These days I find three kinds of hair on my clothes: my own, my cat’s and Barima’s.
I do not call my maternal grandma nani, like other north Indians. I call her Barima; which translates from Hindi to “big mother” in English. That name was given to her by my elder sister (the first-born of Barima’s first-born). I dream of the day my sister would put a girl in Barima’s lap to continue forth the line of first-born females).
Barima’s breathing vibrates throughout the house. She uses only one lung to breathe. The lung that doesn’t function was destroyed by medicines given to her for the Tuberculosis with which she had been misdiagnosed. She has been breathing heavily for some years now and sometimes we sisters joke around referring to her darthmoder breaths.
Barima is the one who gave me my name. Juhi is a poetical name for the type of jasmine flower that grows on a vine and is known for its fragrance. When I was born, I was the second daughter produced by my mother sadly disappointing my Amma(paternal grandma) who desperately wanted a son from her eldest son’s wife. After four years of waiting for the second child, Amma hoped for a boy this time. But Alas! Girl again. And so she sulked, and my mom sobbed silently. I was finally brought in by the nurse, cleaned up and powdered with talc. Barima, in an attempt to cool down the thunder, brought me to Amma and said, “Meet your grandchild. She is as fragrant as the Juhi flower.”
Barima is also the one who gave me my mother tongue back. After we returned from dad’s deputation in Trinidad and Tobago, my Hindi was lost; I could understand it, but could not speak it for some reason. My English accent laced with Trini sing-songs was hardly understood by my peers and even teachers couldn’t understand me. I had become the complete opposite of my self. From loud-mouth frank and outspoken precociousness, I went to shy silent cat-like precociousness. My parents were worried. While they set up house back in Delhi, I was sent off to Barima’s rough TLC. She forced me to speak in Hindi, and though I never became very proficient in reading and writing it, at least I speak and understand my own mothertongue.
I do not know how long I shall keep finding Barima’s white stands of hair on my clothes.