Today’s post is in honour of a very special and unique member of my family, who sadly passed from this world on the 2nd of February, 2014. Although we were not related in blood, she was the closest I ever had to a grandmother. She was a shining light in my life and her kindness, hospitality and devotion to family, friends and God will always be a beacon of inspiration to me. As she and part of my immediate family are Gujarati, we called her by the Gujarati word ‘Baa’ which means ‘grandma’.
Baa was born in Bukoba, a small town in Tanganyika (now Tanzania) in 1934. She got married to our grandfather in India and they settled in both that country and east Africa before emigrating to the UK in 1967, purchasing a house in Forest Gate, east London where she lived for several decades before her untimely departure. Together they had five children, four sons and a daughter, whom Baa helped support through many jobs in local factories. She was very welcoming and highly social, always inviting people from far and wide into her home, regardless of space. She loved shopping and watching Indian TV serials and had an impeccable taste in sarees (Indian dress) and boasted an impressive collection of them, as well as bangles. Like her husband (our grandfather), she was very pious and we would often go with them to the temple and celebrate festivals together.
The first time I met her was around 1997-1998 when I was out food shopping with my Mum at the Tesco in Green Street, Upton Park, not far from where she used to live. I remember being a bit nervous at first, but her smile and kindness soon endeared me to her. Over the years, Baa would often invite us to her home for dinners and family get-togethers. I remember often going around hers and she would always let me take a Coke can from the kitchen cupboard and also offer snacks and rotis. She always asked about my wellbeing, school and day-to-day life and I would help her with housework and shopping.
Sadly, after a few years, I left home due to some problems and lost contact with her and our grandfather, whom we called ‘Dada’. In 2009, she sustained a fall outside a hospital while visiting Dada there and from then on her health began to decline.
The last time I saw her was two days before her passing. She was very ill, unable to speak and move much and it shattered my heart to see her in that state. I went straight into the kitchen, the same kitchen where I and Baa would sit down for a cup of masala tea and a chat, and broke down in front of my aunt and mother. She sought solace in devotional songs because perhaps she knew God was going to call her soon. The one she was listening to when I saw her I have added below. It is the Gayatri mantra, which brings one closer to God in their hour of need.
Her funeral was held the following Friday at a local crematorium. As befitting the great person that she was, Baa received a beautiful and poignant send-off, with 300 guests attending a special service where her grandchildren read special eulogies for her, admiring her tenacity in the face of ill health and difficulty, including a time when she bravely fought off a mugger who tried to steal her necklace. Twelve pure white doves were released in her memory and just like how our families were brought together on this day, the doves flew as one flock into the trees, carrying Baa’s spirit with them. The recent bad weather and snow failed to show up that day, and instead bright sunlight trickled into the service hall, so that even it seemed that God was shining down on Baa and receiving her in His divine grace.
It has been a very sad and difficult time, but I and my siblings consider ourselves extremely fortunate to have benefitted from her care and wisdom. She always made a home from home and loved and adored her grandchildren.
Baa, you will always be in our hearts. We miss you and love you, forever and always.
બા, તમે હંમેશા અમારા હૃદયમાં હશે. અમે કાયમ અને હંમેશા તમે ચૂકી છે અને તમને પ્રેમ.
Many thanks to sister Anjali for creating the photo montage for this memorial.