Rains, aloo kachodi and the death of my grandmother
This is a collaborative piece.
Text: Sobia Abdin
Art: Monjira Sen
My grandmother died on a rainy day in June. The year, I am guessing was 2006, I must have been twelve years old. I am not sure about the date, for her children never mourn her on her barsi, not even my father who had claimed to be the most devoted son during her lifetime. So her grave has been without flowers and candles ever since she died.
However, I do. My mourning had begun the moment the news of her death had reached my ears. Though I do not mourn her, an aged woman I had never come to love. But granddaughters and daughters, and wives and women and mothers. I mourn for the rain, the guavas, and mostly for humanity.
And if you ask me how long it takes to forget the death of a grandparent, I’ll say the length of a plate of sizzling aloo kachodis.
I was menstruating when my grandmother died. I do not remember my period accurately, but I remember being forbidden to play in the rain with my younger sisters and male cousins and what other reason could there be for the prohibition. I remember sitting with a long face on the marble floor, gazing at the rain from the door length jungla of my Amma’s maiden house in Ferozabad, and wishing I was a boy while she lamented the cons of being a woman in the background.
“You don’t have children there’s blood, you have children there’s blood. But you go to the doctor and he would test you and say you have no blood.”
I moaned, more in pain from my bleeding uterus than in response to my mother’s words, whose true meaning I would understand only years later. But my Nani and Khala had never agreed more with her, and Nani joined in the lamentation uttering Allah and kambakhat in the same sentence. At the other end of the house, my Mumani shouted as she descended the terrace stairs asking if we want chai and aloo kachodi to go with the rain.
I followed her to the kitchen, bribed by the thought of getting the first batch of steaming kachodis, before my sisters and cousins who had already seized the rain. So, I sat on a patra by the stove, across Mumani who sat in front of it on another patra, and listened to the beating of the rain, the gurgling of boiling potatoes and the thumping of the kneading of maida dough. All my life, I have been baffled by how the sound of rain can make accompanying noises musical, by how rain sounds like silence without being silent. I have a feeling that this useless poetic bewilderment first occurred to me the day when rain had, like a tanpura, provided harmony to the chaos that follows death.
I watched the scene from the kitchen. Nana answered the call from my father on the landline phone. He said “inna lillahi wa inna ilayhi raji’un” and passed the receiver to my mother who said the same prayer. Mumani sensing bad news washed her dough covered hands and went across the veranda to the living room. Nani spoke next on the phone, Amma started packing her bag, Khala helped her do it, Nana searched for his railway directory, and Mumani gathered drenched children from the terrace while I listened as everyone spoke everything at the same time.
“It’s not like I have forgotten anything she did to me…”
“Will the bacchiya also come with us?”
“She threw away my Quran-sharif …”
“I will look after the girls”
“Like I’m some witch casting spells with the Quran…”
“Shouldn’t we wait for the rain to stop?”
“Arey yeh chutki won’t be able to stay without her mother”
“Four ticketey then? Four ticketey to Allahabad?”
“Ask Sobia and Shereen if they want to stay?”
“Abbu Juhi needs only half a ticket”
“They are like Aami Jazi for me”
“I don’t want to say anything now…”
“First let us reach the station”
“May she rest in peace now…”
“I will ask Zubair to get a tempo”
“Why is the badi wali still sitting in the kitchen?”
I came out of the kitchen to bid Amma goodbye. She hugged me and Shereen, and cried for a while with us in her arms. She asked us if we will be able to stay without her or do we want to come along instead, several times as she laid down rules for us to behave. She asked us to take care of each other and not trouble Khala and Mumani much. The rain finally stopped after she left with Juhi, Nani and Nana. Everyone in the house went back to what they were doing. Shereen, Aami and Jazi bhai rolled on the water clogged terrace, Khala cross checked her teaching syllabus, and Mumani peeled boiled potatoes which made a squealing sound as the moist peel fell off.
“Do you still want the kachodis?”
I nodded a yes. Unsurprised by my lack of empathy, she poured mustard oil in a wok, which whistled as it heated. She flattened the dough into circular discs with a belan and her glass bangles clicked as she simultaneously mashed the peeled potatoes. Hearing those sounds, I was reminded of another click of bangles from another year. I must have been five or six, not older than that.
It was a warm winter afternoon and my grandmother was sitting on a chair in the portico, soaking in the sun. She had a shawl wrapped around herself and was slicing pink Allahabadi guavas as gold bangles clicked in her hands. I went to her with outstretched palms asking for a slice. “Shoo” is all I remembered of what she said. “Shoo, shoo.” But I never forgot the look in her eyes. I realized only years later what the look meant. It was a warning against the world I was going to grow up in: a warning that human beings are capable of hatred even for little children.
Sobia Abdin describes herself as a "feminist, a poet, a storyteller, a reader, a woman of colour trying to make sense of my life and identity, and of the on-going devastation in the world around me. My writing is my way of mourning for humanity, for the bodies being burnt by hatred—black or white, male or female, covered or uncovered".
She documents her writing on her blog.
Monjira Sen is a music enthusiast, movie buff and is currently studying graphic design in Ahmedabad. Words are her muse and caffeine and rainy days keep her going. She hopes to one day, run her own cafe by the beach. See more of her work here.