When I was 19 years old, I learned the prince of Jaipur, who lived just a stone’s throw away from my house in India, was only three years older than me. Naturally, I let my imagination take the reins and began dreaming of a fairy tale love story and lavish palace wedding.
One monsoon afternoon, as beads of sweat gathered on our foreheads, I cheekily asked my dadi, “can you bring my rishta to City Palace? I want to marry the prince.”
With a coy laugh, she set the mango in her hand to the side, cupped my cheeks with her palm and said, “Of course, you deserve no less than a prince.”
Like any good grandma, she was playing into my delusions. But, it seemed like a little part of her really meant it, and would show up on the steps of City Palace when the time came.
When life throws the worst my way, I keep going because I know Dadi’s prayers are with me.
Her earnest belief that I deserve the best makes me tear up, even now. When life throws the worst my way, I keep going because I know Dadi’s prayers are with me. These prayers are ever flowing and unadulterated by modern-day whims, focusing on feelings rather than accolades. She wishes bravery, deep love, and for all my dreams to come true. In her purity of thought, she divinely protects me.
But, it took me decades to accept the love she gives me.
Until just last year, I couldn’t see beyond my dadi’s flaws. Starting with the superficial, Dadi is sloppy. Summers in her sweltering house in Jaipur were spent tip-toeing to avoid contact with the dusty floors and turning my head to the smelly seelan on her walls. Her kitchen counters were always sticky thanks to the residue left behind by mangoes cut directly on the countertops, drawing swarms of flies. During those monsoon months, when she walked by me, her scent of Nivea and B.O. left me queasy for hours.
As a child, I avoided her like the plague, and not just because of her offense to my senses. The evils of my dadi were ever-pervasive in my life. Like Hansel and Gretel, my mom trailed breadcrumbs of her wrong-doings throughout my childhood. And when I became of bra-wearing age, she unleashed the entire story of abuse, escape, and suffering to me. With hot tears streaming down my face, I vowed to never speak to my dadi again. She was the reason behind my and my mother’s tumultuous immigration to this country, and the source of my mom’s pain and suffering. It felt like a betrayal to my mom and feminists everywhere to try and love my dadi.
Society pits women against each other, and my dadi and mom were prey to the system. In fact, part of me believes my mom and Dadi’s relationship was scripted with the Indian patriarchy holding the pen.
Examining the situation now, with the learned responsibility to craft my own opinions and interactions with people, I separate the woman from the deed. Society pits women against each other, and my dadi and mom were prey to the system. In fact, part of me believes my mom and Dadi’s relationship was scripted with the Indian patriarchy holding the pen. My dadi hated her daughter-in-law, because Indian society, with their countless saas-bahu soap operas and kitty party gossip, conditioned her to.
I curse my mom for sharing the stories of her early married years. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to forgive my dadi for the way she treated my mom, or forgive my mom for staining my perception of my dadi. But, today, at 21 years old, I know each had their reasons. Dadi was beguiled by Indian patriarchy and perhaps the pseudo-power granted from suppressing another woman. I wish in her next lifetime she is equipped with the strength and knowledge to fight patriarchal traditions. As for my mom, she believed she was fulfilling her motherly duty by sharing our truth to inform me of where I come from and prepare me for the worst life could bring.
One thing I will give my dadi, is that all those years I spent avoiding her, she never stopped trying. The mango scraps in her messy kitchen were from slicing ripe fruit for me every summer afternoon while I was in India. Two summers ago, when I needed to heal from a traumatizing year at college, my dadi welcomed me with open arms.
To my surprise, Dadi moved past the years I spent villainizing her and showed no hesitation in showering me with the most unconditional love. She could have held a grudge and kept score, but she chose to remother me.
I had spent the first month of that summer in New York City, running away from my mom who rather than tending to my wounds, sprinkled salt on them. However, after a lonely month and accepting that what I really need is family, to be taken care of, and to escape New York rent prices, I resorted to India. Expecting nothing besides an internet-free few weeks, I was overcome by the love the women in my family in India showed me. My dadi, bhua, and bhabhi all fed me, spent time with me, and gave me the love my college campus, New York City, and my family in the United States couldn’t. To my surprise, Dadi moved past the years I spent villainizing her and showed no hesitation in showering me with the most unconditional love. She could have held a grudge and kept score, but she chose to remother me.
In her unwavering love, I see the solution to all my life's problems. Where my therapists in the West advocate for boundaries and reassessing relationships, my dadi accepted the reality of our relationship, but never settled it as the truth. She loved me from afar until I was ready to be loved whole-heartedly. In fact, by loving me, she showed me the healing powers of motherly love that my mom herself was lacking, causing her to act out.
I know women are victims of silent labor that is often emotional, unappreciated, and unfair. But, if we are hesitant or place boundaries on our love, we may never experience true, nurturing, and unconditional—or what I call divine love. I believe not everyone deserves our vulnerability, but like Dadi taught me, they do deserve our love, even if it means from afar.
With my mom especially, I learned that boundaries were not the answer to retaining a relationship. Rather, the answer lied in breaking generational cycles to give her the tenderness she deserved when she was a new bride, at the age I am now, in my dadi’s house. I’m building my capacity to give and receive love, and in that journey remothering my mom drains me. But, I know patience and persistence is the love language she understands, and the one that healed my own wounds.
Published on June 6, 2023
Words by Pranjal Jain
Pranjal Jain is the founder of Global Girlhood and Praali. She writes at the intersection of culture and gender and her previous works have appeared in Teen Vogue, PopSugar, The Established, and more. Stay connected with her, @pranjalljain everywhere.