Born in 1930, Gawalmandi, Lahore
My grandmother, Dadiji (as I would refer to her), has been a source of great inspiration to me since I was a little child. We share a deep and special bond. Her words “Sunbeam , O sunbeam, Jesus make me a sunbeam” echo within my heart, and no matter what the situation maybe, a smile spreads on my face. I have seen her exuberance and youthfulness bring life to the most energy drained spaces just with her mere presence, leave alone the motivating force in her speech. I have always known Dadiji to be ahead of her times. There is not a span of time, I can recall, where I have not seen her change and grow. Her adaptability, openness to new ideas and constant learning have shown me where this elixir of youth springs from.
Sukanya, the third born was buried in the foundation of a construction site, as she was a girl, by one of her aunts and then, dug out by another. She was told this story by her elder sister Toshi (Santosh) and narrates how the practice of victimizing women has been an age old one. She adds, “Defying such regressive practices, fortunately our parents brought us six sisters up with such care and love which shaped us into confident, strong individuals.
Filmed and edited by Taruna Hooda
A major life event ….
A major historical event that Dadiji and her family saw was the painful displacement from Baramula to Srinagar, on 24th October 1947, when the Pakistani’s raided. All their belongings, the home, everything was left there. “We came to Srinagar with only our skins on. We had no clothes so my sister Santosh and I opened a trunk left by our elder sister Shakuntala, before her air travel. In that trunk we found our brother-in-laws army trousers which we got altered to our size.” Leaving a bungalow of three acres back in Baramulla, they were housed in Srinagar (Gagribal) in a shabby boat like two bedroom house on the first floor. Dadiji, with a fire in her voice shared, “A feeling of vengeance and protecting my country arose in me and I joined the Women’s Self Defence Corp where we got training in 303 rifle and revolver firing.” At home, we often joke about the “militant mood” Dadiji enters when it is concerning politics or the gardner who disobeyed. It is almost in that same spirit. I can imagine how fiery and rebellious her persona would have been as a youngster. If she ever said anything to me in my 20 – something rebellious years, I would happily say, “I have inherited this spirit from you, Dadiji. Common!” as we broke into a naughty chuckle together.
Joyous moments in various stages of life…
At the age of 16 she got second division in matriculation. This was an extremely delightful moment for her as she was home schooled and now with such a good grade she could be sent to Kinnaird College (Lahore), which was her dream. Unfortunately, it was too expensive so never materialized. However, for Dadiji, this remained the happiest moment of her childhood. It was through this home schooling and self study that she completed her M.A. in Economics. Very recently I have seen the trend of home schooling re emerge – not out of compulsion but out of choice. It is quite fascinating how practices of the past (or those often stemming out of compulsion) resurface and regain their lost value over decades, almost like a full circle being taken by social systems to re discover through unlearning what was irrelevant or disruptive in balancing systems – in the creation of new beginnings.
On asking about her adult years, Dadiji shared how she was “obsessed” with her job. Work gave her that inner joy. Be it her job as the Information Officer at the Ghana High Commission or the short clerical stint in Afghanistan, work to her has been worship. As these words are being typed out, this very moment, Dadiji is at the farm (my aunt’s farm that she manages). Every alternate day she goes there to manage the staff and grow the much celebrated garden of abundance.
Post retirement, Dadiji explored various businesses with huge encouragement from her husband. A moment of extreme excitement for her was, when she got an order of wool containers from a Russian company. She sold one container in Amritsar. However, the second shipment had to be cancelled as the Russian company sent substandard quality of wool. Yet Dadiji ended up making fifty thousand rupees which was a huge amount in the 1990’s. In those days I remember how there were discussions on various business possibilities over tea time. Dadaji (my grandfather) and Dadiji joked ,”चलो हवाई क़िले ही बना दें ( we may as well make castles in the air).” These were often fantastical ideas. Now that I look back I see how they served as sessions of relaxing creative visualizations and motivators to expand horizons during times that there were dips in the business.
The most challenging time in life and how it was overcome….
“The hardest time was when I didn’t want to get married and was forced. I told my father that he has cheated me. I was a big fighter in life. My mother said , ‘ में हाथ जोड़ती हूं , तू मुझे बदनाम न कर और ससुराल में बस जा।” (with folded hands I beg you to stay with your in-laws amicably).” Her mothers words touched her heart and became her biggest teacher. She had to live in the same household with her awe-inspiring father in law, who made everyone nervous. Dadiji feels that this experience was a very good thing for her as she learnt to submit and give up her ego. She says her ‘sadhana‘ (dedication to spiritual practice) started with this transformation.
I often fondly remember how Dadaji and Dadiji would address each other as “darling”. Even though, there were days when they were not very amicable, the love between the couple was immense. It almost seemed like a high school romance with its little ups and downs. They travelled together to USA, Europe, South East Asia and within India. Dadaji would always insist that Dadiji must stay up late with him to watch television programs together. Like a young girl, she would listen to him and stay up despite the waves of sleep that floated by, interrupted by Dadaji’s nudges to keep her up. When Dadaji was ill, Dadiji took care of him day and night, tirelessly. I have seen her write the most touching poetry in the memories of her beloved Dadaji, wishing him peace and love.
Something special that makes the heart beat with love, now……
Ever since I have grown up, Dadiji’s passion about gardening and growing fruit trees has fascinated me. She says, “Our father being a keen gardner, we were from childhood taught the art of gardening, including all the physical work involved.” This surely makes her heart beat with love and even now.
