It has been awhile since my Bibi (paternal grandmother) died. She was said to be 87 although it cannot be certain. I will always remember my mom’s haunting cry when she received the news over the phone. I have watched my parents cry and mourn for months. Despite her being millions of miles away, our house shook to the core, there was empty sadness that could not be filled.
I cried in solitude, mainly in the shower. But for the most part, I was able to keep things together. I told myself all the right things to justify why it was OK. There was some solace in knowing Bibi Ji lived a long and full life.
Bibi was an extraordinary woman: particular, plainspoken, down to earth and sharp. She wasn’t afraid of living alone – she was fearlessly independent. Her strength was impressive. My grandfather died when my dad was a teenager, and Bibi raised four kids on her own. She lived many years quite enthusiastically. She was the sort of woman who was the epicenter of the village. She liked to know the goings on and people sought her wisdom. She helped when she could and was determined to create a legacy. Let’s face it, she was a keener.
She knew her place in the world and she held her etiquette principles to high regard.
She knew the importance of the bonds of family, how to maintain relationships (she was a public relations maven in disguise), and the importance of giving back. But still, there was a bit of a rebel in her that she kept very tightly under wraps. I like to believe it came out every now and again.
Her health turned for the worst a few years ago. At first it wasn’t clear whether her health would continue its rapid deterioration or plateau, so there was a good deal of trying to get systems in place to enable her to continue living by herself, in her own home in Punjab, India as independently as possible.
But there was no stabilization. She kept getting worse. We hoped. We prayed. We thought we would meet again, but it never panned out.
The last time I saw her alive was during her visit for my cousin’s wedding in 2003. Her health was in good condition and her mind was sharp as a tack. My parents pleaded with her to stay with us, cautioning her that it would be difficult when her or their health deteriorated. She thought it was nonsense. She was a stubborn one and then there was that rebellious streak. Her home was her home.
I would have been a different person if she had stayed with us on a temporary or even permanent basis. She had life skills that just could not be accumulated through a classroom or books. During her last visit, I remember being extremely excited, purchasing treats and things she might like. I remember her squabbling, but more so, I remember her taking the time to tell stories. And me relishing in them, asking for more. I peppered her with questions. She would get annoyed. I forgave her brashness. She would call me Kaato, squirrel in Punjabi. Things would be copacetic and the cycle would resume.
In many ways, I can trace my roots of service to Grandma. I suppose the influence Grandma has had on so many people suggests that she reached out into the world far more than she realized. I think of the generations of our family who have been shaped by her guidance.
It’s obvious, I personally grappled how to process her death and perhaps even honour her in my own way. One thing is for sure – her passing was an impetus to not wait. To take giant leaps of faith. For years, I had wanted to merge my love for food and anything South Asian.
So as an ode to Grandma, here’s to creating a connection to you, India, and of course food. Thank you for helping to incite Indian Influence.
Redux of Bibi’s Mango Pickles
Grandma you may have cornered the green mango pickle recipe, but here’s my rendition of your classic. Sometimes you need a bit of pizazz to curtail the mundane (I hope this version lives up to her rebellious side).
I admit I like to eat it as is, but it pairs well as a salsa for tacos, chicken, even fish.
- 2 large medium ripe mangos, peeled and shredded or chopped if you don’t have time
- 1 cup apple cider vinegar
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 2 teaspoons sugar
- 2 red chillies, finely chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- 1 teaspoon grated ginger
- 2 tablespoons cilantro, finely chopped
- 1/2 teaspoon fish sauce
- 1/2tsp nigella seeds
Combine all ingredients in a glass bowl. Let sit at room temperature for about 20 minutes for flavors mingle, stir as needed, then serve. Refrigerate leftovers in a glass bottle or container.