|Bhag Bhuaji Left Sitting with her entire family|
My Bhag (short for Bhagwant Kaur) bhuaji (in Punjabi we pronounce it thus rather than the Hindi ‘buaji’; father’s sister, in Hindi) died at about 10 pm on 30 Jan 11. With that an era has come to a close. She was the youngest of my father’s three sisters; the elder one, Jaswant bhuaji, was the eldest in the family of five brothers and three sisters (all dead now except Meji chachaji, the youngest of the siblings). Then there was Ratno bhuaji, younger to Jaswant bhuaji. She died a few years back; at a relatively younger age.
My bhuajis were the reincarnation of love and kindness. My grandfather’s family had strong charactered men; each one a perfectionist in his own way. The men, including my father, were extremely ambitious and hence given to anger and frustration. It was thus left to my bhuajis to bring some semblance of compassion and calm in the family. They had these in abundance. It was natural for them to think of others without asking for anything in return. I cannot remember a time when I saw them without a radiant smile on their faces and the desire to make the best of any situation.
|Bhag bhuaji (L) and my mom (R)|
Bhag bhuaji, just like her two sisters, was very beautiful indeed, both from within and outwardly. When she smiled, which she did all the time, her nose stud would shine and make her look even more radiant. She was in awe of my father; what with his always being in a hurry (he died young; he won’t have wanted to keep God waiting). But, she loved him unconditionally, as she did the rest of the family.
|Bhag bhuaji loved family gatherings|
Hospitality came naturally to her. Bhuaji and my uncle lived in Chandigarh. There were no occasions when we passed through Chandigarh on the way to Himachal (where my dad served) without looking them up. As we would enter the house, without ever seen by us or seemingly ordered by her, one of the kids would run up to the sweet shop to fetch fresh ghulab jamuns, jalebis, and samosas for us. These would be in addition to the goodies at home such as gajrella (sweet carrot dish), pinnis (round sweets like laddus made with wheat and dry fruits) and kheer (sweet made with rice and milk and dry fruits). Irrespective of the number of people for whom bhuaji would have to suddenly make meals, bhuaji would do so smilingly, and indeed whilst cracking jokes. Her youngest son Monty’s wife Manjit has inherited these virtues. Last time when I visited Bhag bhuaji, as if she knew it was going to be the last time, she had invited all the near and dear ones for lunch with me. Manjit cooked delicious food for everyone; there were nearly three dozens of us.
|She was fond of Rana, Ratno bhuaji’s son|
Bhag bhuaji, mummy, and sisters would be at their best during weddings. They would enjoy dancing and bolis and tappes (folk singing with a view to invite rejoinders) and indeed encourage others to do so. One of them would play the dholaki (traditional Punjabi drum) and the other would rythemically beat it with the back of a spoon. And this with all the work at home.
On one of the occasions when I visited her, she made me climb up the loft to fetch a carton of beer with just two bottles
|Bhag bhuaji and my mom at Rana’s party|
in it. She explained, “Munde khunde beer pee rahe si; main ohna nu keha Ravi layi do botlan rakh layo” (The boys were having beer one day and I told them to keep two bottles for Ravi). I was touched. Generally, bhuaji looked down on anyone drinking. But, since it was offered to her jawaai (son-in-law), her quick reaction was that me being a fauji (armed forces man) would probably relish it. There was nothing strange about her keeping beer for me; she did it for everything that would make others happy. For example, if anyone would appreciate the taste of her saag (spinach), kheer or anything, she would freeze it and keep for me.
|Our last picture together|
In our recent life, after my father died, Bhag bhuaji visited us in the hills only once since she was very scared of driving in the hills. She enjoyed the scenery, the freshness of air, trees and flowers. Encouraged I thought of taking her and others for a picnic to the forest around Chail. We made a small fire for heating up the goodies that we had carried for lunch. Suddenly, Bhag bhuaji looked around and remarked about the remoteness of the place and the likelihood of a sher (lion) jumping on us. I thought she might be joking but the more she talked about it the more she convinced herself that there was ample likelihood of sher surprising us (even though there were none in that forest). Finally, we quickly packed up our stuff, not because of being surprised by sher but by rain. After the rain stopped I took her to the Chail cricket ground atop a hill (reputed to be the highest cricket field in the world during the days of the rajas). As she climbed the last of the steps to the cricket field, she came up with her characteristic remark, “Aithe cricket kidan khed de honge; aithe tanh uppar chad de hi saah chad jaand hai?” (How would anyone have played cricket here; one is breathless just by climbing up here).
|Bhag bhuaji in America, just prior to 9/11|
Truly, in her observations, fears and anxieties she would become a small girl. She would be a small girl in the family gatherings too. A few years back my youngest uncle Meji in America invited the surviving siblings, that is, Pitamber Uncle, Dilgir Uncle, Bhag bhuaji and my mom (representing my dad who died in 1984 of an accident) to spend time with him there. Their visit coincided with 9/11. Bhag bhuaji was very excited telling all of us about the US and its quality of life; but, she also added, “Main nahin uthe wapis jaana. Asin uthe gaye tanh ohna ne saare paase bomb sutne shuru kar ditte.” (I am not going back there; they started chucking bombs all over when we were there). Indeed, Bhag bhuaji, her three brothers and my mom were there in Washington when the attack on Pentagon took place. Some of her fears were not so girlish afterall.
|Bhag bhuaji and me|
For the last two years or so Bhag bhuaji had lost a few teeth. She had a renal problem and had to go for dialysis twice in a week. One would think that with her age and this problem she would have complained or forgotten to crack jokes. No; when she laughed through her missing front teeth, it made her look even more cute. There was never any problem that would make her complain or forget to enjoy life and company of those around her.
For me, just like my dad, I never missed out on visiting her even if it were for a few minutes. She would often tell everyone, “Ravi nahin maiton milne bgair jaa sakda.” (Ravi would never cross this place without seeing me).
So tell me bhuaji, when I visit Chandigarh next, where should I come to see you? You always thought of everything; did you think about this too?
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