My Grandmother died today. Oct 4th, actually, since it is now past midnight. It seems so strange to say it in English, Grandmother. Nanimaa. That’s much better. Nanimaa, all 94 years of her. Or so we think, assuming she was 17 or so when she gave birth to my oldest aunt, who is now 77. Nanimaa died at 10.02 am in an assisted-living home in Calgary, Alberta. The last person to see her alive among family was my brother, who saw her just after morphine had been administered at 9.30 pm last night. My mother called the home this morning at 8 am and was told she was fine. The nurses then saw her take three final breaths, and expire, and just like that, she was gone.

Every organ in the body was healthy. But she was too weak to cough up phlegm, and her lungs were filling up. For over a week now, she wasn’t hungry, and took a small sip of water or juice now and then. Old age, finally, and her body gave out. She was lucid to the end, with just one drug-induced bout of delirious confusion last week, which passed. Her breathing slowed down, and despite the oxygen, her heart just stopped.

94. For who knows if records were kept, and even if someone recorded the birth in Gujarati characters in Ahmedabad, no doubt they were forgotten or left behind when she voyaged from Gujarat to Kenya. She was too shy to continue going to school once her betrothal was arranged, and so, Nanimaa could not read or write. I remember some official looking people coming to the house when I was in Standard 1, and looking up at her as they pressed her thumb on an ink pad to get her signature. She caught the look, and felt ashamed that I could read and she could not, and I remember thinking, that’s okay, Nanimaa, you make the best cookies.

It’s the worst thing to be torn from your parents and sent off to grandparents because there is no school where your parents live. Amidst all the child-rearing techniques that were the opposite of this ( http://healthland.time.com/2010/09/29/no-such-thing-as-too-much-love-spoiled-babies-grow-up-to-be-smarter-kinder-kids/), she would bring the cream skimmed off the freshly milked cows, lace it with sugar, and offer it to me with bread still warm from the oven. She birthed and raised ten kids, the youngest of whom was a Standard ahead of me, but with whom I caught up when I skipped Standard 3. But I digress. When grandparents die, your history no longer has a memory, no one to fill in the gaps you don’t remember, and you can no longer ask them about theirs. You can no longer look back and think, that’s my lineage, and she formed me, taught me, held me, slapped me, was proud of me, and saw me get married and have children of my own. She crossed the Indian Ocean to make a new home in a foreign land, and I crossed the Atlantic Ocean to end up living near the Pacific.

I’m at her feet in the hat.

I don’t know how you birthed ten kids, Nanimaa, without anaesthetic and at home. I don’t know how you raised them—or how you survived the birth of the twins, when they had given up on your living past their birth. I don’t know how you came through the death of your beautiful teenaged daughter. How you cooked fresh meals for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and made every food for snacks and tea, without a fridge in an equatorial climate. Plus food for daily offerings in the jamat khana. You knew every recipe from memory, so that even now, Mum would ask, How do you make this kind of daal, and you’d tell her, patiently, unhesitatingly, and provide several options. You leave behind 18 grandchildren and 12 great-grandchildren, with another on the way. You made everything the females in the household wore, and I remember the day when my youngest brother was born (Standard 2). Once word came that it was a live birth, you sat at the Singer sewing machine and pedaled it to make the baby gowns all newborns wore. It was bad luck to prepare a layette before a birth.

Tonight the family is gathered at Faiza aunty’s house and Dad and my brother Al-Karim are reciting the prayers and the tasbihs (chants) said when a person departs. They have been reciting these at your bedside for the past week, and they will continue to do so for forty days. Tomorrow, the community will gather at Headquarters Jamat Khana to pray with the family. On Thursday, friends and family will gather for the funeral. I have no passport and cannot travel to be physically present at any of these. And I knew when I visited you in August that this would probably be the last time I would see you. But I wanted to send you on your way, if not in prayer with my family tonight, then on the wings of music, which is the soul of prayer. There was a classical North Indian music performance at the Athenaeum tonight, in commemoration of Gandhi. Indian classical music is rooted in the sacred, and as the evening raga, a poem from Kabir, and a bhajan that was a meditation devoted to Rama were performed, I held you in my thoughts for the hour and a half. Kabir sang: Why do you not understand? What does fire know of lightning? At some point, I felt the transformation from your emaciated self to your energetic and vibrant womanhood and then, unexpectedly, I saw you as a celestial being in a silvery sari, with Nana Bapa at your side. He has been waiting 15 years for you.

Inna li’llahi wa inna ilahi rajeoon. May you be surrounded by divine music in your abode of peace and light.

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