This weekend gone, I celebrated the wedding of my childhood family friend, Mina. Let me paint some of the picture for you. My mother’s family have known Mina’s for generations – my late nanaji (grandfather) was from the same village in India as Mina’s late dadima (grandma). They shared a special bond like brother and sister, where Mina’s dadima often told my nanaji off as she was older, and he respected every word that she uttered. Mina’s grandparents live directly opposite my grandparents in the Midlands, and the two families share a very special bond which is difficult to articulate. They know each other so well. During summer and school holidays, my sister and I spent many happy hours creating fun games with Mina and her sister. I went on my first holiday to Portugal with Mina when I was six months old, so it’s no surprise I experienced her wedding through many reflections and childhood memories. The biggest heartache though, was Mina’s dadima not being present to lead the celebrations. Today’s blog is dedicated to a very special, highly respected dadima, Bhajno Auntiji, Mina’s late dadima (Auntiji is a form of respectful address, taken from the word ‘Aunty’). Were she here today, she would have featured a prominent position in my forthcoming book.
Amongst the fun of wedding rituals – cooking, eating, laughter and some emotional tears, Bhajno Auntiji’s name was repeatedly spoken with love by many guests. Apart from being charismatic, extremely hard-working, and a woman of values and integrity, Bhajno Auniji was a celebrity in her own right – she was famous (and funny) within her family and community, for her mouth-wateringly gorgeous Indian dishes. I remember as a little girl, enjoying the food at Mina’s house – great food was cooked daily in their kitchen. My nanima (nan), who lost an older sister figure when Bhajno Auniji left us, said with pride: “If Bhajno was alive today, she would have been cooking a feast on a daily basis leading up to this wedding”. Everyone in the kitchen listened to nanima and beamed nostalgically, chiming in, sharing their little stories of her famous Indian sweet dishes, and what a talented cook and great woman she was.
My mum reminds me, that growing up, an open-door policy operated between the two families – NO phonecalls or appointments were needed like today – you just met up as and when the mood took you. Whenever my grandparents had a little tiff, my nanaiji would say: “I’m going for a chat with my older sister (Mina’s dadima) and I’ll eat dinner there!” My nanima (nan) tells me that she would liaise with Mina’s dadima on who was cooking what, and it was normal for them to exchange cooking pots across the road, and do the usual Indian thing – only return someone else’s pot filled with more food! (my mum still does that today). The magic of food bonded the two families in more ways than one, and food holds special stories for both families.
This ritual of exchanging pots of food, still continues today, with Mina’s father (also a great cook) helping to keep his mother’s traditions alive, and maintain that bond with my nanima, who sees him as a son. It was during Bhajno Auntiji’s unfortunate stroke, that Mina’s father, Manjit, devoted himself to her care, and also took over her role of cooking home-made food for his father. Manjit appreciates great food, and who wouldn’t when your mother was Bhajno Aunty. Thankfully, she passed down to him all her tricks and culinary secrets, or rather, Manjit took time to ‘listen, learn and observe’ (see past blog https://anniradhika.wordpress.com/2015/11/10/listen-learn-and-be-amazed/). When she had the stroke and was in a wheelchair, Manjit shared his story of how he would wheel his mum into the kitchen whilst he was cooking, and ask her how much of each spice to use. As she couldn’t talk, she would nod and gesture charismatically, with her culinary approval. Bhajno Auntiji was a great cook with high standards- my fussy nanima is testimony to that, and totally approved of Bhajno Auntyji’s style (see previous post on quality food https://anniradhika.wordpress.com/2016/04/06/ill-never-compromise-on-quality-a-blog-for-nanimas-birthday/!).
The blessings and stories of our elders sit at the heart of Indian culture, where food is a key player. Elders are that essential ingredient in any Indian wedding. Indian weddings are complicated enough as they are, and our dadimas hold a wealth of knowledge and wisdom to guide us. Having celebrated Mina’s wedding, I know one thing for sure – Bhajno Auntiji left a legacy which connected generations- through her food, wisdom and kind heart. Maybe you have a special dadima or dadaji (grandfather) figure in your life- someone who touches your heart. Take a few moments to reflect on his/her ‘wow’ factors.