By Andie from London, who can usually be found sharing her love for chips and eyeliner on Twitter @AndieDelicacy
Tulsi was born in 1923 in the state of Gujarat, in India. Known to most as Tara after marriage at the age of just 12 and as Nanima to me, she was a formidable woman.
When Heather asked if I'd like to write about a grandmother I was hesitant at first, not having had much of a relationship with either set of grandparents. However, I felt I knew Tulsi best from stories my mum had always told me of her childhood. The rest has pieced itself together through memories and family conversation.
Tulsi was proud and epitomised the ethos of 'Keep Calm and Carry On', even though she wouldn't have recognised the phrase. My Grandad was frequently abroad after he enlisted in the British Army then worked for the Public Works Department, leaving Nanima looking after their remaining 5 children alone. Two were married at a young age and 2 others lost to illness.
Money was tight during the India-Pakistan war in 1965 with my Grandad still abroad and his pension inaccessible due to the bombings, but Nanima refused to ask for help. They suffered through poverty until my Grandad finally raised enough money for the family to join him in Uganda. It was there Nanima had the opportunity to shake hands with the British Queen, a ‘privilege’ afforded to few people of colour in those days. It was a moment Nanima cherished and recalled frequently, telling my mum how the Queen wore two sets of gloves, removing the sparkly ones to shake hands with the public. Nanima’s time in Uganda was in stark contrast to the hardship endured in India, but happier memories were made when they returned to India to live in Porbandar, the place I first met her and also where Gandhi was born.
My mum was married in Kenya, so it wasn't till a holiday to India when I was 4 that I finally met my grandparents. My memories are hazy, but I recall being fascinated by the wildlife; cows, goats and dogs roaming freely and even coming to the house. I would, in all innocence, feed the vegetables Nanima had planned to cook with to a goat I befriended. I got a stern telling off from my mum, who, in turn, got a telling off from Nanima who indulged me.
What I remember most is Nanima’s relationship with my Grandad. Their bickering was always good natured and their love and respect for each other rare, especially in those times.
My memories of Nanima are much clearer from the time spent together when we moved to England. Nanima and Grandad moved here in 1984 and we followed a year later. Sadly, those memories are few and far between because soon after, she developed ovarian cancer. Nanima passed away when I was 9 and I hadn’t once heard her utter a word of complaint. Hers was the first funeral I attended, open casket as is tradition in the Hindu culture and though some thought I was too young, I found it helpful to see her looking at peace.
Even now, stories of what a generous, giving and smart woman she was, with never a hair out of place, are still told.
I think my biggest surprise when writing about my nan, was the realisation that even at a time where arranged marriages were the norm and men were encouraged to be dominant in relationships, my grandparents had the closest thing to an equal marriage I’d witnessed in people of their generation. There was a real pressure on women to bear sons, but they doted on all 6 daughters every bit as much as their only son. Those progressive values were passed down to my mum, who never made my sisters or I feel like we were anything other than equal to men. When others expressed their condolences at my birth, as the youngest of 3 daughters, my mum was quick to set them straight. I strongly believe this was down to how Nanima raised her.
My grandad always credited my nan as his driving force, even during his toughest times. Everyone who knew them agreed that even with his army background, he was the one more likely to fall to pieces in a crisis. Her inner strength and calming influence is something I hope to learn from.
As it turns out, I knew Nanima better than I thought when I started thinking about The Grantidote. I've thoroughly enjoyed the process and the walk down memory lane with my mum.
I’ve lost count of the number of times people who knew Nanima back in Uganda or India have told me she was a one off.
Incomparable. Achingly missed.
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