Chandana is a teacher of English - her last assignment was in Sultan Qaboos University, Muscat, Oman. She loves literature in any language.
My Mother- The Brightest Star in the Firmament!
My Mother – The Brightest Star in the Firmament!
Dear reader, it is very rare I think for any mortal who has passed through the intricate process of school education to have escaped writing on the topic of Your favorite heroine / hero. However, if anyone asks me whom I admire the most, who is my heroine in real life I would answer very readily– my mother! Unfortunately she is no longer among the living, but on a clear starry night I am absolutely sure that that brightest of bright stars in the firmament is my mother looking down at me from above!
My mother’s identity transcended that of a conventional mother. As a person she resisted categorization. What was predominant in her was her profound joy in the most ordinary things of life- like drinking a cup of tea! Every minute with her was a celebration of life!
Why do I say she was not a conventional mother? Cooking for example was not my mother's forte! As a young girl my mother was pampered because she was "good in studies". She was one of the first students in IT College, Lucknow, the pride of the family, who cycled to college when others girls her age were afraid to venture out! So we hardly found our mother dishing out mouth-watering delicacies. Cooking in our house was a joint undertaking: we all lent a hand – including my father! All went well but when guests came everyone was in a flutter!
The exciting world of books!
When we were in school my mother was never unduly concerned about our "studies". But I remember those childhood years when every night was an impatient waiting for the next story! At bedtime, huddled around my mother we were transported into the exciting world of the Arabian Nights, the Tales from the Panchatantra, Aesop's Fables and the irresistible Ashapurna Devi!! She enticed us into the world of books! What greater education can a mother give her children than lead them into the magic world of books?
The cup that cheers!
You couldn't call my mother irresponsible but she did have her priorities – which she didn't compromise with! By far the most important one was her cup of tea – she never drank one cup at a time– it had to be at least two! Of course she could down gallons of it easily. On one occasion my mother – with the three of us in tow – was supposed to board a train. The last and final call had been made (read the third whistle had been blown) –I began tugging at her sari pallu, my elder sister was biting her nails furiously; my mother gulped down her second cup of tea, but didn't seem unduly perturbed. Some Good Samaritan pulled the chain- the train came to a screeching halt and finally, we did board the train! It's no marvel that all three of us are confirmed tea addicts! Many were the incidents that the inevitable second cup of tea triggered! But of them some other time!
Anyone living with my mother had to prepare themselves for the element of surprise, for instance, her weakness for the dispossessed. Once we found my parents returning home with a Bangladeshi widow in tow- belonging to the erstwhile undivided Bengal . My parents' nostalgia for their homeland was such that anyone or anything even remotely connected to that magic land was something to be cherished, clung to! Lo and behold! The next morning we found her missing, the door wide open – and all the jewelry in the house gone! The police were aghast that we had harbored such a hardened criminal! It seems we were lucky to escape alive! I have yet to meet someone willing to share their homes with perfect strangers just on “mere” humanitarian grounds!
Fear was an alien emotion for my mother. And her trust in the innate goodness of human beings led her into some rather tight situations! Once in Darjeeling, returning home on a pitch dark night, a man suddenly sprung out of the primeval darkness, curved dagger in hand! Totally drunk, he was muttering incoherently, threatening dire consequences unless my mother paid him his dues! My mother stood her ground - Strangely the man's demeanor changed immediately, and paying her the customary "salaam" he made way for her. Later my mother refused to testify against him saying he had not harmed her. Rather, she said, the person who had not paid a poor struggling wage earner his dues should be convicted!
The Freedom Movement
With such a temperament my mother couldn't but become a part of the freedom movement which was gaining momentum in India. She attended political meetings often – and rubbed shoulders with people like Subhas Chandra Bose – the firebrand leader, and many others. She went to jail several times
With her three daughters my mother was the happiest woman on earth! With her, life was so full of fun and excitement! Once my mother went to watch a movie with the three of us inevitably in tow – When she returned home the family elders pounced upon her! What an outrage to take children to such a movie with a heroine in a bikini! But my mother stood her ground!
Embodiment of women’s empowerment
In fact my mother always stood her ground – be it opposition from family elders or in her workplace. Even if she needed the job desperately she never compromised on her principles! She didn't know much about the feminist movement or human rights, but she was a living embodiment of the principles that they upheld! Influenced by the her guru, Sri Ramakrishna, whose disciple was the globally respected, the fiery Hindu monk Swami Vivekananda-she was of the firm opinion that he who tolerates an injustice is equally culpable as the one committing the injustice!
The bad days!
Life deals its merciless blows on all and sundry and we were no exception. When life cast its shadows on us, my mother struggled to keep things going. She had tremendous grit and tenacity! And so we remained happy children even when we faced straitened circumstances.
The relentless march of Time
Time marched inexorably on! My mother reached old age. Time delved the parallels on her brow and dimmed the brightness in her eyes, but couldn't suppress her spirit, her zest for life. I feel a surge of emotion towards my mother who gave us complete freedom to grow without swamping us down with inane rules and sterile activities, who helped us weather storms by taking the blows herself, who gave us her unconditional love. And I wonder; did I play my part well?
When my mother passed away, to me it was not just the passing away of an individual, but the passing of an era, the passing away of a brand of human beings who have the courage of their convictions, who feel for their fellow travelers on this earth, who know that there is so much to cherish in life beyond the material, who know life is given to live. My mother didn't climb mountains or brave the perilous seas, or do the other things that immortalize a person. Like most ordinary mortals she didn't leave behind a legacy. But to me she is and always will be a heroine not any less than those who inhabit the pages of literature!