Aaji means grandmother in Marathi. There is strange warmth in the name Aaji, it is like a soft blanket that we wrap during the winter months and sit in the sun, reading a book and drinking coffee. The Aaji in this story is also a lady as warm as winter Sun. Her presence always comforted me and my son. We had no blood relation with Aaji yet my son loved her more than his own grandmother. I lost my mother early in life and therefore always regretted that my son would miss the love from his maternal grandmother, however, Aaji fulfilled that void.
When I shifted as Aaji’s neighbour, I was a new, incompetent and confused mom. Most of the time I used to not be able to guess the reason for my son’s constant wailing. My son’s cries used to reach Aaji even through closed doors. And, she used to immediately come and ring my bell and ask “Kai Zhala?” (What happened?). Then she used to take my crying son lovingly in her arms and ask “Tū kā raḍata āhēsa?” (Why are you crying?). Immediately with her magic touch my son used to stop crying and look intently and lovingly at her face
When my son started crawling, he used to simply leave my house, crawl over the lobby and go to her house. After reaching Aaji’s house, he used to sit nicely folding his legs and eat whatever Aaji served him. He loved eating whatever Aaji gave him, even things that he usually refused to touch at home.
Aaji became my go-to person whenever my son fell sick. She always had some handy ‘dadima k nuske’ that invariably cured him. She discouraged me to go to a doctor for smallest of things and always advised herbal medicines. She even used to do ‘nazar utarna’ for him. My parents were atheists and I am neither religious nor superstitious, yet I never objected to Aaji’s belief in warding off the evil eye. The mother in me always gave priority to my son getting well than anything else.
When my son started talking he learned Marathi before his own mother tongue Bengali. Every day before going to his kindergarten he used to knock Aaji’s door and show her his dress. Aaji used to smile approvingly and say “chhan” (nice). A broad smile used to spread on my son’s face like a rainbow and then he used to hop excitedly to school.
Soon it became a ritual for my son to buy an extra piece of chocolate or an extra packet of chips for Aaji. He then used to come back, show it to Aaji and tell her that he bought it for her. But then he used to immediately open it and start eating. If Aaji said ‘but you bought it for me’ my son’s prompt reply used to be ‘old people fall sick if they eat this junk’. Aaji used to burst into a wild laugh and kiss my son.
I am usually a patient Mom. I do not lose my cool easily, however, one day I lost my cool and started yelling at my son. Aaji heard and came rushing to my house. My son ran to her arms and tightly clung to her, like a joey clinging to a kangaroo. He was rubbing his face on Aaji’s chest and crying non-stop. Looking at his condition and my outburst Aaji couldn’t control her tears and she also started crying. And, when I saw them crying, I also started crying. It was quite a scene with all of us crying.
We stayed next to Aaji for about three years. The day we were shifting our house, Aaji didn’t open her door the whole day. My son was too small to understand the repercussion of shifting. He was going and knocking Aaji’s door but she didn’t open. I am sure it was heartbreaking for her to see us moving out.
She came to visit us in our new home within a week. My son was too happy to see her. He started babbling how he was missing going to her place right after waking up and completing his residual sleep on her sofa. He was talking non-stop and Aaji was listening patiently. I saw tears welling up in Aaji’s eyes. I wonder if it was tears of sorrow or joy.