Nani

On the account of Women’s History Month, I wrote this as my entry to the Brown History Project but I am not sure if it will make to its Instagram page. I have edited some bits in this version.

After reading Aanchal Malhotra’s Remnants of a Separation, I was intrigued to know my maternal grandmother’s perspective on the partition of my country; a historical event drenched in communal bloodshed, violence and trauma with an aftermath that lasts to this day. However, I ended up learning a lot more than what I expected.

My grandmother (Nani) was born into a wealthy Tamil family in 1936 in Gopalapuram, Tamil Nadu. However, she spent most of her early years and after in Central India. In early 1947, along with her sisters and her aunt, she lived in Benaras/Varanasi, pursuing her school studies. Her parents and brothers were based in Jabalpur, Madhya Pradesh as her father owned an independent business. Granted that they were away from the country’s borders that had been heavily afflicted by communal violence, they were relatively unaffected by the partition. Their neighbours were friendly, and there were no instances of religious discrimination as such. Her aunt had been a great freedom fighter once upon a time, having worked with the likes of Sarojini Naidu. Nonetheless, when violence erupted, girls and women were asked to close doors tightly and not wander alone on the streets. Her father had to shut down his business because he anticipated danger and losses to it. Fortunately, he received a job offer in Nagpur and his entire family moved to the city. However, Nagpur’s weather affected his health, and he was struck by a paralytic attack in 1949. On their doctor’s advice, they moved back to Jabalpur. Since he couldn’t resume work, the family was plunged into a severe financial crisis. To make matters worse, one of his close associates swindled him pushing his family to the brink of poverty. According to Nani, one of her most vividly humiliating experiences involved being called out amidst an examination to be told that she couldn’t continue as she hadn’t paid her fees. Whilst her older siblings received a higher level education – by the time it was her chance – she couldn’t progress beyond matriculation. She was compelled to seek work to make ends meet. Back then, working women were a rarity and were subjected to ridicule and rampant misogyny. Yet, Nani was and has always been a resilient woman. At the age of 28, when marriage prospects – in those days – were grim, it was considered a miracle when she married my grandfather and went on to have two kids. She worked hard and fought her male counterparts to gain some credibility at work. Finally in her forties, she graduated with both BA and MA degrees.

Nani has seen terrible days but has emerged triumphant despite her trials and tribulations. She is the most iconic woman of my life.

2 comments

  1. Geeta.Krishna · March 19, 2021

    Poignant and beautifully written, Anjali!

    Liked by 1 person

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