my little women were women of character and substance.
Today is Mother’s day. We have never celebrated or observed anything like this in India until say some last 5 to 10 years when this has become fashionable!
So I wished my aunt and my MIL – and I am writing up this only because I have ample time on my hands !!!
But I do want to put in one point here.
You don’t have to biologically have kids. Your parents need not have to be biologically yours. I say this because, to me my Chithi and Chithappa meant everything. More over my biological parents. My chithappa is no more. My chithi is 75. Even now my biological mother holds a power over me that I don’t deny. The moment I think of her, my eyes water. I can’t go about her school in the heart of the city without breaking down even in public. She died in 1982. She had a host of health issues. She worked until the last day of her life. She was teaching deaf and dumb middle school girls. There are bits and pieces of her memories. From the tapes left behind by her (TDK cassettes recorded with bollywood and tamil songs and bhajans) that i managed to save until 1990s…. and from what others told me about her, i have been forever reconstructing my mom in my memory. I have one of her tattered saris and I have her handwritten ‘Notes of lessons’ that she prepared for her teaching class. These are like gold and diamond to me. I am almost 52 now. I still amazingly remember my mother’s fragrance – that of Vicco turmeric. I have lost her voice though. Or perhaps i vaguely remember the voice. I don’t have a single photograph taken with my mom. Or may be it is there in some relatives’ albums….
My chithi and chithappa who were childless for many years were like my very own parents even when my mother was around.
Together with my Paatti (granny – maternal grandma), the three women – mother and two daughters still fill my mind’s eye with their beautiful and unforgettable images.
I remember coming home from school in those sunshine days before my world fell through.
My patti (granny) would be keeping evening tiffin ready with coffee. Home brewed after grinding fresh coffee beans at home. From puris to uppurndai to adai and masala dosa, bajji, bonda, my granny’s evening tiffins were very popular that sometimes even my mom’s and chithi’s friends came home for her food! Her famous delicacies were our Diwali sweets: laddoo and jaangri to wheat halwa and kaju katli.
My mom and my chithi would return home with their school bags around 3.45 or 4. My chithi also worked as a teacher. The sisters commuted to their schools by bus.
I and my sister would come home from our schools.
My little cousins – one son and one daughter who were my chithis kids were looked after by my patti. They were not of school going age still.
My chithi would be getting cakes and biscuits for me and my sis from a bakery.My mom would rush in to take her niece and nephew in her lap to pet and spoil them.
We all would sit around and share the day’s stories nibbling the evening snacks.
Few more hours left in the evening for the menfolk to return home. My chithi’s family lived in the next street. My patti cooked everything for the family and packed tiffin boxes. My chithi left with the kids always by 6 pm.
Happiest days of my life.
All the three women I used to call ‘Amma.’ Or simply ‘Ma.’
My chithi and chithappa gave me away in ‘Kanyadhan’ in my wedding in the place of my parents. I married as an orphan.
As a woman with a son almost in marriageable age, I realize now how generous my mother-in-law must have been all those years back.
Too many good people made my present life possible. I will never forget that.
On Mother’s day, the unselfish, unconditional love of these ladies is what I remember most.
I think I have written something more about my biological mom in some other posts – i will tell here of a couple of incidents that define for me my mother even at this age. (May be a repeat).
My mother worked for a catholic institutions that had hostels for the deaf, dumb and blind girls upto SSLC. My mom taught 6th to 8th standard deaf and dumb girls. For Diwali, almost all girls went home picked up by parents. My mom used to take special permission from Mother Superior to get home the girls left behind in the hostel. Most of our Diwalis were celebrated invariably with these deaf and dumb girls at home (sorry that is how we used to call them then. i want to stick with the old lingo). My mom used to gift them bangles, new clothes etc and went back with them to school after Diwali.
My first 12 to 13 years were spent going to the convent for quarterly, half yearly and annual hols and then for their sports day, school day etc., along with my sister and playing with these girls (as equals always). I have this memory of watching sack race for the blind girls every year. I remember the class rooms vividly. Not more than a dozen girls in each class. If a teacher could be 5 min late, the girls had to stand in hot sun for 1 hour as punishment, so my mother was always punctual to work.