Dadiji manages my aunt’s farm. Her passion for gardening and “obsession” with work keeps her on her toes even now. Despite battling with spells of exhausting fever since the past five years and various other health concerns – nothing stops her. “I have to go to the farm. It is my job,” she would respond if asked to take a break. Thanks to her dedication, we have all types of fruit, fresh crisp salads and vegetables from the farm. The latest feather in the cap has been the crop of juice filled maltas (an Indian citrus shown in the photograph above). The semi arid grassy, scrubby land has been transformed into the Garden of Eden. The fruit of her deep knowledge of botany, the vigorous training in working hands-on in the garden, hard work, passion and the priceless green finger are surely enjoyed by everyone!
The present desire….
With a smile, a faraway look and moist eyes, Dadiji says, “All desires are fulfilled and its Gods grace.”
She is the only person in the family, other than her younger sister, Urvashi, who I have seen doing a “thank you prayer” before eating food. Gratitude is what shines through her eyes – for her home, family and all the love she has received. No wonder her feeling is that of deep fulfillment.
A message for all….
“Take every step with confidence and success is yours. Never lose your confidence. It is self confidence that leads you to success. If you are not sure of pouring the tea in the cup, your hand will start trembling. When u know you can do it, not a drop will fall out. I would like all to meditate. Any type of meditation as its a big anchor in life.”
Dadiji has been coordinating and hosting initiation sessions with teachers of Transcendental Meditation since several years. A huge percentage of students have even been sponsored by her for the three day program. She has been organizing Guru Purnima pujas and other such occasions, single handedly – inviting all known practitioners of TM through hand written mails even till date. “Why are you sending all these mails. People don’t even respond”, I asked her, quite disturbed by the time and effort she put into the task. “This is my duty. I must fulfill it. The rest is up to them,” she said, continuing with the work.
On talents, individual qualities and sharing….
From opening a flower shop to cracking property deals, Dadiji has done it all. With an extremely experimental and enterprising attitude, she has always been ready to plunge into new business ventures. Her fearless attitude and deep faith are commendable. If I ever felt a sense of failure during my school or college days, she would give me a nice pep talk ending in the most musically spoken words ,”Tomorrow is another day.” “There is always a newness to look forward to,” with this feeling my remorse would gently taper off.
I wish to share that in my school days Dadiji went through her first surgery for breast cancer. We were all completely shaken as in those days such diagnoses was not common. One always thought,”it happens to other people”. It was a rather turbulent time for the family and of course her. It was to my surprise, that in doing this exercize, I was discovered that this was not at all the most challenging time in her life. I had totally assumed this at my end. Dadiji did not even feel it was necessary to mention it. However, I did share with her that this makes her a living example of strength and hope that would inspire many other people who are struggling with cancer – and then she was happy to allow me to include this paragraph. Post the surgery, she was just fine. Her body was naturally in pain but Dadiji was like she was – courageous and as full of faith as ever, carrying her post surgical drain and moving about the house and garden as usual. She even attended a family wedding in this state! It was then in the mid 2000’s that her second mastectomy was done. I remember my friend Roma and I spent few nights at the nursing home with Dadiji. The heavy weight of killing cancers, fears and fatalism never gripped any one of us – all thanks to her! Very much like a soldier, she briskly moved through these obstacles of the body. Post her recovery from surgery, she bounced back to her vivacious ways of living life with total zest. Dadiji has spoken to several other friends and family members who encountered cancer, sharing that it is just something that is born out of fear and would ultimately pass, if not given so much heed to. “I think I developed cancer as this was my biggest fear since my mother died of it. In those days there was no treatment. More than the cancer, the fear of it kills the person.”
Beautiful stories, poetry and prose have sprung out of her, over the years and even now. She shares, “I always wanted to write. When it comes from within, that is writing”. It is a total pleasure to sit with Dadiji and listen to her read out the works. She has this million dollar smile when the read is over – watching my totally besotted expression. This spring we are sitting together very often, in the afternoon sun, relishing the stories and poems. These are neatly kept in a folder. I see her meticulous ways of keeping information and records. It is like the labelling of all bags and suitcases in the store room, so one knows at a glance – what is inside. As she reads out the works, her editing of any typing errors are done simultaneously. We are hoping to bring them forth for a wider audience in due course of time. From touching politics, human behaviour, romance and emotions to nature and her love for dogs – her works are vivid, crisp and moving. She gently and naturally plays notes of melancholy, irony, sarcasm, passion, love and romance through her words – in english and hindustani. In addition to this, for every other day to day situation, Dadiji comes up with age old Punjabi idioms. As none of us at home can understand that level of Punjabi, she happily explains the meaning and laughs out loud.
On being asked about sharing, she says, “The idea of sharing was taught by my father. He said that everything should be divided equally amongst all and the one to divide shall have the smallest share”. The first plum from the tree was split by her amongst all family members, which made it eight pieces. She told me that these things are learnt in childhood from parents and religious books. ‘Do unto others as you shall like to be done to you.’ is her favourite quote. Dadiji has been contributing to several NGO’s and people in need over the years. The other day she called me to check her weight. “Tell me exactly how much it is”, she requested, standing on the weighing scale, “I have to order rice for the तुला दान (tula daan – donating the quantity of rice one weighs). “She does that on every birthday. It is such a wise idea and also such a gift to be able to do so! The happiness of sharing is unsurpassed.
Dadiji is truly an inspiration to me and so many others. The words “life is a celebration” reverberate within all who come in contact with her.