If a name, just by the sound and sense of it, can conjure up perceptions of a compelling fragrance, of an endearing, wide-eyed innocence and a catch-in-the-heart loveliness, then, that name, for me, is Jasmine. Jasmine is no other than, my first grandchild. They say, if a household is graced with a daughter first, that first-born brings with her trailing specks of luck and joy for the whole family. I can testify to the veracity of this belief by the simple, indisputable fact that Jasmine lit up our entire universe like a shooting star, grabbed in mid-air and planted in our midst like, what else? But, a redolent pot of jasmine buds.
Enter vignettes of a Jasmine-filled existence:
The SUV rolls up the driveway, Daddy kills the engine and after some combat with the car seat, he releases Jasmine and carries her in, side stepping a patch of snow. A picture of solemnity, Jasmine surveys everyone through her lashes but as I hold out my arms, she comes into them with an ever so tender ease. I remove her outerwear, her shoes and pick her back up again. Without a word, she prods me, with her entire being, towards the steps to the basement. Jasmine is the ruler of our basement! A benevolent despot of sorts. It is, for her, almost a return to the cozy confines of a mother’s womb, contained, secure and cocooned by love. I place her down on her feet, at the top of the stairs, and she reaches up and grabs my forefinger. As soon as she sets a tiny foot on the first step, she comes alive with words; words popping like popcorn, unstoppable, like pearls on a marble floor she scatters them in all serious sweetness. “Thama we were in Costco and …. non-stop for the next three-four hours Jasmine regales me with her stories. She tells me how larvae turn into butterflies, where baby spiders go, when they go home and asks, with immaculate credulity, if I could stick a falling autumn leaf back on its branch.
Jasmine can create worlds; worlds carved out insouciantly, from whorls of her imagination, just like that, at the snap of her tiny fingers, and then she beckons you inside that just-created rainbow, to participate in her very own reality show. Jasmine wishes to build her own house, where she wants to invite me to tea, so I proceed to enclose a corner with a settee on one side, a side table on the other and a light, easily maneuverable recliner serving as the entrance door to Jasmine’s house. The challenge and the joy, for the three-year old, of course, lies in her pushing the recliner-turned-door open and beckoning me inside, “Come in, Thama, come in. Coummme innn”. The beckoning morphs into a sweetly impatient crescendo. And who can ignore that warm, heartfelt invite? I rise, my rebel knees creaking. A Lego piece becomes a teacup and tea is served with infinite grace by little hands. Having served the tea, the hostess waits and watches with large, expectant eyes. Waits and watches. Until I, with an exaggerated fanfare of handling an extremely hot beverage, take a cautious sip and exhale a long, contented benediction Aahhh! Instantly, Jasmine’s heart leaps with joy, like a kite in a cloudless sky, her watching lips break into an ecstatic smile and her beautiful eyes light up with an incandescent glow … her tea making is a success! More Lego pieces arrive, on a pillow, and with a great deal of oohs and aahs, I tell her how utterly fresh and delicious her ‘cookies’ are. She skips around happily, to fetch some more for her Thama.
Another evening, Jasmine sitting on the couch draws her knees up to her chest and says ponderingly, “Thama, let’s paint the basement purple” and I, with prosaic clumsiness, half rise to grab a purple crayon. Jasmine stretches out a restraining hand. Pressing an imaginary crayon into my palm she says, coaxingly, dreamily, “Thama, just pretend!” Oh, I’ve got to love this child for her limitless imagination, her solemn sweetness and her ‘trying-to-suppress-but-just-cannot’ grin. On a sudden whim, sometimes, she ducked behind the couch and let complete silence prevail for a few seconds before her head bobbed up and she shrieked “tooki” (peek-a-boo) and when I hid my face in mock fright she broke into a spate of ungovernable giggles. Giggles, so infectious that I joined in merrily, scooped her up, and gave her a few fat kisses, which she wiped away promptly.
