Mothers are the best thing that the Almighty has provided to us. All mothers are best to their kids but my mom is the bestest… yeah, all humans feel that way (must confess that I dunno about the animal’s feelings in this matter).
Today, 22.02.2022, Tuesday, is both a palindrome and an ambigram… also it happens to be my Mom’s 100th birthday. Therefore, the idea of penning down my thoughts living with her is my tribute to her. Being the youngest, I had the privilege of spending maximum time with her… right from my birth till her last breath; she remained with me and even today in my thoughts.
She was born in the muffassil town of Narail in Jessore (now in Bangladesh), the first born child to my grandparents. She did her basic schooling (till class 9 or 10) before being married of to my Dad (resident of Ujirpur village, Jessore) at the age of 17/18 years. My grandparental house was always full of people… besides the immediate family members, there were some distant relatives staying over all the time. It was the job (through unwritten writ) of women of the house to cook up 4 meals a day to satiate the hunger of all present at the premises on that particular day. My grandparents were wealthy with sizeable land holdings that provided most of the food requirement for the whole household and more. I am told that the only item that was bought from the market was Salt. The great Bengal Famine of 1943 did not affect them or the villagers of Ujirpur because the granary had enough to feed them all.
Both, my grandfather and father used to work in Kolkata (then Calcutta) and used go back to the village during the weekends. My grandfather passed away sometime in 1943 and the family decided to move to Kolkata leaving the village affairs to some relations (I am not sure how close or distant). Then in 1944-45, my Dad got transferred to Patna and the family moved along. Meanwhile, my 2 aunts (Bua/Pishi) got married and my youngest uncle (Chacha/ Kaka) went to live with my elder aunt because her husband was in police force with irregular work timings and a male at home was welcome those days. My elder uncle and grandma along with my two eldest siblings formed the family of my parents which in next 10 years saw addition of 3 more souls (my siblings) and departure of two… my elder uncle decided to move back to Kolkata and start his family and grandma attained moksha.
While, they were in Patna, India became independent but at the cost of breaking the country. The independence was painful for the affected ones… though my parents avoided the genocide in Bengal, being in the relative safety of Patna but lost everything (land holdings) in the partition of the country. The relative who was put in charge to manage the affairs in the village, traded off the huge tract of lands for a considerably small piece of land on this side of the border, in his own name.
My parents moved to Delhi sometime in 1954-55, initially residing in Minto Road (Thomson Road) before moving to Karol Bagh. My youngest sister arrived while my parents were living in Minto Road while I chose to be born in Karol Bagh. We joke that both of us are accidental child but probably had the best childhood amongst the siblings because there were so many hands to take care of us!!
By the time I had some sense of this world, things at our household had changed a lot… dad was no longer in the high income category rather in a significantly less glorious job with much less earnings, the eldest sister and brother were in college while the rest in school, so in the morning hours I had the undivided attention of my mom and she had mine. And that’s how our bond developed.
My mother was a humble uncomplicated and most of the times undiplomatic (I inherited the last trait) person… spoke her mind loud and clear which at times put her in a spot. She had tremendous sweet tooth and refused to cut down her sugar even when the doctors suggested. I remember one incident… I was with her at the clinic of Dr. Ashok K Ghosh (our family physician), he told my mother that unless she cuts down her sugar intake, medicines won’t work… to that she blurted out, “what is the point of taking such expensive medicine if I can’t have my daily Sondesh/Rosogolla?” To the last day of her life she insisted on 2 spoonful of sugar in her morning cup of tea… she was okay with less sugar in the evening cup but the morning must start sweet for her.
There’s a story about it…
When she got married, my maternal grandpa told my other grandpa that she being the first born is spoilt to the extent that she needs some sweet to open her eyes in the morning. My grandpa ensured that till he was alive, my mother got a plateful of Sondesh/ Rossogolla or some sweet early in the morning to start the day. My granny and aunts were distraught but couldn’t disobey grandpa. They started calling her Maharani!!!
