Sonavi Kher Desai (the daughter of Indira Kher (née Malti Thakur) and Vishwas Bal Kher.) She has one sister, Shubha Cama (née Kher). Malti Thakur is the daughter of Kamalatai Thakur (née Jatar) (link to Kamalatai’s photograph).
She was the epitome of a “grandmother” – plump, warm, caring, and always ready to pamper and feed her grandchildren. I have two very vivid remembrances of her.
I recall a visit to Nagpur (where she lived) when I was around five. The Nagpur house in Dhantoli was large and spacious. It had a tower and a beautiful rose garden that was Papa’s (Krishnarao Thakur’s) passion. He tended to the roses himself. The back of the house had a large courtyard and an open verandah. Near the back gate was an outhouse inhabited by Papa’s friend and his family. The two little girls of that family (if my memory serves me right, Shobhana and Kalpana) were my play-fellows during my stay. Mothi Aai, of course, used to feed us delicious foodstuff out of her large dabbas stocked in the kitchen.
The highlight of my visit, however, was a “Bahuli cha lagna”. We had two dolls to play with, a girl doll and a boy doll. We also had an entire “bhatukli” set, which Mothi Aai had probably got for us. I don’t know whose happy idea it was to get the dolls married but it sure kept us busy for days! My friends and I spent hours planning out the “marriage” ceremony. The muhurta was fixed, menu decided, and clothes made for the doll couple from bits of zari cloth that Mothi Aai dug out from somewhere. We even had a “limousine” ready for the couple (a dilapidated old pram, actually, which was all newly togged up). Mothi Aai was an active participant in our juvenile excitement. She allocated a small area in the compound to us for our event.
On the day of the marriage, which was to take place in the afternoon, she cooked the food and filled it in our bhatukli vessels. She had even organised a tiny “chulha” in our mandap for us to warm the food. Mothi Aai, of course, attended the wedding. Somebody officiated as priest and the ceremony was conducted. It was followed by lunch in the bhatukli thalis. I do not recall the other guests. Needless to say, we had a great time. The wedding was a grand affair and the newly-married couple, dressed in their finery, was paraded around the compound in their limousine. (I’m afraid I do not know whether they lived happily ever after!).
My other memory of Mothi Aai and Papa is their visit to our house in Bombay. They were staying with my maushi and came across to our house to spend the day. I was then around seven years old. My mother had informed Mothi Aai that I had recently learned to light the gas and make tea. So that afternoon she insisted that I make tea for her. I hesitatingly obliged as she secretly watched from behind the door. I brought out the teacups and then waited apprehensively for the verdict. Savouring her cup of tea, Mothi Aai declared that it was the best tea she had ever had! It made my day! A month later, after she had returned to Nagpur, my mother received a letter from her. At the end of the letter was a message for me saying that she still remembered the best tea she had ever had!
Mothi Aai passed away when I was nine years old. My interaction with her had been very short and limited. But her memories linger with a sense of kindness, warmth, and love.