Some evenings would be devoted entirely to baubles. Jasmine adores baubles and could play for hours with my jewelry box. Trinkets catch her fancy like nothing else. Perched on the window seat, on a sudden whim, she would pick a ring and with great consternation declare “Thama, this is diamond, we have to keep it safe”. “Saaiife”. She would put the ring back in its case and tuck it behind her, safely. If she found any trinket she could slip around her neck, she would. If she found anything to adorn her wrists, she would adorn them. Stacks of them. When decked to the hilt, the little diva would turn on her thousand-watt diva smile.
In utmost camaraderie, grandmother and grandchild prattle and play, prattle and play, easily, naturally, when Jasmine’s eyes fall on the neighbour’s chimney, looming rather menacingly, through the window. Involuntarily, her warm, snug body cozies up to mine and with widening eyes, she says “I’m scared of that, Thama, what is it?”. How astutely, my baby can put a name to her feelings. I draw her closer and explain what the chimney is and what it does. I notice she is not fully convinced so I carry her outside, and show her the chimney over our house. That’s Thama’s chimney, Jasmine, see?” She leans out into the dusk, to take a closer look and that seems to allay her discomfiture with chimneys. If Thama’s house has one too, and Thama is okay with it, then that monster can’t be that bad, can it?
Then, of course, there were days when Jasmine would shed her demure skin and just let the little, irrepressible imp in her emerge. She would laugh flippantly, without a reason, she would bounce off the sofa like a helicopter landing, or roost on a stack of cushions and sing “Incy-Wincy Spider”, tunefully and mellifluously. When we praised her singing she would smile shyly, her face flushing with pleasure. Sated, she would then maneuver a dinky car over the thoroughfare of a reclining Dadu’s anatomy, all the while, faithfully mimicking bumpy car-sounds. Some days, Jasmine, with her incredible sense of rhythm, would exhort us to turn on the boom box so she could dance to her heart’s content, meaning, she would go round and round and round in circles, till I’d try and stop her thinking she might get dizzy. Funnily, she never did! Eventually, Dadu had to be summoned to be her partner, because Thama started to get a dizzy spell, just watching her.
On great-weather days, Jasmine, and I would walk to Silverhill Park, so she could play in the sand pit. She would let the sand cascade, like a waterfall, through her splayed fingers, then she would stoop to pick up some more. Each time, at the park, we would have an adventure. One evening, two large German Shepherds came bounding up to us, straining on their leashes, and Jasmine clapping her hands in glee, advanced to snuggle with them. Another time, she made a sand-hut and wanted to carry it home. Balancing it on one tiny palm she extended her other hand to grip my finger when the wayward hut collapsed. Jasmine laughed and dusted her palms, disappointed and relieved at the same time. Funny girl! As the sun began to dull, we would start back for home, and to allow rest for her tired legs, I would offer to carry her. Strangely she wouldn’t let me, she would trot back on her own, but on those occasions when Dadu was there she would let him carry her. One day, I asked, “Jasmine, why would you let Dadu carry you home, but not Thama?” “You’re going to get tired”, she said, her face serious. Aww, so sensitive and so thoughtful, my little, gentle angel. A heart filled with such quiet, tender love.
Jasmine of the silky, cascading hair! I would say to her in Bengali, “Jasmine, could you please go get the chiruni?”. Right away she would prance up, seize my finger and together we would come upstairs from the basement. She knew I would never let her do the stairs on her own. We trudge up. She leading, I following. Straight to the bathroom drawer she would tug me and pulling it open, she would ease out the hair brush. She loved her head and hair massaged with almond oil but untangling all the tangles? Not so much. A tad reluctantly, she would always bear with me until her tresses were in neat braids.
Jasmine usually arrived with her pink lunch box, in which resided her supper, sometimes started but not finished. In that inimitable manner, in which children acquiesce to eating from a grandparent much more easily, than they do from a parent, despite their best efforts, Jasmine would sit back and let me feed her. All containers emptied I would hand her, her treat and, in turn, it would be my treat to watch her relishing earnestly the last morsels of a cookie. At that moment, I could see, in my mind’s eye, a replay of my mother playing with and feeding my children, and then deeper into the past, my grandmother feeding and playing with me. History repeats itself in such a delightful manner!
