I lost my Mai today.
Until my mid 30s, I rued the gulf that stood between Mai and me.
While my parents insistence on teaching us English, as our primary language has benefited me immensely, in most everything I do, the one thing that I feel sad about is that I speak my mother tongue (Konkani) in a slow halting manner. 1
Which meant that I never could talk well with my grandmother.
I am one of her oldest grandchildren, and I never got to have heart to heart conversations with her, the way my other cousins did.
And yet …
My earliest memories are full of her.
Mai means mother. Odli Mai (Big Mother) is grandmother.
But to a young me, Mummy was Mother and Mai was grandmother.
Born as I was, to a young girl in her early twenties, what I got from mummy was fierce love and passionate discipline.
What Mai gave me was gentle love and wisdom.
What Mai gave me was a patient ear.
I could talk a mile a minute, and Mai understood nothing of my English gibberish.
She’d just make coo noises and hug me (and then figure out what it was that I just blabbed, from Mummy.)
I know nothing of her childhood or youth.
I know nothing of what she was as a wife and the mistress of the farm, eking a hard existence from the land.
I only know snippets of her, as a mom of a large brood of nine children.
The only thing I know, is that she was my Mai.
And that she loved me as no one else ever could.
I wish I could have kept the shirt, made out the cloth she stole and sneaked into my arms when no one was looking. All because I thought every other godmother gave their god children gifts and mine ought to, too! 2
I wish I could have kept a seed out of all the fruits she plucked for me, from the trees on the farm. (I was too busy sucking on mangoes, and then handing the seeds over to her to throw, while she laughed and howled at me ‘Paara pathlyaan dhaanv’ (Run after that seed)).
I wish I had seen her more, as I began working, as we both grew older.
And yet …
Maybe we did not need language.
She is the reason, I got over my fear of dogs (and other animals).
She is the reason, I still crazily love the outdoors and communing with nature.
She is the reason, I took to stoicism to help me through the storms of life. She was stoicism in action, my modern day Marcus Aurelius and Epictetus all rolled into one.
She is the reason, along with daddy, that I love practicing irrational generosity.
Maybe that is her legacy to me.
I carry her with me.
In my bones, in my marrow.
In my words and deeds.
And just like Shelley never let Keats die, I know, I carry my ancestors with me.
As long I remember them and celebrate their words and deeds, they live.
My father is here.
My nana is here.
Mai is here!
Because her touch and her actions spoke more than language ever could.
To me, Mai means mother or godmother or big mother and grandmother.
Or maybe Mai could just mean a big old heart, full of love.