“You are home. Relax.”
Nani Ji ushered us into her living room. From the second we met Nani Ji, her friendliness and sweet smile made us feel like we had a home in India. Nani Ji did not hesitate to take us into her home and requested that we refer to her by her iconic nickname meaning “mother’s mother.” Adding “ji” at the end of a name is a way to show respect to an elder, similar to using Mr. or Mrs. in the U.S.
“You want cookies? Here you can have it. Please take it. You are my children now.”
Her phrases of endearment only made us love her more. Nani Ji lives in Lajpat Nagar, an area very close to where we had originally stayed in Jasola that is walking distance from a very popular market. All of the meals we had were homemade with ingredients from the market or nearby organic farm and were cooked either by Nani Ji herself or her cook. We all looked forward to these delicious meals because they were a taste of Nani Ji’s past in Kashmir, the northern most state of India in the Himalayas. On our last night, she made us her special red beans that she had brought back with her during her last trip home and prepared them with saffron and her hand-ground masala. At dinner, Nani Ji always had an interesting story to tell and wanted to know all about us: from sports to school to even our love lives.
“You can tell me, do not be shy. I am Nani Ji.”
She told us about her family and loved talking about her two grandchildren who were pursuing their studies in the United States. Her granddaughter, who came to visit us, just graduated from Syracuse University with a degree in communications—and also has recently published her first cookbook! Her grandson is studying music and math at UCLA. It is clear that her grandson was inspired to study music because of Nani Ji’s spirit and love for the subject. When we asked her what she likes to do in her free time, she replied “I love going to the club, dancing, listening to the music, and spending time with my friends.” Additionally, one of her major pastimes is traveling. She has been to every continent except South America and enjoys visiting the US, UK, Dubai, and Kashmir every year to visit her family who has dispersed throughout the world.
“You must travel. It is very important to travel.”
Her extroverted yet laid-back personality was very welcoming and made it easy to share our lives with her. We told her of our college experiences so far and how much we have enjoyed India. At the beginning of every dinner we would recite the “Gayatri Mantra,” which we had learned at the D.A.V. school. She would bless us and the food and say the same thing every time:
“All of my children are here. We are a family. I am very happy.”
We finished off every meal with a small cup of tea and cookies that she had brought from her recent trip to London. By the end of only two days, we knew how to make the tea the way she taught us and exactly where she had hidden the box of cookies. Saying goodbye to Nani Ji was a sad moment, but she has promised that she will come to all of our weddings! It truly felt like a home away from home.