Makimai Khokru

Berjis Desai

There was a covered passage connecting Seervai Vad with Lashkari Vad. Cattle were led through this passage for grazing, causing the pathway to be littered with cow dung. Dodging the fresh dung was a fine art. Exactly opposite this route, in a house which had not been painted for decades, resided a mother-in-law, Makimai and her daughter-in-law, Naja. Every Seervai Vad resident visiting the oldest agiary (Vadi Daremeher) in India had to pass through this path. Barring a brief afternoon siesta, Makimai remained perched like a vulture just outside her main door, poised to converse with every passerby.
Makimai never terminated a conversation and severely resisted any effort on the part of the other party to do so. To extricate oneself from Makimai’s hold was next to impossible until a fresh victim walked past and was grabbed by her. Many a times, Makimai conducted simultaneous conversations with her exasperated listeners. She was a master of the monologue — she raising questions, answering them herself, discussing issues in the minutest detail and carrying out a granular analysis. There was no way to circumvent her. None escaped Makimai’s dragnet — vendors selling fish, fruits, vegetables; the old Muslim lady with manifold wrinkles called "Boo” who delivered fresh mutton every morning; the mobed loudly announcing who had died; even the beggars having fixed days of the week for their visit to Seervai Vad. Words came gushing out from Makimai’s mouth at a rapid pace.
Of course, Naja never spoke a word to her mother-in-law. After her conversational marathons, when at dusk Makimai retreated into the house, there was a deathly silence. Naja did cook meals and even served her mother-in-law but except for the clatter of the utensils, no sound was heard. Until morning, Makimai was a prisoner of silence. She celebrated her liberation the moment the first passerby made his or her appearance. Seervai Vad residents nicknamed her Makimai Khokru (a garrulous talker who utters trivia endlessly), though barring the doctor (who simply looked through her), no one was rude to her. The reason was her son, Noshir.

  Illustration by Farzana Cooper


Sometime in 1937 Noshir, an ordained priest went to Lahore to be the boiwala in the agiary on Rattigan Road (which was moved to a new location in the mid-70s). Before leaving, he married the pretty but squint-eyed Naja. Noshir regularly sent money to his mother and young wife. However due to the Second World War (1939-45), he was unable to visit Navsari. In August 1947, when undivided India received independence and bifurcated into Pakistan and India, Noshir decided impulsively to leave Lahore and return to Navsari. The head priest repeatedly counseled him not to embark upon a dangerous journey and wait until things settled down for the 1,900 or so Parsis then residing in Lahore. The otherwise docile Noshir remained adamant and boarded one of the last trains leaving Lahore for Amritsar. Mistaken for a Hindu, despite being dressed as a mobed, a crowd on the platform armed with machetes hacked him to death. The Parsi station master witnessed Noshir’s murder and a few months later sent the news to Makimai via telegram. When the postman knocked, Naja was at her parents’ home in Surat. Almost all the Seervai Vad residents gathered to give solace to Makimai who, though initially stunned, accepted the reality with equanimity. Before Makimai could break the news to Naja on her return, the daughter-in-law alleged that a witch in Surat had "seen” Noshir wed a Muslim lady in Lahore who even bore his child. Makimai attempted to reason with her. Seervai Vad elders endeavored to convince her, but to no avail. Naja clung to her fantasy and steadfastly refused to accept the fact that Noshir had died. She continued wearing red and green glass bangles and believed herself to be a married woman. When Makimai finally decided to set up a muktad table for her son, Naja flew into a rage and vowed to never again speak to her mother-in-law. And she did not.
Seervai Vad was not impersonal or cold. It was very warm to its inhabitants. They did not grudge sparing five minutes to converse with an elderly woman who had lost everything in life.

Berjis Desai, author of Oh! Those Parsis and The Bawaji, occasionally practices law.