I learned of the seriousness of my mother’s health conditions belatedly after her demise. We never thought she could die for that. My parents saved and invested well in the short time of their lives and left us handsome income for even today that we daughters enjoy. They lived a very simple but satisfied life. Not at all ambitious. I remember my mother planting 7 coconut trees Ceylon variety, 1 mango tree, 1 neem tree, 1 drumstick tree, rose and jasmine plants etc, all around our new home that my parents built. She had a terrace garden brimming with flowering plants that she watered everyday immediately after returning from school. The rose plant lived for years after her, blooming with a dozen roses any single day. I remember the big gardening scissors my mother held in her hands. Strangely my mom trained me in cooking and cleaning in those young years. I didn’t know that God was preparing me then for taking over her role shortly.
A second incident is that, a christian girl by name Rosy who had passed SSLC and engaged to marry someone, came home one day with my mother from their school. She had no home to stay having been evicted from hostel. She was an orphan. She stayed with us in our house for 1-2 months until she got married. I remember an argument my mother had with her fiancee. He was like, Rosy was lucky to have found him. My mother roared up like mother hen and made it clear to the boy that Rosy was inferior in no way. My mother threw back the sympathy at the groom’s face and was very proud of Rosy, her ward.
A third one, our house maid was Kanniamma, a teenage girl. My mom got her married getting her all her household needs and saris and footing her marriage expenses. Kanniamma married an autowala. My parents attended her wedding. I tagged along too! On my mother’s demise, Kanniamma’s husband printed my mother’s name in their auto ‘Susheela.’ They named their first born daughter ‘Susheela’ too – my mom passed away soon after their wedding.
My mother touched many lives. I wish she had lived longer enough for us daughters to have known her better. My Thatha (grandfather) always called her ‘his son.’ My mother was a working woman by 1965. Far ahead of her peers in many ways. Very religious, spiritual. Never missed a puja. If my Thatha could be late from his meditation in Ramakrishna Mission mutt, my mother would rush there and get him back. Father driving the scooter with daughter (my mother) as the pillion rider would make our neighbours smile good heartedly! My mom was overtly attached to her parents. More attached to them than with us really.
My chithi in contrast is quietness personified. If my mother was hurricane, my chithi is like a cool gentle soothing breeze. My mother looked after her sister like a daughter. In my mother’s time, i never heard my chithi talk aloud.
Memories of my loving family bring tears to my eyes. Our happy world crashed that fateful day in July 1982 and our lives were never the same again. Broken.
I lost a dozen closest relatives between 1982 to 1993. Including both my parents and my dear grand parents. Uncles and aunts from father’s side who were our support system. That eleven year period was sheer hell.
That hell was made a lot bearable by my school friends who are proud moms themselves now.
I have to thank my friends moms who all lavished their motherly love on me when I lost my mother. Even my school teachers.
My mom and I went to same school. My mom was popular in my school too that the school management sent 2 teachers including my class teacher to garland her on behalf of the school when she passed away.
I don’t know how I crossed the ’80s alive and in one single piece. My chithi and chithappa took over my parents’ role.
My chithi and chithappa taught me a new meaning to love and kindness and generosity and magnanimity. My MIL taught me how to stay strong and be that pillar of support for everyone.
My chithi chithappa’s advice to me always has been like, ‘be patient, tolerant, flexible, keep your faith in god, your day will come.’ Never did they encourage me once to badmouth my in laws or husband. I now realize what a gift it is to have such a wise set of (foster) parents. I am seeing mothers spoiling daughters lives as well on another side.
I have written little of many precious memories of my mom that I still hold on to. If this is one page, then I can fill up a 100 or 1000 pages about my chithi. I am what I am because of her.
