Giver of Unconditional Affection ~ Gujarati Great Granny Geeta Hamlai

by on March 5, 2013

During my recent trip to Raichur, my host Smt. Mankanwar Mootha was excited when she saw my feature in the last issue of Harmony. “I just know the perfect protagonist for your next write-up,” she declared and continued, “Geeta bhabi – She is lovable, cheerful, full of warmth and UNCONDITIONAL affection and one of the most caring women I have ever met.” I asked a few questions and her responses got me excited. And that’s how I happened to visit Smt. Geeta Hamlai (74). A mother of two sons and a daughter, a grandmother to six and a great-grandmother to one, she was all of the qualities I had heard plus much more.


Unconditional affection in a joint family -Geeta Hamlai

When we reached her house, she was enjoying a chat with a couple of neighbours. Since I was introduced as the interviewer, the next hour was a collage of voices as each one proceeded to tell me what a beautiful person Geeta bhabi was. And all the while, the lady in discussion sat there serenely, with contentment and love written across her face. I tried to understand the secret and the conclusion I drew from her Hindi-Gujarati responses was that to be a recipient of affection, one must be a giver of affection.


Where did you grow up Geeta bhabi?
I was born in 1939 in Kutch, Gujarat where I spent my childhood and youth. After my marriage, I lived in Amravathi town near Nagpur. Later we shifted to Raichur and we have been living here for forty years.


How would you describe your growing years?
I was the eldest among siblings; hence taking care and being responsible came naturally to me. Even before I was ten, I would help in the kitchen and over the years, cooking simply became my favourite activity, even now.


Do you now teach your recipes to the youngsters?
They all learn by watching. My friends and neighbours simply love the dhokla, ganthiya, handva and pickles which I have learnt from my mother. I don’t know measurements – I just cook with love.


According to you, has there been a change in family structure over the years?
Earlier we had better physical and emotional strength. But nowadays, that true emotional courage, or himmat, is lacking. Same with physical stamina. I think of my mother as a strong woman, she is more than ninety and still does her own work, including washing her own clothes.
We did not make distinctions between our children and nephews. In a joint family, one simply took care of all the children at home as one’s own. Nowadays, only the husband, wife and their children are considered as part of one’s family.
You are right. Earlier, one’s affection was extended to a larger circle of people. With time, that circle has shrunk. It is but natural that with this change, the quality of affection in one’s life is bound to change.
We were a joint family of more than forty members for at least twenty years. I can assure you, we were like one family. I enjoyed taking care of everyone. And my elders took good care of me, my mother-in-law was very understanding of me.
That sounds intimidating. I would love to know how couples manage to nurture each other in such a scenario.
Quite easily. Both of us loved watching movies and we did that quite often. On Sundays, my husband took me on long drives. He used to appreciate my cooking very much. It has been seven years since he passed away and I often think of him and the wonderful times we shared.


It sounds so ideal. How does one learn how to adjust?
With faith and devotion! I am a devout Vaishnavite and prayers give me all the strength I need. My morning prayers give me the energy I need for the day. Even though I am unwell now and cannot go to the temple, I enjoy listening to the temple sounds from my courtyard. Whatever we cook is always first offered to the family deity.


Did you teach all your recipes to your daughters and daughters-in-law?
Sheela, her daughter-in-law says: She has taught us, but her flavours are unique. However much we try, we do not get the same flavours. The children know instinctively who has cooked. In fact, when I have to travel, I don’t have to worry at all. They are all excited because she will cook for them. But I must confess, when she travels, they are not as excited about my cooking.


Does that not upset or irritate you?
Sheela: On the contrary, I also feel the same as all of them (smiles). Her food is really outstanding and special. Our neighbours and friends always enjoy her cooking. In fact, we always prepare her signature dishes in large quantities since they get distributed. She has always been like this. I will never forget how she took care of me while I was unwell. She attended to me better than any nurse could have ever done.


First published in March 2013 in Harmony – Celebrate Age Magazine for the column – The Great Granny Diaries. Part-2 of this post is Khatta Dhokla, the authentic Gujarati snack from the kitchen of Geeta Hamlai. She is the seventh grandma featured in this column.


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