She came into my life when I was a year and a half old. With green tattoos on her forehead and forearm, nauwari (Maharashtrian nine yard sari), and cherubic moon face, she wafted in to our home, becoming an integral part of our lives for the next 20 years.
She had had a dismal life, and like most women of her times, never questioned but accepted her fate. She was married off at a very young age, as was common those days. She lost both her husband and son very early , and so considering her to be ill-fated, the in-laws threw her out.
Already bereft of a mother, now widowed and childless, she had no place to go.
Her married older sister took her in and found her a job as a nanny with a Gujrathi family. And when the family didn’t need her services anymore, she came to live with us . She soon endeared herself to all, friends and family, with her garrulous and affectionate nature.
She was my sole companion for five years until my sister came along. She shared a special bond with with my sister, having taken care of her from the day she was born. She attended to us just like a mother would. Feeding us, helping us get ready and praying and crying for us whenever one of us fell ill. One day, when my sister came home with a split forehead and blood pouring down her face (after being accidentally hit by a swinging cricket bat), it was hard to tell who cried more.
She soon mastered our South Indian cuisine, alien to her until then. I can still picture her sitting on the floor , turning the grinding stone with one hand and shoving rice and lentils with the other until the two coagulated together to form a smooth batter of dosa, the quintessential South Indian delicacy. She made the best chappattis I’ve ever had and invented healthy versions of fried dishes such as dahi bread (in place of dahi vada) for us.
She is now around 85 years old, suffering the brutalities of old-age, but still remembers every member of our extended family and enquires about each one of them by name. When we visit her in Bombay, where she now lives with her grand-nephew, she proudly calls the neighbours to come see her daughters.