She lived to be 80, and so she was a constant, though not always steadying, presence in my life.
She was strong-willed and larger-than-life; quick to love and quick to anger.
While I battled it out with her as a teen, I also knew she was my biggest champion.
By the time I was aware of her, she was old and set in her ways, usually dressed in drab white, with lank hair.
But every now and then I caught glimpses of a different life.
In the sepia albums of her youth, she’s thin, solemn, and interesting, though not precisely beautiful. Her hair is glossy, her blouses trendy, her sarees elegant and her mien, aristocratic.
She loved Norma Shearer as Juliet. Not many people in our little town watched English movies at that time. She also had a notebook in which she’d written down the names and dates of all the movies she’d seen.
She read Russian novels, but I suspect her real love was for moralising Victorian tales such as East Lynne.
She’d tell me about the French nuns in the small town convent where her father worked.
She told me about the time her father went for a 10-minute ride in a glider. And how he wrote his will before he did. That was in the 30s, when air travel was new. He also had a Chevrolet, which thundered by her school every day to pick her up – it was dubbed “Meenakshi’s aeroplane” by her classmates.
She spoke about going shopping as a newly wed, her first time in the big city.
She spoke about how she ruined her eyesight creating an intricate beaded border for a saree, labouring away in the semi dark at times.
She talked about how she’d tried tampons as a married woman, and sanitary napkins, telling me how they were in those days made and sold by individual medical stores.
But we never spoke about this brooch.
In fact, I was not really aware of its existence when she was alive. I know it was hers, because it was in the same glass bottle in which she had hoarded a few treasures – a pair of ruby earrings, a few Australian opals, and other odds and ends.
I fell in love with its delicate filigree lines, and its muted silver glow.
The dent in the centre, I felt, added character.
(I’ve always been a sucker for anything that’s old and has the least bit of pedigree to it. Which amuses people around me no end.)
With a little pin superglued to the back, and a little scrub with a toothbrush and polish, it is as good as new.
There are several similar brooches that I found online, here, here and here. Some of them seem to be from the thirties, which makes sense. The sprays and pearls in the centre make me wonder if perhaps there was some embellishment like that on this brooch too?
My grandmother’s brooch, I assume, must have been used to fasten the folds of her saree. Where was it made? Where did she buy it from? Did she pick it out herself, or was it gifted to her? Where did she wear it to?
Another mystery lost in the mists of time.