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My Grandmother, My Queen

Rani is now the brightest star in the sky


Today, the home was squeaky clean - the aroma of Roganjosh (Kashmiri mutton curry) and Nadir gaad (lotus stem and fish curry) had already filled the house. After all, it was the wedding of Lord Shiva with Goddess Parvati. Shivratri was as usual, busy, and this time around there was another level of anxiety to finish off the pooja as soon as possible. No, we weren't thinking about the scrumptious meal because there was a painful thought looming. Shivratri was the day when I first felt that Rani (my maternal grand-mother-inlaw) was about to leave us soon.

 A small-framed woman, dusky and a pleasing personality- Rani exuded affection. Her official name is Raj Dulari Handoo but was lovingly called Rani by eldest to the youngest in the family. Clad in a saree with hair tied up in a bun - not leaving even a single hair strand out, she looked perfect. I would envy her for having such a beautiful collection of sarees, ask her to pass them on to me.

Off late Rani was suffering from nausea, stomach ache and indigestion. Considered as a normal gastro issue, she saw the doctor. A few tests revealed that it wasn't anything small but a big ball of mass that was slowly swallowing Rani's life. Maa my (mother-in-law), who is a strong woman, had accepted the situation already, but somewhere I was being optimistic that Rani would pull it off. A strong-willed woman who had just recovered from a bilateral knee transplant. 

Days were passing by and her health was deteriorating. Huge drops in the haemoglobin despite regular blood transfusion and six sessions of chemotherapy were not helping her in any way.

A week before Shivratri, the guest room was converted into a hospital room and she was brought home. Surrounded by equipment, IV needles piercing into her veins - Rani, the Annapurna (Goddess of food) who has fed the near and not-so dear ones all her life, serving the unimaginably delicious food was being nose fed today. I couldn't sleep that night. Flashes of the happy times spent with her for the last 10 years would haunt me every passing moment.

We somehow performed all the rituals and rushed to 'Rani house'. Maa's parental house was always referred to as Rani house, such was her aura. My eyes were expecting her to greet us with open arms, blessing us and offering 'Tomal tchot with Muj tchetn' (small rice flatbreads with fried radish chutney). Despite it being Shivratri, one could only hear the silence. Everybody was already having the Shivratri dinner, the anxiety on Daddy's (my maternal father-in-law) face was quite evident. At the age of 85, the feeling of losing the companion for life was disturbing him. Gathering courage, I went to Rani and wished her 'Shivratri Mubarak' - the one whose face would lit up seeing me didn't respond. With a broken heart, I sat beside her for some time before leaving the room.

Shivratri is the biggest festival of the year for the Kashmiri community. The celebrations almost go for a week with a month-long beforehand preparations. The main day is followed by Salaam, this is the youngsters wait for as they get money from the elders. Rani who never discriminated among her children and others' this time too gave 'Herath Kharach' (money) to each of her grand and great-grand-children. I also got a piece of her blessings, a 500 rupees note, which I carefully folded and kept in my secret purse to preserve for life.

I got up early that day, wished Maa in the kitchen and carried on with daily chores. While spending a busy day in the office, I called my husband to plan the evening but he informed me Rani's condition had deteriorated. Her oxygen levels were dropping so it was a matter of just a few hours...

That day, a strange feeling of bad omen kept haunting me... I rushed back home, cooked dinner and left to meet her one last time. In her last days, Rani had met almost all her family members. Her most loved grand and great-grand-children were by her side. It was 7:15 pm when I reached to meet her. At 8:15 pm, I left for home and served dinner to my grandmother-in-law and as soon as I lifted the plate to feed my son, we received a call... That was it! Rani had breathed her last.

Family, extended family, relatives, friends... people we knew and some we didn't all had gathered to bid a final goodbye to the soul with a midas touch. Rani was given the final bath, dressed like a bride in her favourite navy-blue silk saree, gold ornaments and a big sindoor (vermillion) bindi. Ready to take on a new journey, Rani looked calm. 

It wasn't an easy goodbye. While everybody bid a teary farewell to their favourite granny, her companion for life, our Daddy, who had stayed composed was now shedding tears falling on Rani's face... It was a soft, quiet moment of their vintage love captured in the eyes of the spectators.

As soon as her thirteen days were over - Hindus perform the last rights for the first 13 days after the death Covid-19 gripped India.

 Although under lockdown, we all have gone back to the normal routine, Rani still rules our heart like the queen she was...

About the author

A true-blue Virgo, mom, compulsive online shopper, foodie and a content person with 14 years of experience into digital content. Instagram: @deeptikau / Tweets: @deeptikaul

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