I knew Rukmani Hingorani well, as she lived with us till I was 22 years old. She was my paternal grandmother and in those days in India it was a son who was supposed to take care of his parents. Rukmani had five children, four of them sons, but she lived with us.
Rukmani’s life was hard and rich at the same time. When she was in her forties, the Partition of India occurred, and her family had to leave the area where they lived (as it was becoming Pakistan.) In this transitional period, it became dangerous for Hindu people to stay. Many families were forced to flee overnight because the killings started. My grandparents survived because their Muslim neighbors saved them by hiding them in their house. Eventually, they crossed the border where they started their life anew. In many ways they were lucky. Not only did they survive the life-threatening situation, but they also managed to transfer their business to the new location. I think that this experience made Rukmani appreciate life in its richness and changeability.
I remember my grandmother as a serious and strict woman. She demanded respect, and my sister and I were taught to treat her with special courtesy. We always went to our grandparents to greet them in the morning and we had to ask their permission before going anywhere. While my grandfather was much softer and more agreeable, Rukmani was the decisive power in our household. She was a real matriarch.
Rukmani was especially hard on my mother, who, according to custom, was supposed to do all the housework in their shared home. While in those times in India such services were generally expected from a daughter-in-law, I knew of many elderly women who willingly participated in household chores. It was not the case with my grandmother, who was very adamant in her refusal do any work. I think that she simply did not like it and embraced the custom which freed her from it. For some time, I resented her for this. However, it was not as if she did not do anything in the house: she simply did what she wanted.
What Rukmani really enjoyed was needlework. She spent entire days in her room sewing, knitting, and quilting. Rukmani was a real artist not only because she made beautiful objects but also because she saw her work as an expression of her emotions. All my needlework skills come from her.
She had her own philosophy of quilting as a metaphor for life. According to her, little rugs represented different aspects of our timelines. Some of them are better, others worse, and some even negative, but, according to Rukmani it is our job to put them together in the best way we can in order to create a beautiful wholesome quilt of life. “It’s all in our hands,” she often repeated and it is a lesson I learned from her.