Ten-year old Kishore was doing his homework when mother walked in with a letter in her hand, “Beta Kishore, Badi ma is going to come and live with us for some time.”
“What,” exclaimed Kishore. For a boy who had just asserted his independence by acquiring a room all for himself, this was bad news. He knew Badi ma would be sharing his room and that was bad news.
“How long will she be here” asked Kishore. “About six months or so,” replied mother.
“Oh no!” groaned Kishore, “I may as well go and live with Sudhir.”
“Kishore, that’s really very bad,” scolded mother. “You know very well Badi ma has no one to look after her and she is getting old. We can’t grudge her a little happiness in her old age”
“I’m sorry”, said Kishore, feeling a little guilty.
“Besides Badi ma makes such delicious chaat, don’t you remember”, said mother.
“Oh yes,” said Kishore lightening up a bit.
“I suppose I will have to share my room with her”, asked Kishore.
“Of course” said mother.
“But you know she snores so loudly and she gets up early in the morning and wakes me up also.”
“Good for you son, you can work on your math in the morning when the mind is fresh instead of lazing in bed till 7,” said mother.
“Oh maa…”protested Kishore.
“No more complaining now, let’s quickly find out what time the train arrives.” said mother.
Badi ma was Kishore’s mother cousin sister. She was a spinster and lived with her brother in Saharanpur but usually came to spend some time with Choti, Kishore’s mother in Gwalior. Because of the small age difference somehow she was always like an elder sister to Choti and Badi ma to Kishore.
Kishore’s room was rearranged to fit another cot and a bedside table. The radio was taken and set on it as Badi ma liked listening to bhajans early in the morning. At the station, Kishore was greeted with a warm hug. Badi ma hadn’t changed much. She was of a medium built, white hair tied in a knot and in pastel colored sarees always. “How tall you’ve grown,” Badi ma said beaming as she sized him up with her nut-brown eyes. Kishore smiled at her hesitantly.
Despite his mother’s reassurances, Kishore would mostly try to do his own thing and speak only when spoken to by Badi ma and keep out of her way.
One day when Badi ma made dal with the red leaves plucked from some shrub that grew in the garden. Kishore was sure that this was not a good idea at all. First his room had changed and now the food was starting to look strange.
“It is red amaranthus,” she said, “very good for the eyes and blood.”
The next day Kishore came home from school with a bad toothache. It grew worse by evening and Kishore was afraid of going to the doctor. Sensing his fear Badi ma pulled out a bottle from her medicine bag and put a drop of oil on the painful tooth. It was clove oil. The pain was gone in a short while. Kishore’s heart softened somewhat. Badi ma was not so bad.
But his opinion took a u turn when Badi ma served fried and salted neem flowers with hot rice one day. “Eat that up first then the rest of the meal will follow” she said. “It’s good for your stomach. It will kill any worms you may have in your stomach.”
Kishore was dumbfounded, “Badi ma you come up with some real strange ideas.” All his protests fell on deaf ears and Kishore had a tough time eating one morsel of rice and bitter neem flowers.
Time was flying. It was already two months since Badi ma had come. Kishore was getting up early in the morning, studying or playing, or sometimes collecting the broad leaves of the native badam tree for badima’s pattal. Badi ma ate her food in leaf plates!
He was having fun doing things he had never done before. Of course, there were times he was eating stuff he had never eaten before! But Badi ma would compensate for that by making his favorite chaat. Kishore was growing fond of Badi ma.
But he was truly floored when she scared away a thief who tried to break into the house when Kishore’s father was away on tour. A swish of her walking stick hit the thief on the head, and her loud screams scared the wits out the thief who took to his heels and ran away.
Next day, Kishore was coming back from school thinking about the attempted robbery at home and marveling Badi ma’s courage in outwitting the thief and scaring him away. He saw Badi ma sitting in the shady corner of the verandah in an easy chair. Kishore’s half knitted sweater was lying in her lap and Badi ma had nodded off. Last night’s excitement had proved too much for her. And she looked so small and frail now. Kishore was suddenly filled with a warm feeling. He sat down on the floor overcome with a new respect and affection for her.