These women are truly the Devis of my life. Mother Goddess Shakthi lives in each and every one of them. I see my Goddess in all these women. COMPASSION, EMPATHY. This is what maketh a mother out of a woman. This is what I can say. The innate sense to understand a third person’s hunger and pain and trauma. Feeding someone anticipating their hunger in advance. This is what it takes to be a mother. Only a mother keeps asking always, ‘have you eaten?’ My hubby and son keep complaining that I always ask first and foremost whether they have eaten! That eating to me by my family is most important! I can’t eat if they don’t eat. That’s what i guess makes me a mother.
The Little Women of my life, saw beyond the exteriors. They’re the kind of women who looked deep into one’s soul. Nothing superficial moved them or moulded them. They were/are REAL women of substance. Women with kindred heart. Women who charted beautiful paths of life filled with love, hope, faith and respect for family and friends.
My patti – not to mention the least… Watching her daughter die before her eyes… My patti, the true mother, never recovered from the shock. How many lunch packs she used to keep ready? Lunch for my amma, appa, chithi, chithappa, myself, my sister. Cooked 24 hours a day. Summers were ‘vathal’ times when she pick;ed mangoes etc., and dried fryums in hot sun. I haven’t come across a better cook than my granny in all these years. Some of her dishes I remember them astonishingly with their unique taste.
Sometimes out of nowhere I long to meet these woman again and bring back the magic of those days….
My chithi has had double mastectomy. She is a cancer survivor for last 25 years. She was teaching board 10 kids even as she went for chemotherapy and radiation in 1996 after which she would go direct to her school as she was teaching board exam batch. She has also since had double knee replacement surgery, neck surgery. Yet I have not heard her complain of anything – she took care of my grandparents and her own in-laws in their death beds. My chithi and chithappa cremated both sets of their parents taking care of them in their old age through death and disease. Physical service they rendered!
My chithi chithappa’s house was always a sanctuary for everyone. Food service to guests 24 hours. Nobody left our house without getting their belly full first. Even postman may expect to be served with a coffee or tea! Such a hospitality is now becoming rare. Not rich people at all. But they paid fees for many poor students and served home made butter milk in liters in front of temples. Extremely pious and god fearing.
I don’t think I will see anyone like this generation again in this materialistic, ungrateful, selfish world.
They’re my own Little Women. My patti, amma, chithi. Most generous. Kindest. Most sensible at the same time. My granny used to read both Dina Thanthi (tamil) and the Hindu (english) newspapers with equal flourish even in those years! She was a 5th standard drop-out. One of the chitchats between the women i remember is : discussing the Warren Report on reading it. My mom owned a copy. I don’t know where it went. Another was a tamil novel: Washingtonnil thirumanam. Based on a tamil hindu wedding in Washington in the 1970s. My mom bound together into thick volumes, great tamil novels that were published in tamil weeklies in those days. After her, the books were borrowed one by one by neighbours never to be returned. Kalki and Jayakanthan and Lakshmi were some of the authors she read.
One snippet: no iron box in our house. My patti used to fold the starched cotton saris of my amma and chithi and keep under bed. So neat would they be! Other memories: baskets of mangoes held by my patti, ghee rice with family, beach with family, card games, carrom board … tv had no role in our lives.
PS: Are our moms our guardian angels ?
I don’t know about that. I used to dream of my mom until 1993 when I got married. Then she abruptly stopped appearing in my dreams.
In 2003, I visited my sis in Mumbai with family. My sis by now had 2 sons. My mom appeared in my dreams with her school bag neatly draped in her regular voile sari. The sari and the school bag i distinctly remember. She told me, she must leave. This she says looking at me and my son, and my sister and her sons. It’s like someone is waiting for her impatiently to take her somewhere. She said a proper goodbye and left, never to appear in my dreams ever since. After 1993, she visited me only once in 2003 in that early morning dream in Mumbai. May be for others this may sound fictional or hallucinationatory, only those of us who believe in miracles will believe what I believe in. I am sure, my mother would not have had a punar janma (rebirth). She must be a shining star now in the sky up above me.