My mother was an excellent cook and this is not just my word but there are many who have tasted her food will surely vouch for it. She could cook up a complete meal for half dozen of my friends within the hour when they landed up during meal time without announcement. The most favoured dish was Egg Curry aka Dimer Dalna with my friends which they devoured with gusto.
My mother being a hardcore Bengali, picked up the Bihari Hindi while in Patna and continued to speak the same language even after living in Delhi for 5 decades. However, she was able to communicate quite well with the Punjabi neighbors in Karol Bagh. There was a Sardarji Tandoor wala who used make the traditional Punjabi dishes viz. Daal Makhni and Punjabi Kadhi Pakaudi which we loved and would often buy from him. One day my mother landed up at his humble tandoori shop and demanded the recipes… the poor fellow reluctantly told her hoping that the Bong woman would make a mess of the dishes. He was so wrong… the following day she cooked Kadhi-Pakaudi and it was near perfect. Over the years she mastered the recipe and frankly I have not had a better Kadhi-Pakaudi than what she used to make. I have attempted to cook it but it was miles away from her perfection.
These days, I go to Chittaranjan Park to buy Kasundi and Vadi but during my childhood, she used to make both these items at home in large quantity, some of which used to be lapped up by our neighbors. The same about the pickles too… I particularly loved the sweet mango chutney and the jujube chutney and would be very upset if any neighbor took even a small portion.
In the growing up years, we only had Coal Angethi & Kerosin Stove, the former was used for cooking meals while the other one for tea and snacks. We neither had a pressure cooker nor any other fancy gadget (available those days), so most of the cooking was based on the principle of Slow Cooking and today this has been proved to be the best option to retain the maximum flavor in any Indian Cuisine. My mother wouldn’t waste even the peels of potato or bottle gourd and cook up a dish that tasted amazing. In later years, she would stand with me in the kitchen and guide me to make mutton/chicken curry like a true teacher. Her knowledge about the proportion of spices was excellent and today I can say with pride that I had absorbed that knowledge like a sponge from her.
As I was growing up, our family of nine started to shrink with my sisters getting married and moving out. When I was in the 10th standard, my eldest brother announced his intention to get married. We were overjoyed with the idea of finally having a bhabi… I must mention here that my parents were most liberal and did neither believe nor practiced the caste system. So, they had no objection to my brother’s choice of girl and warmly accepted her as the eldest bahu of the family. But this joy de vivre was short lived as within two years my brother and his wife moved out after creating lots of drama in the ensuing period… and they did not leave a forwarding address. It happened on a week day when Maa was alone at home; they simply called a Truck, loaded their stuff and went away. My mother pleaded with them to stay on till the rest of us return but they did not heed to her plea. And for next 3-4 years we had no contact with them and the reconciliation happened after my nephew was born. I am still baffled by this incident because she lived with Deepika, my wife for almost 12 years but the two never even had an argument rather they had a relation like mother-daughter.
When my younger sister (Rangadi) introduced her boyfriend (few years younger to her), it was Maa who stood by her and convinced my dad and bro to solemnize the marriage. It was Maa who looked after her and the granddaughter for good 6 months before she could gather up the courage to handle the new life of motherhood on her own. Therefore, it was ironic that she and Maa had some misunderstanding and did not speak to each other for several years, in later life.
Since the time I knew my mother, she was obese with multiple health issues and would need constant medication and visit to the doctor. I remember her blood pressure hovering in the range of 220/140 all through years we were in Karol Bagh and she under the care of Dr. Ashok Ghosh. However, she did not let those deter her from caring for the family. And the way she managed the family budget (and saved few rupees every month) she would have made an excellent finance minister of the country (hahaha)…
My Dad passed away exactly 5 months after my marriage… I am sure it was devastating for my mother to lose her companion of 50+ years but she remained calm, composed and in control of her emotions. A month later when my brother (in whose house we were residing) made it clear that I should move out to my own place, she made it abundantly clear to all that she will move out with us as well knowing well that the comforts of that house won’t be there with us.
