Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Aapa Jaan

I was sitting around messing about on the computer this evening when one of my grandmother’s friends came over. Not bothering with formalities, she walked straight into our bedroom and sat herself on the bed. I greeted her, smiling awkwardly, the way you do when strangers look you up and down, trying to figure out if you’ve grown up into anything worthwhile.

“Do you know who I am?” she asked me.

I admitted sheepishly that I did not.

“Lo! Ye tau mujhe pehchaanta hi nahin!” she complained laughingly to my grandmother.

“You really don’t know who she is?” my grandmother asked me.

“No, I’m sorry,” I said, looking for some cleft in the earth to swallow me up.

“This is Aapa jaan, Shamim’s sister,” Nani explained.

“Oh right . . .” Shamim’s sister. Who was Shamim?

Apparently, Aapa jaan was one of Nani’s friends from Delhi. When my grandparents immigrated from India, they came over in a cluster of families, all distantly related. Aapa Jaan’s father and Nana were cousins and they relocated to Lahore, buying land next to each other, building homes side by side. Her younger brothers and sisters still live next door, now with families of their own. She, of course, moved out many years ago when she got married.

You could tell she was a Dilli-waali. Round, wobbly and with a mouth permanently brown and eroded from a lifetime of paan. And the language she spoke, a pristine Urdu, embroidered with all the delicate phrases, the soft nuances of a literate heritage erupting gently through the erosions.

“Ye bohat chota tha jab aakhri baar milay thay. Isko kahan yaad hoga,” she told me grandmother. “Idhar aao, beta.”

I went over and she bent me down, kissing me on the forehead.

Maine tumhari maa ko apni goad main khilaya hai,” she said, looking into my eyes with what was unmistakably love.

“Ji . . .” I fumbled, trying to find something to say.

“Sharmaa raha hai!” she said, laughing at my ridiculous discomfort. “Jao, computer karo! Ek tau aaj kal kay bachchay, jab dekho computer par baithay hotay hain.”

“Ji, Aapa. Jaanay kya milta hai unko. Saara din baithay rehtay hain. Aankhon pe jo zor parta hai wo tau hai hi, kamar main bhi takleef ho jati hai.”

Aapa jaan and Nani had launched into a diatribe on computers and the scourge that is the internet. It was a health hazard, a corrupting influence on the souls of young men and women. It promoted vice and indecency. People got married on the internet, families split up, children ruined.

I smiled inwardly at their observations and went back to my reading.

A short while later, I saw Aapa jaan get up to leave and I stood up to see her off.

She looked at me and smiled. “Meray saath chalo. Meray ghar. Khaana khila ke bhej doongi.”

I thanked her. Some other time, aunty.

Maine mirchain qeema banaya hai. Bohat mazay ka hai,” she said, holding my hand and pulling me towards the door.

And I was unwittingly taken to her home. Nani and I sat down while she went into the kitchen to get things ready. She lived with her sons and a daughter-in-law but everyone was out. The only other person in the house was the servant. We were soon joined, however, by Aapa jaan's baby brother and his wife, who'd dropped by to say hello. It had been many years since I'd seen Najju uncle and he looked completely different from the young bachelor I remembered. We used to play table tennis in his garage, setting up nightly tournaments, much to the chagrin of our parents. He was married now with two young children and even a generous shalwaar kameez couldn't hide the evident pleasures of Uzma aunty's good cooking.

While we talked, Aapa jaan was busy setting the table, amiably wobbling back and forth between kitchen and dining room. And it turned out to be a wonderful meal. Apart from the mirchain qeema and the ubiquitous daal chawal (aka food of champions), there was also a cannister of the famous Hyderabadi achaar and crispy, melt-in-your-mouth parathas that dissolved in a fiery burst as soon as they touched the tongue. But more than the meal, it was the easy informality of the occasion that was so delightful. We were all seated around her table, chatting, laughing, eating, caught up in each other’s company and Aapa jaan presiding over us with hot parathas and eager invocations to eat more.

I don’t know how long I sat there but it was very difficult to get up when I finally had to.

“Shukriya, aunty,” I said as we were leaving “Bohat maza aaya.” It had been a memorable meal.

“Nahin, betay. Aap ka shukriya, aap meray ghar aaye,” she said warmly, pressing a packet of halwa into my hands.

Sometimes there are no words.


Blogger Sujatha said...

KK, wonderful, warm post. I see your diet went for a toss, but you gained something very precious in return. I agree with you about the easy informality.

12:00 AM  
Blogger baj said...

it's great that even though you are now a grown man, the words "bohat chota" and "beta" are still used to describe you.

my fav line: "Jao, computer karo!" i'm going to use that often and well.

3:54 AM  
Blogger chai said...

hahahaha baji me too me too

4:23 AM  
Blogger Crazed Teacher said...

me three, but really a nice and heartwarming post. its a blessing to have these aunts who come up to you and hug you like anything in the world and remind you that she is a chahci or a mami who we havent seen in a while.

6:12 AM  
Blogger karrvakarela said...

Sujatha: thanks! Glad you enjoyed reading it. And yes, the diet's a thing of the past now. Living with family, it's impossible to stay away from food.

Baji, Chai, Ushi: thanks! I'm glad you enjoyed reading it. No matter how old we are, we will still be children to those who grew us up. And that's such a blessing. Because we all need our elders. I remember reading an article somebody had written about when his father passed away and how sharp the feeling of being orphaned was, even though he was a grown man and had grown up children of his own.

3:26 AM  

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