Kamla Mirchandani, ‘Memi’ to me, was my sartorial compass, my ray of sunshine, and a grandmother like no other. Although not technically related, she very much played the role of a proud matriarch in my life. Our relationship spans decades (my whole lifetime) and began in Three Star Society, Bandra where we were neighbours. Memi lived on the ground floor and was thick friends with my paternal grandmother, Devi Notani. I have heard countless stories about how they’d sit and chitchat every single evening in the building, a ritual sacrosanct to them, exchanging stories about life and their day. My grandma (Badi Mummy) passed away when I was only 2 years old but thanks to Memi and the fond retelling of stories, I feel that I knew her well. The Mirchandanis (Dada, Memi, Bina, and Sunita) have always been family to us and the other way round. Before you ask me about these interesting names…Dada and Memi, let me concede that I had little to do with it and I just called them whatever my sister Sonia chose to christen them as.
In 2005, we all left Three Star Society, but our relationship with their family only continued and grew stronger. Sure, we couldn’t perpetually be in each other’s homes but we definitely did try, LOL. Back when my sister and I were in school (pre cell phone times), our friends knew that if we weren’t at home, we would be at Dada’s house, and they could call us there. We travelled with them, we ate with them, and we grew up with them.
My paternal grandparents passed away when I was little. My maternal grandparents lived in Delhi and I saw them rarely but I can still attest that I know what a grandparent’s love is thanks to the eternal love and care I have always received from Dada and Memi.
Memi and I, I’d like to think, had a special bond. “Munjho Jhinjhino” she’d call me, translated from Sindhi to ‘my rattle’. Apparently, my laugh reminded her of a baby’s rattle! (Soothing, I hope?!) We’d crack jokes and laugh and talk nineteen to the dozen every time we met. She was the only person in the whole world who was allowed to comment on my appearance. “Vaaran khe cha kayo tai?” What have you done to your hair? She’d routinely say! (She did NOT like the red hair. Oops!). As recently as this lockdown, when I chopped off 14 inches of my tresses and donated them to an organization that creates wigs for Cancer patients, Memi was the only person I was petrified to show. But when I did and told her the reasoning, she immediately said “Hep ti lagin”, you’re looking ‘Hep!’ Trust her to show her support where it matters! Funnily ‘hep’ was her favourite word and it’s exactly what she was – hep! Avant garde. Always keeping with the times, if not slightly ahead. I’ve known old people to only reminisce and talk about the good old days…but not Memi. She wanted the latest goss! She wanted to have her gin and tonic, she wanted to play cards with her girl gang, and she wanted to know which styles were the latest. She was unabashed with her opinions but she was also kind, caring, articulate, compassionate, and very affectionate. She always had a twinkle in her eye and a smile just twitching to form at the corners of her mouth.
I have learnt countless lessons from Memi and it will take me my whole lifetime to process them. But the biggest thing I’ll take away from her is that happiness is a choice and I saw her choose it right up to the very end. Even if ever in pain, she would merely mention it and simply move on to the usual jokes and banter. She had absolute faith in the Almighty and would pray every single day with childlike enthusiasm. She is someone who made me think about Death as yet another journey. She spoke of it and she welcomed it. Never afraid of it, she’d discuss it often. A good fifteen years ago, she’d started warning me, to not have so much ‘moh’ (attachment) with her as she doesn’t know how many years she has left on this earth. I found this absurd but she didn’t care! Last year when she fell sick, she announced she wasn’t ready to die because the house help was on leave! Oh Memi! How not to have ‘moh’ when you are so cute?!
She died peacefully at home on Sunday. I don’t have a doubt in my mind that she meticulously planned this last detail. She’d often talk about not wanting to disrupt anyone’s day. God, I’m going to miss Memi! The only thing giving me solace is that she’s happy in heaven. She and my Badi Mummy are reunited on the porch. They have 30 years of stories to catch up on! As for me, well I made sure to dress well for my darling Memi’s prayer ceremony. Her voice rung clearly in my head ‘Hee chaa paato tai’, ‘What is this you’ve worn?’ so I found my prettiest white suit to
mourn celebrate her. 91 years of her beautiful life and countless memories of every life it touched.
She’s a part of my heart forever and the naughtiest angel in heaven – of that I’m certain!