“You call every old lady Dadi Ji, Tai Ji. But why don’t you call your own dadi, Dadi ji. All the time you call her Buddhiya (old woman)?”, Papa used to scold me. So when he was around, I’d call my grandmother, Dadi – still not Dadi Ji. Calling her Dadi Ji was too much. These benign respectful words are for outsiders. She is a friend, very fast friend. When Papa was not around, I’d simply say “Oye Buddhi… ki haal chal…?” (Oye! Old Woman, Wassup?”
When I was a kid, rather a fat kid, it was very hard for me to walk properly on the mer (a thick space that separates two fields). I used to keep slipping and fall down to bruise my legs. She would hold me up and wonder how’d I make a living as farmer. Farmers are supposed rough and tough and I could not even walk on mer properly. But most of all she was worried whether I’d serve her in her old age or not which by the way came true since almost all the time I am away from home.
Rarely she’d tell us any story. The reason she’d give that her grandmother never told her a story so she does not know any. Poor peasants has to be prosaic and stories is surely not a part of such life. She lives in her own world where principle of reality does not work. As Papa says, “All she knows is Chhalaba and Chudails”. To translate it roughly, ‘ghosts and witches’. Whenever I insisted to sleep with her so that she could tell me story after giving her the assurance that I would not pee in her bed (an assurance which was rarely kept), she would agree. And then there was only one story of her in which there was kid with all the mythical creatures with him who comes back to seek revenge on his evil step mother, or something like that. After that she will talk about all her experience in real life. During all of this she never spared an opportunity to curse god.
She is an expert in the matter of Chhalaba, a local ghost in my area. According to my grandmother, it has some peculiar features. It comes out in afternoon that too in summer. Its feet are front side back and most importantly it has a color code. It keeps bags of polythene in its hand. If its is red, it is the most dangerous, and you must run for your life. Then there is blue, avoid eye contact and pass as fast as you can. Then yellow, no problem at all. In fact, these polythene were introduced by him to mankind, that is why they never get consumed by earth. An 5 feet tall old man in my village used to claim that he has fought with this Chalaba. The only way to defeat it was to burn it with fire, which he did by putting his chilam (smoking pot) on its butt.
Lying in bed, under the sky, she would tell a story about moon. That the moon and sun were brothers and one day when their mother asks them to bring some food for her. Sun refused but Moon, being an obedient child, brought her food from nearby village. So Mother cursed the Sun that he will rise up burning and set down burning for he has no manners. For Moon, there was a blessing. Moon will rise up in the shadows of stars and will always set down in same shadow.
Moon was not the only thing which she admires. Among these are Sparrow (Gauraiyya, Chidiya) , Pandak (A bird), Parrot, Cuckoo and most of all, Sookh (A star – visible only in early morning).
Sparrow are very homely. Since they are soft, most of the time working, making their home together, raising up their kids together, never pouncing on anyone, they are considered ideal husband and wife. On the other hand, she hates Maina for they chatter way too much and they ransack gauraiyya’s nest. No person is complete without a caste in India. In fact, you do not have family name as the last name, its the cast name which are used as last name in India. Few scholars ( Louis Dumont being the prominent) have wondered about the survival of this kind of oppressive and inhumane institution. Caste is attached to these birds also which I am in no mood of revealing.
Cuckoo is taken as she is always saying, ‘Karo, karo, karo ”’ ( do work, do work, …). On this she will curse her, “We are already working mere baap ki shaukan. How much more you want?” Pandak, a very shy and peaceful bird which looks like pigeons, seems to speak different words, ‘poore, poore…’ . There is a story about this bird too. Once she went to temple and leave his son behind to look after the seeds she has prepared to sow with a warning that if she finds the seed less then she will chop off his head. (It was Satyug, and according to her these kind of things used to happen). Seeds were wet and by the time she came back they were drier. It could not fill up the pot in which they were kept so she killed her son. After some time when she made them wet again, just before sowing, they filled the pot again. On realizing her grave error, she felt so sad. Since then, she keeps saying, “poore, poore…”.
In the early morning, 3-4 hours before the sunrise she would spin the Charkha. This spinning of cotton thread is send to Gandhi Ashram in nearby town. Sometime they will come to my village to collect the threads. Using this they will make the bedsheets and chadar. This spinning was the major source of old women income in my village. It not only gave them some money but also a sense of dignity and person with job usually have. Looking at the sky by the position of the star named sookh, she would tell how much time is left to the morning. Everyday she would spin for 6-7 hours and in a week she could amass 4-5 kg of threads. Then all the old-ladies of my village will go to the nearby town to sell it government run Gandhi Ashram. The scene over there is remarkable. So many village Dadi talking in their poisonous way about all the Bahu’s.
A lot has been changes since then. In last 10-15 years, spinning is out of fashion. No one spins anymore in my village. Now it has been downgraded to a poor man work. In India, it is fashionable and very much approved that you must live in exclusiveness after moving up in social order (using Marx’s definition of class). You can almost never see a rich Indian living around poorer one. And try to notice a behavior, they do not like to mingle with them though they seems to be very much concerned about their mis-fortunate.
My Grandmother passed away on April 08, 2010, in morning 4-5 am.