Motherhood is not just giving birth to a baby, but a behaviour.
The sad seed thinks it is forgotten and says to the tree with a tinge of pride
“You were once inside me”
The humble fruit-laden tree swayed its branches and said:
“Yes mother, I have not forgotten, look
now I have you on each of my branches.
Life has given me the opportunity to meet many kinds of mothers, yes there are kinds and they can be broadly classified into three categories:
The first kind of mothers are those who always unapologetically says:
“Ei aamar babu ta murgir thyeng chhara khetei parena”(My son should get the chicken leg piece or else he will not eat) so ‘the mugir theng'(the chicken leg piece) has to land in her babu’s plate come what may, they care a fig for any other child who shall break bread with her babu. Such mothers have hearts which are studio apartments, wherein only their babu can live, there is no space for anyone else.
The second kind is those who love their children yet not blindly. Yes, these mothers do not have blinders or blinkers tied to their eyes. They are capable of loving other children.
The third kind of mothers are those who have not given birth yet are mothers through and through. Such mothers live on, they live through the children they have not given birth to but to whom they have given life, and by life I mean an ability to see, feel, hear, touch, learn and earn life itself and all its beauty. Such mothers are rare.
It was a torrential rainfall, I was completely soaked when I came home from work. By the looks of it, the storm would not stop for the next couple of hours. It was a strange feeling to enter an empty house, to not see my mother’s smiling face. It had been only a month since I had last seen her face, lying on the funeral pyre. The telephone rang, my father had called to check that I had reached home safely.
The cold rice and the vengeance in the eyes of the “Koi Machh” were waiting for me on the dining table. It said that the Koi or Carp fish sees the fisherman who catches it, the fishmonger who batters it and then cuts it and it also sees the person who cooks it, they say it remains alive all this while, but I feel it also sees the person who eats it with all the vengeance in its eyes.
The storm outside like the Koi was very much alive and raging with vengeance, suddenly I heard the doorbell, I was wondering as to who could have battled the fierce storm to have come to my door, no wonder on opening the door I saw Maa. Yes, it was Maa, and no not my mother, but her elder sister, my parents had taught us to address her as Maa and Maa she was in every which way one can think of.
My other cousins and friends called her Connie, her siblings called her Nawdi, to some she was Anju Di or Cona Di while for some she Anju Mashi or Cona Mashi, but for me and my elder brother she was Maa and I was her Jaanu. Maa was a spinster who did not marry to look after her younger siblings. This completely drenched seventy-year-old woman with her hair dishevelled and a storm-ravished umbrella had come to me just like she did every day just to check on me.
I scolded her, “Tomaar ki matha kharap…ei jhor-jol mathay kore tumi keno eshechho?”(Are you mad to have come here today in this wild storm ?”)
Her big brown heavily lidded eyes twinkled as she took out a tiffin box from her bag and said :
“Ei dekh tor jonno ki enechhi…tor favourite finger chips…toke naa dekhe thakte parina je Janu”( See what I have brought for you…your favourite finger chips…how can I not come to you Janu?). I find it very hard to translate the last part of the sentence that she said to me, even if I did it, the beauty of it would trickle through the sieve of language. I quickly lead her in gave her a towel and cuddled her and sang, “Ek buddhi bhigi bhaagi si” and she laughed.
This was Maa who could wage a war with a raging storm just to catch a glimpse of me. Maa could beat an eve teaser in a running auto-rickshaw to save a girl she had just known for five minutes while the others in the auto-rickshaw had chosen to ignore what the girl was going through. She would help anybody if she could and even if she couldn’t.
Maa knew Urdu, Persian, Sanskrit, Punjabi, and Pashto. It was she who read out Ghalib, Mir, Faiz, Iqbaal, Tulsidas, Raskhan and the likes of them to me. It was she who had first introduced “Heer” to me and explained its meaning to me with tears in her big brown beautiful eyes.
Maa had a silver surmadaani…I had once asked her, “Maa, surma lagale chokh shundor hoy? (Maa, does Surma make eyes beautiful?) She chuckled and replied: “Jaanu chokh shundor taari jaar drishti shundor” (It is the way that you look at things that make your eyes beautiful.)
It was she who used to often say to me,
“Mere seene mein nahin toh tere seene mein hi sahi
Ho kahin bhi aag, lekin aag jalni chahiye”
Slowly and steadily I could see the “aag” die in her big brown beautiful eyes. Maa developed Alzheimer’s Disease. Deserted by all whom she had loved, Maa lived the last three years of her life with us. She gradually stopped recognizing me, her Jaanu, the apple of her eyes but not always, there used to be bouts when she recognized me and I could see the warmth return back in her otherwise bland eyes, I say bland because the Maa, whose Jaanu I have had a sweet warmth in her eyes like that of candyfloss melting into your mouth.
One day my friend Udita’s father, Sumanta Kaku came down to our house, he was the sole person in the whole town who would often come to our house to check on us during those trying times. So while Kaku was having tea, Maa suddenly came back to her senses and started pleading with Kaku:
“Dekhun toh Dada, aamaar Mey taar jonno ekta bhalo chhele dekhe dinna, please. Aamaar mey ta khub bhalo Dada,or biye aami na diye jete parle or Maa ke aami ki mukh dekhabo…Aami toh moreyo shanti pabo na…Dekhun na Dada” (Please find a suitable boy for my girl. My daughter is very good…I shall not find peace even in death if I don’t see her married and settled).
I chuckled when I heard her saying this and said to myself what has marriage got to do with settling? That was it, only for two minutes and then her eyes became blank again devoid of that warmth which was there a minute ago in her eyes and then again she started saying things which made no sense. But the fact that the sole thought that came to her mind when she was in her sense was me was truly overwhelming, it made me realize how much she loved me.
Five years after her having left for presumably a better world, she along with my mother came to me in the recovery room after I delivered Puhup. Neither did Mum nor did Maa say anything but the warmth of those big brown beautiful eyes melted in mine like candyfloss and then I passed out. Next, I saw those big brown beautiful eyes with the warmth of candyfloss melting in my mouth again when my daughter opened her eyes for the first time. All that remains of her with me is her favourite Lucknow Chikan sarees and this note that she had written to me on my birthday in ‘Khalis Urdu’:
Tanya ke naam
Saal girah ke mauke par apni nek tamannaon aur behtareen khwaahishaat ke saath
Ye dua hai ghar mein unke jagmagaye raat din
Aasmaan ke intahaan ke aaftaab o maahtaab
Daulat e ilm o hunar mein ho ijaafaa sath sath
Taa abad raushan rahe sher o sukhan ka
Is gairate naahid ki har taan hai deepak
Shola sa lapak jaye hai aawaz toh dekho.
Maa you live on, you live through me whom you have not given birth to but to whom you have given life, which is an ability to see, feel, hear, touch, learn and earn life itself and all its beauty. Maa, you are rare.
Niece of Anjali Sarkar.
(Nilambara Banerjee is a former professor of St. Xaviers College Ranchi.)
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