Mother’s Day. A tradition from the west, embraced by some, mocked by some, as many mouths, so many opinions, to translate a popular Hindi idiom! However what’s indisputable is that there can be no argument against celebrating mother or mother-figure in one’s life, this day or any other day. We are because our mothers endured everything and championed us, they resisted so we could soar, they gave up so we don’t have to, or at least not as much as they did. Their lights may not be perfect but they lit our path so we could see farther. Our mothers. The women who literally gave us their blood, bones and marrow and are overwhelmed if we buy them a trinket or write them a poem. Here is a very personal, very moving ode from Vineeta Sinha to her mother, to remind us of what wonderful women our mothers are- Anukriti Upadhyay
A Womanly Woman
Her pretty feet as they tread upon the banks of Ganga, leaving stable footprints behind, were noticed and the nineteen year old was chosen as a bride for a handsome young man of 21, who taught Philosophy in LS College, Muzzafarpur. Weeks after marriage, one day , the distracted girl had to be turned out of the class by her Lecturer husband.
Married in 1955, they moved on to Calcutta to begin a new life ! They earned a nickname Mr. & Mrs. 55 in the Railway social circle where they spent nearly four decades together.
A transferable job left no option but to let the three children grow up in the care of their grandparents, frequently and dutifully looked up by parents every fortnight or so. The young mother, however, never slept a night without the corners of her pillow growing moist with tears . On a trip to Bombay, walking past the glitzy bazaar, she would stop at the shop window to trace the frock design in mind and quickly replicate it for her ‘Baby’. Smocking was the new stitchcraft that she practiced to perfect her skill to dress up her darling daughters. The youngest was the son whom she loved and patted , but not a fraction more than the daughters.
Her sensitivity was so acute that she tackled her loneliness by building strong ties with nature; shared a reciprocal relationship with her green companions. She drew her inspiration for colour combinations from the bloom in the garden. It was a ‘speak and hear’ distance or lack of it that she shared with her plants. The embroidered organdie sarees we wore to flatter our slim figures were a testimony to her imagination and choice of colour!
Till date, if I do not have cut flowers to decorate my tea table, I pick up the healthy bunch of bleeding hearts ( caladium) from the garden and a bit of accompanying moist soil to place it in a small ceramic pot and flaunt it as my centrepiece decor ! She used to put them on the table for her friends to admire when they came home for a game of rummy!
She was a house proud lady who found time to inspect every corner of her home and tidy it up creating a feast for the eye! The main house apart, be it the kitchen,store room , terraces, garage and verandah, they were always hygienically and aesthetically attended to.
Kamla loved people and languages. She was ever so keen to polish her Bangla and Maithili, both acquired out of choice ,not necessity. Her friends were both the elite and the real! She was a patient listener to the woeful narratives of Shankari and Laxmi (the cleaning women) and intervened to bring about effective changes in their domestic lives. She was a friend in ‘deed’ to women young and old with whom she went to the theatre , exchanged recipes for baking the best cakes in the good old round oven. Sisterhood did not exclude those who were in the run of competitive colony life! Her friends list had men on it too. The ones who respected and admired her grace and elan !
She was an excellent care giver. As a young woman,nervously but unfailingly, she once assisted child birth on a running train. She was the one who braided our Dadi’s hair so beautifully and never forgot to embroider the initials on Baba’s (Grandfather) dhoti and all our dohars. Best of all was the night cap that she stitched for Baba with a khadi cloth lined with flannel to make him comfortable on winter nights.
An outstanding daughter-in- law loved by her family!
She pursued her degree in B.Ed while raising three young children alongside. Her desire to learn was immense. The magazines by her bedside included Kadambini, Sarita , Women’s Weekly and novels by Sharatchandra or Premchand remained all time favourites. She was a feminist, never in confrontation with the other but acutely aware of her abilities and interests. In her youth , she had switched to wearing whites and the chosen texture was khadi ! An avowed fan of cotton clothing- she always stood out in a crowd! Two profound likes in her life were Gandhi and river Ganga. Born in colonial India, she was a rebel of sorts who lived by her independent choices in matters of reading, clothing and courtesies. Letter writing was a very favoured practice of communication in those days and Kamla practiced it with conformity and care. She encouraged her little grandchildren to share their secret sentiments through letters. The reassuring reply from ‘Nanu’ was never missing for the little ones. A skill and practice, we are fast losing because of the alternative modes of abbreviated exchange serving the purpose.
Her femininity and elegance made many heads turn when she joined the All India Radio to do voice overs! Kamla had a beautiful voice and a wide range of loved tunes to pick from and sing at leisure. Little did I understand then, but heard intently when she sang her favourite Vidyapati songs.