With her blessings we found a decent accommodation in the heart of South Delhi, a colony called Soami Nagar (North) within our means and started our journey… She was very supportive of Deepika and encouraged her to continue working while she took over the reign of the house. Life was slowly but surely becoming comfortable with both us in decent gainful employment but then suddenly her Asthma which had been dormant for several years started giving her sleepless night. One late evening, when she had a severe bout of asthma, our landlord suggested a doctor residing few houses from us and we immediately contacted him… Dr. Sandeep Saluja was god send to her rescue; not only she recovered by his medication but survived more than 10 years under his care. And this doctor refused take any money from us… initially we thought may be because we were neighbors but it turned out that he had left his lucrative job with AIIMS to pursue his calling in life of social work. He treated all his patients absolutely free. I have lost touch with him but sincerely wish him a happy peaceful and fulfilled life.
When my son Ayush was born, she got a new lease of life and took care of her grandson right from his bathing to timely feeding and because of that Deepika could continue with her profession. I must confess here that I was envious of Deepika because her relation with my mother was very close like a mother-daughter instead of typical Saas-Bahu that was evident with my bhabies … she relied more on her than on me or any of my siblings. Deepika became her confidante… every evening they would spend time catching up on day’s events.
Those days it was mighty difficult to get a phone connection (landline), I had many people who took my application (to MTNL) details promised to use their influence to get me a phone connection ASAP… but nothing really happened. One day a chap from the media community came to visit me in the office and both of us recognized each other… he had come to our Karol Bagh house on some errand for my brother. After pleasantries we talked business and as he was taking leave asked for my home telephone number to which I told him that I don’t have one. He immediately asked if I have applied for one and if so, then do I have the relevant document with me. There was no reason to carry the ‘application copy’ around so he said that he will send a guy to collect a copy of that the following day. I had no illusion that it was just another soft talking by one vendor to get a favourable response but on advice of my boss carried the doc with me to office. Surprisingly, a person landed up early in the morning to collect the paper. I handed him the application photocopy and did not think about or spoke to anybody about it. About 10 days later I was shocked to hear my mother’s voice on the phone as she excitedly said that just about that time a phone was installed at our home and she gave me the number. I called up the person (I do wish to name him) to thank, to which he said it’s a temporary connection for 6 months but assured that it will be converted to a permanent one before the expiry which actually happened. For us it was a great relief to be able to contact home to find out well being of both my mother and my son. Did I return the favour to the gentleman? Well, even if I wanted, I could not as he was in a particular media line which did not interest my organization that point of time… few years down the line when things became promising, I could not locate him, his telephone went unanswered and some other entity was occupying the business address given to us. He had simply vanished in thin air!!
We moved to our own apartment in Vasant Kunj on 6th October 1995 when my son was 6 months old and becoming naughty every passing minutes so we looked for a maid who would take of him and help mom in household chores. This arrangement continued for about two years with help of two subsequent young girls (cousins) but both wanted to start their own family and left. Then my sister sent a middle aged lady who could look after both as well as cook. My mother did not like the idea of sitting idle and would invariably walk into the kitchen to cook. She was getting old and her energy levels definitely going south and it took lot persuasion to make her retire from the kitchen.
I left my corporate job at the end of 2002 to start a new chapter on my own to ensure I can be near home in case of any emergency. But soon it became even more hectic than my job with no fixed time but a 24×7 kind of assignments. She realized this and would deliberately not tell me if she wasn’t feeling all okay. Years of taking high sugar content had its effect on her with extreme diabetes which eventually affected her kidneys. She would confide with Deepika about her status and even then she did not tell her till the last day that she was unable to pass urine for almost two days. On the morning of the fateful day, I called up Dr. Saluja who asked me to immediately pick him up from his home. After a thorough check up, he advised that we shift her to a hospital and recommended Batra Hospital on MB Road. He also called up the hospital and arranged for an ambulance confirming that he will also reach the hospital alongside… My mother was insistent on walking to the parking where the ambulance was waiting but the medics insisted on her being on the stretcher. Whatever be the cause, it seems her time was up and she was all set to finally reunite with her mate on the Valentine Day. She had started her journey to Baikunthadham well before the ambulance reached the hospital.
She remains in the heart of all those who came in contact with her. Om Shanti.