Remember that BBC Television sitcom of the 70’s “Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em” , the accident prone Frank Spencer besotted with his mother who is no more yet very much there in his life! Maa ka Beta may have a ladle of contemptuous derogation thrown into the catchphrase, yet, I’d ask one and sundry, who isn’t his/her mother’s child?
We all are. Maa is such an all-encompassing persona – a swathe of love, care, affection, compassion and above all that aura of supreme protection which is the quintessence of that indescribable phenomenon called motherhood.
Whether you suffer from an Oedipus or an Electra complex. Mothers shall always play a dominating, if not, overbearing, role in your life. And be thankful to God that she does because there are so many of them in this world who do not enjoy the leafy shade of that ancient tree and keep craving for it throughout life. You are lucky that you have one to fall back upon when you are actually felled by life, to stretch your tired limbs leaning against her iron body, to cry over her, no matter how frail or strong, shoulder till her pallu is drenched with your saline tears and to share the deepest of the deep secrets with her confident that you will never be snubbed or scoffed at, but rather stand rebuked with that ever-indulgent, “Why didn’t you tell this to me before?”
“Mothers are moulded in the same factory, mind it” would state Jethu (my father’s childhood friend……………..do we have such lifetime friendships nowadays?) dramatically. Yes, mothers speak the same language, feel for their offspring with the same intensity and devote all their lives the same way for the betterment of their children and family……..they are the direct descendants of the Mother Divine, all forgiving all enduring and all absorbing!!!
I do not remember going up to my mother ever for a heart to heart chat. In those days, parenting had a totally different connotation. It meant showing utmost respect to the point of being scared, maintaining distance to the point of being estranged and never, never letting your parents treat you as their equals……………they were not. The bye word was putting them up on a pedestal and worshipping them!!! Did I have that kind of a subliminal relationship with my mother? You bet, I never did. For one, my father was too liberal for such distant and dignified address. For the other, I and my mother were too strong a characters battling with each other constantly to earn our independent little space first within the extended realm of a joint family and later within the constricted premise of a nuclear collage.
Yet, there was no dearth of compatibility. Mother-daughter relationship does not always follow the bookish conundrum of ideality. It can always have different strokes and variegated shades breezing still with the symphony and synchronization of a well-conducted orchestration of thousand instruments in perfect cadence and enchanting melody.
This was evident in the fact that I never had to tell her anything. She always knew……………when I stole the butter off the larder, when I secretly mooned over Di’s love letters, when I spent too long daydreaming obviously neglecting my studies, when I was afraid of the next turn in life and when I was ready for the next leap into the Unknown!!! She was bestowed with that Third Eye, invisible yet uncannily aware and penetrating.
Did she ever mentor me through cross roads? In those days familial piety was not marked by verbosity or overt demonstrations. Words were irrelevant and sometimes absolutely unnecessary. Aahs and Oohs were considered signs of weakness best discarded as spoilers. Children were not to be pampered. Spare the rod spoil the brat was my mother’s dictum. The thrashings post a super successful act of mischief resound more in my memory than phrases of placation. Yet, there are those moments which have later got immortalized, especially in times of acute adversity, from which I have drawn strength and forbearance and thanked God fervently for having been brought up the way I have been which has given me the resilience to fight back and sponge in the finer nuances of life.
She was not well educated. In those days they were just Mothers and not Home-Makers as they are now called. But she was definitely well-read. Books were the next great pieces of furniture that we had in our sparsely furnished home. Hiding anything from her was the most difficult accomplishment of childhood. And I almost did that when I was straddling through that tumultuous phase of growing up called adolescence.
We had a sheltered existence, a battered radio and a horde of unfulfilled wishes. One of them being acquiring a black and white television, that enviable possession of the neighbour, which we got glimpses of by peeking into other’s darkened living rooms through open windows during summertime when Chitrahaar would be aired, perhaps tuned up a decibel higher, just to let the residents know that the owners had what the rest did not. In short, we lacked what today the children enjoy in plentiful – exposure. So, the only sources of information were newspapers, books (if your family had the taste for it) and friends who always knew more than you did!!
For me newspapers were just lead scribbles on yellowed paper lacking charisma, friends would often be uppity when it came to divulging precious knowledge but books were there forever. And who could resist laying hands on the most lucrative of these – the adult stuff, especially, when the line of demarcation between what you could read and could not was stiffer than the rod that would be played on your back once you got caught? I recall reading Sharat Chandra Chattopadhyay’s ‘Charitraheen‘ (which was akin to reading Salman Rushdie in a guarded Mosque) lighting a torch under the rajai lying next to Maa. Quite a feat! Knowing very well that getting nabbed would mean losing an ear or some other essential body part. I am still unsure that I actually succeeded in befooling her. Sometimes, I feel she deliberately let me trespass on forbidden territory because that was her way of preparing me for the facts of life which in those days were not conveyed directly by mothers to their daughters.
Transmitting values were more by deeds than by sermons. I saw my mother shuttling to and fro managing one household and the other when my Maashi took to bed after a cerebral attack. And I understood how important it was to stand by family in times of need. Playing the conch, lighting the dhunuchi and singing “Jaya Jagadish Hare…” meant prayer time – a must every day. She was a martinet (still is) and I learnt the value of time and a disciplined routine, though frankly speaking, I still get astray at times.
My engineer friend says “All said and done, mothers are machinations of God. They are designed distinctly for some specific purpose. They have their own censors, antennae and transmitters.” And I can vouchsafe that.
He would often pick me up in his lap. Stroke me. Play with me. But I always squirmed in his arms. Repulsed by his touch. Afraid to confide as we were closely related. Visits were unplanned and frequent. And dreaded…..My excuses of not accompanying her to their place would be turned down as lame. Yet one day she eyed him sternly when he cuddled me. I wriggled out of his embrace and ran to her hiding my face in her sari pleats. She did not say much. But she never took me there again. And then the goings stopped altogether.
In later years, I have emulated her often in applying management techniques – be it relationships, professional rapports or plain business dealings. Her expertise is rooted in experience. Her mentoring is a strange mixture of admonishment and lenience. She has taught me to love unconditionally and perform duties uncomplainingly. I have learnt from her how to put people in their places by making them aware of the lakshmanrekha which they dare not cross. Above all, she has inspired me to live life on my own terms. She is my mother – my homegrown expert and all-time mentor.