“Jasmine, it’s time to go home, come now get into your jammies.” Jasmine pretends she cannot hear me because jammies and going-home were connected in her mind, and she has no intentions of going home. At least “Not yet” (her pet epithet for some time). Instead, she starts to bounce up and down, up and down on the bed and it’s almost impossible to get that wriggly earthworm into her pajamas. She throws her jammies on the floor and squeals with delight as I run to retrieve them. It becomes a game we play every time. The house overflows with the happy sound of breath-stopping giggles. Finally, Jasmine is packed into her night-clothes and after the goodbyes are said and several cheek-to-cheeks are exchanged, she is harnessed in, and Daddy revs the engine. But before the car can roll I must, absolutely must, go out and up to the car and peer in through her side of the window chanting “Goodnight, sleep tight, happy dreams etc. etc. etc. In response, she would squirm in uncontrollable thrill within the restraints of her car-seat, kicking her legs in electrified excitement and hide her face in the cutest fashion ever. Without this ritual, the vehicle was not allowed to roll. Ever!
Jasmine-time was always sacred time. It was meant for her; she, who would ask to come visit with her Thama and Dadu. No phones, no I-pads, no computers, no distractions were allowed for the adults. Absolutely nothing could detract from the wholesomeness of the time we spent with Jasmine because, we knew that time was fleeting, infinitely precious, and would pass in the blink of an eye. And it did!
Life, after all, has its own cadence, and Jasmine left for Berlin with her parents. My heart howled horrendously for weeks. In utter, impregnable silence the tears rolled. I could not step into the basement for days and days. Ah! The basement. Not ours. Jasmine’s. Jasmine’s basement. The basement that is Jasmine-spiced, Jasmine-scented, Jasmine-prattle skids off the walls and then, thankfully, like one always does, I get used to her absence. I get a whiff of Jasmine-fragrance on Facetime, I hear her chatter, I hear her singing in German and my heart expands with pride. I gaze at a painting by Jasmine hanging on my kitchen wall, the colours, by some stroke of Jasmine-fancy, perfectly in sync with my décor. Memories fade in and out. Especially, when I water the garden I think of my cute little helper. Jasmine hunched, like a question mark, at the edge of a flower-bed, intent on catching a fluttering butterfly. Catch it she did and then immediately released it, caught my eye, and grinned triumphantly. Jasmine pretending to avoid the arc of my water spray but trying her best to get wet in it. Jasmine, excitedly hanging ornaments on the Jasmine-size Christmas tree, especially bought for her. Jasmine lying next to me, in the evening gloom, sharing a happy silence, listening to “Let it go”. I, turning to gaze at her, can tell by her faraway expression that the scenes of the song sequence are gliding through her imagination; vivid and mesmerizing.
Throwback October 2016. I am in Berlin for Jasmine’s fifth birthday. Jasmine; heroine of Tangled, with her long, gilded braid, her purple finery, her tiara, her baubles, cutting the Rapunzel cake. I capture a video of Jasmine, with miles of smiles, bouncing balloons with her friends. Of Jasmine, holding out a bowl of potato crisps, eyes beckoning, till I pick one, crunch it between my teeth.
All good times must come to an end …. simply, so we can weave dreams about the next one. That night, before I left Berlin, Jasmine would just not heed calls for her bedtime. Time and time again she bounced up on my lap and hugged me, as though she knew she would not get to hug and see me in a long, long time. Like a yawning chasm, too many miles separate us for her to be bundled in an SUV and be flung into my arms like she is an intrinsic part of me. No matter where Jasmine is, where she goes, what she does, my darling will leave in me a soulful longing, a happy pining that knows “Jasmine is” and nothing else matters. This knowledge is mine, it is private and Time nor Distance nor anything else on this earth can snatch it away from me.