The tea almost spilled out of the ivory cup. Her face looked relieved after the first sip – but her hands trembled. She aimed at the saucer and slammed the cup on the inner circle of the saucer, sporting a smug half-smile to celebrate yet another `achievement’. As I cringed at the clink, she ordered, “Finish your milk before it turns cold.” I nodded and dragged the glass of milk closer, choosing not to explain that I had asked the cook for a cold coffee just a couple of minutes ago. Obviously, she hadn’t heard that.
Because she couldn’t.
My Nani (grandmother), currently in her mid-eighties, lost the ability to hear five years ago. “I adjusted my hearing aid to get rid of the persistent hissing sound. But when I visited the doctor later, I realized that it was my ear and not the hearing aid that was defective,” she had chuckled as she broke the news of her growing deafness to us. My mother and I were devastated to hear the news but much to our surprise, Nani just smiled at us with a twinkle in her eyes.
Orange, yellow and green – her saris boasted of a palette of resplendent colours. “Cottons for summer and silk for winters,” as she put it. But her hair, of the same shade as the tea cups, was always a mess until Shanta Bai arrived. As she oiled Nani’s hair and massaged her head, Nani’s half-smile would blossom into a full curve.
Shanta Bai, who was unlettered, would ask me to scribble on a slate dialogue from Nani’s favourite TV soaps that she would fail to lip-read. Nani’s viewing experiences were now extended to films with subtitles, news graphics and the evergreen Tom & Jerry. Unable to regulate the pitch of her speech, she would laugh thunderously, waking me out of my siesta. Waheeda Rehman’s subtle lip movements would be more than sufficient for her to break into “Kaanto se kheech ke ye aanchal…,” the actress’ song from the film Guide.
An encyclopaedia on birthdays and anniversaries, she would pester me to phone our relatives on every such occasion. I would place the phone on her left ear, she would blurt out blessings within 10 seconds and tilt her head to the right to indicate the end of her monologue. A host at heart, she would wait for guests to arrive so that she could treat them with her handmade besan laddoos. Nana (grandfather) had got a bulb connected to the doorbell of the apartment. Every time the bell rang, the tungsten would spring to life. Whenever I visited her, Nani would open the door for me, with both of us exchanging the same celebratory half-smile.
Though she would have the cook, Shanta Bai and me at her service most days, she would still rush to the kitchen time and again to ensure a sumptuous meal for the guests. Seconds after escorting her out, I would look behind, only to see her concerned face peeping into the kitchen.
She would fret over the pettiest of issues, yet remained undaunted in the most trying of times – whether it was after the loss of her hearing ability or Nana’s demise – she remained composed. There was an instance when I saw her smile teary-eyed. But as soon as I blinked, I saw that characteristic twinkle struggle to resurface. I wished, at once, for her to never blink like I did. And, for her, to never let that twinkle – one of her most endearing personality traits – spill out of her eyes.
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