Music stood by her to enthral and express ! We often found her clicking her fingers to some of the raunchy feminist duets of yesteryears. The play list of her favourite songs included Shashikala letting out smoke rings in the air with Helen picking the tap in ‘kya ho jo phir din akela ho..(film : nau do gyarah) or a naughty Madhubala singing – Jaanu jaanu ri…and so many more. She maintained that ‘music hath no age’. Undoubtedly, she celebrated womanhood and independence in her musical choices!
At weddings, no singing sessions were complete without she taking the lead to sing “ Raja ji main nahin pahnoongi aasmani chooriyan … sasu mujhse poochhan lagi kaise tooti chooriyaan … devarji ne haath marori toot gayi chooriyaan “ or “ Chhatiya pe lote kala naag Kachori gali soon kaila Balamu , Mirzapur kaila gulzar, Kachori gali …” Will miss her commanding presence at every wedding in the family.
She walked the tight rope of tradition and modernity with the ease of a skilled trapeze artist! While she taught us to sit with legs joined together, she also pushed us to the dance floor of ‘Whispering Windows’ when on a holiday in Mussorie or when out for dinner at our favourite stop, ‘Magnolia’ in Park Street, Kolkata.
Her prescriptions, I recall clearly.
When I get ready to welcome guests at home after a day long effort of cooking(partially),cleaning and creativity , I am always reminded of her words- “A good hostess must never wear a tired look or dress up a notch less ! It is an insult to the guests coming home.”
When I get ready to board for a trip overseas, I smile smug at all others because the bright yellow pom pom dangling from my suitcase handle immediately puts me apart from the chaos of the ordinary!
Read classics, learn to make a perfect V when you do the neckline of a sweater, learn to be neat and clean in every presentation you make to yourself. Be it the towel that is hung out in the sun to dry or the bedcover spread out, the folds of the saree length on the hanger ! Wash to sparkle the Chandi ka jhabba (keys) you hold everyday on your waistline, the cosmetic array on the dresser/ bath shelf. Keep the fridge shelves shining clean and the hidden stuff in the deepest drawers of your room and kitchen well arranged.
At home, the garlic pods should not dry up . They must rest within a ventilated cage. The medicinal magic of the ’nimboo ka achaar’ must never be missing because “achaar ghar ki laaj hai”.
Her inimitable style, I cherish –
The Jug like empty whiskey bottle is as old as me now ! The bright green leaves of the money plant continue to fall out of it to adorn the window sill.
The useful bedside torch, the balm bottle and a wood whistle have stealthily crept into my side table to sort out small emergencies ,if any, at night.
The rubberbands, safetypins, satin ribbons to tie a necessary gift bow and the envelope to hold ‘blessings’ are always kept together, ready for use in the drawers.
Mind you, the paper packets and bags are all categorised – horizontal, vertical, brown, branded, wide bottomed and ofcourse the ones with shoe names must be kept aside so that Bua’s saree does not find a place in it for her to carry home!
When I look at brass shining at the mantlepiece or the stiffly starched casement tablecloth on the corner table, the cut flowers that have refused to droop because a disprin tablet rests at the bottom of the vase; the soft ‘mul’ wrap holds the fragile tissue saree intact and the dried neem leaves have prevented a single moth to endanger the warmth of the winter cupboard- I can’t help but feel her presence vivid and near. A woman’s cupboard should boast of bold and pastels, whites and earth tones and every saree must wear a blouse on its shoulder, was her statement. Every time, I open mine, she reels back in memory.
(She was an amazing mother, who brought up her children on lessons of tolerance, compassion and affection. )
How difficult it is to be different ! Mothers live on !! She too will …. as long as I do!!!
Dr. Vinita Sinha , Associate Professor of English at Indraprastha College for Women, University of Delhi, is a translator, researcher and author.Her areas of interest include Translation Studies and Oral Traditions.
Her recent book titled ‘The Vaishali Corridor’ is a collection of 44 poems by the celebrated poet , Anamika in English translation.
Her forthcoming book is an edited volume of 11 short stories by Phanishwarnath Renu.
Her research on the art and artists of Madhubani have been published in international Journals and Anthologies.
Dr. Vinita Sinha is the co ordinator of the Translation and Translation Studies Centre at the College and Faculty Advisor to the students’ translation journal CODE published annually by Centre.
Supriya Amber is a freelance painter, poet, actor, and cultural activist. She is the secretary of Ityadi Art Foundation at Jabalpur. She is also organizing Jabalpur Art and Music Festival for last 4 years. Her acclaimed works are appreciated and honored throughout the country.