. My family says, that when Usha (Naniji’s name) and Natasha work for something even God helps them.
I remember my mom telling me that even her name is a part of mine. And that I am growing into her almost. She says she mistakes me for her and her for me in her dreams.
And here I am trying on dresses saying “no not this one, it is too sham sham….” And I can see her telling me, Good choice Tash but put a sweater on, you are always cold.
And here I am too scared to cook chicken so I come up with all of these exotic paneer dishes, I can see her shaking her head at me. No Punjabi is going to marry you if you cannot cook them meat…. still have to work on that one, Naniji
And there I was crying in my first relationship and her crying with me until she orders No more crying …. You do not let anyone mistreat or hurt you. Never bow down to anyone. Be strong now for me…and I was.
And there I was hiding in the bathroom because I was scared to give a speech at a fundraising event. And she was outside my stall What are you doing? You can speak, you talk all the time! You make us proud out there….
And here I am crying because I miss her and wish she was here. And I do not know what she is thinking because even she knows nothing will replace a hug from her.
I still have an undying wish. I want to take care of my grandma like she took care of me. I want to make chai for her and watch movies. I want to press her feet if they are hurting. I want to give back just a fraction of the love she gave to me. I want to care for someone who considers me her granddaughter. Then my duty to her will feel complete.
Naniji taught me what it means to be strong and loving. She taught me how to stand up for myself and my family. When I was giving up, she was there to pull me back up and remind me who I am. The women in the Arora family, my family, our family, are not weak. Naniji faught hard and she still manages to never let us feel alone even when she is not sleeping under the same sky as us. I had to lose my parent to become a friend to my mom. I had to lose Naniji to be pushed to grow in ways that I never thought was possible. She never had to teach me to live without her because she is a part of me in ways that I am discovering everyday. I will be forever grateful to her.