She was not like Gorky’s Nilovna who was immortalized for supporting a revolutionary son even though she herself was not educated enough to understand what the revolution meant. She did it for the seer love for her son. But, she was a mother and every motherhood is as great as it can be. I do not think any rating is possible as far as motherhood is considered.
Of course, I am talking about my own mother. But why do I remember her today? The fact was that when she was alive, she was so much part of my life neither did I felt her presence, nor her absence. She lived that way or rather preferred to live that way, just a whispering presence like the gentle breeze, not asserting yet as life sustaining as the air. Today is her twenty first death anniversary, or what we call shradha divas according to our sanskara.
Our ancestors never foresaw we would have to see the unfortunate days when the children will remember or give special importance to their parents while they were alive once a year on a day designated as Mother’s day or Father’s day.
It was envisaged that generations would live under one roof in the presence of parents and other elders for years to come. You do not remember when someone is present with you, day in and day out. Of course there is a need to remember them when they are away or dead and gone.
The word Shraadha is derived from Shradhaa which means fondness mixed with respect. So, on Shradha days, in our Hindu tradition, we remember fondly not only the departed parents, but also three lines of progenitors from father’s as well as mother’s side.
My father was an avid ritualist. It was worth watching and being around when he performed Shradha for his own parents and ancestors. He himself did all the Brahminical rituals while my mother cooked elaborate satwik dishes that were too good to resist. The rituals would take four to five hours. He was very meticulous. He saw to it that no part of the ritual was left out.
It was a great occasion to skip school. I would also urge my contemporary cousins to skip school so that we would be able to assist my father in preparations. Our adventurous duty started before sunrise by practically stealing flowers from the nearby temple premises. In case my father felt the quantity of flowers was not enough we raided the village zamindar’s well-guarded gardens. We also had to collect Jackfruit leaves for making plates and bowls by stitching these with coconut sticks.
Then, we would be ordered to go and take bath so that we earned the merit to sit near the place of Shradha proceedings. We could understand neither the elaborate mystical drawings that my father made on the floor, nor his Sanskrit chanting. But his chanting, which were sometimes in a whisper barely audible to others and at other times in a high pitch voice that reverberated around the whole village, created a mesmerizing and mystical effect.
Now I remember a few lines – “Ranganahta deva sharma atra gachha, iha tishtah, achamanam kuru……… Ranganatha deva sharma trupytam” which may roughly translate as – “Oh Godlike Ranganatha (his father), come here, take your sit, wash your feet and have these many delicious dishes……. Oh, departed ancestors come and be fulfilled ……”
But as children, our real interest lay in the dishes that were served. We would eagerly wait when all these mumbo jumbo would be over so that we relished those dishes, fruits and sweets. Sometimes out of compassion, my mother would urge father to finish the rituals and not unnecessarily prolong the proceedings. My father would act as if he had not listened and would go on unruffled, to make it doubly sure he did not miss any part of the ritual.
Sensing that my father was in no mood to take a short cut and finish early, she would call us to the kitchen on some pretext. In the kitchen she would have a kept aside a few sweet cakes specially for this occasion. She would tell us to eat those cakes without making any noise, wash our mouth and hands and re-join the proceedings.
With my generation, the tradition of elaborate Shradha ritual has become almost extinct. Now a day, we go to a temple and donate something to the priest and the temple in cash and kind. In return, the temple priest gives his blessings, the intensity of his blessings being dependent upon his mood and his ability to chant those difficult Sanskrit stanzas.
Since I write this article on the occasion of my mother’s death anniversary I must pay my tribute to her. She was no special mother- that was her specialty. She was like any other mother, an Indian mother to be precise -not educated beyond the primary classes, yet unschooled enough to follow her motherly instincts and insights to know at what precise time which of her children needed what. I felt she had a special corner for me, being the youngest of the siblings. If I recall all events great or small to exalt her motherhood, it will fill a book. But, the following incident haunts and will continue to haunt my memories for a long time to come.
My parents usually stayed with my elder brother. I studied staying in a hostel and then joined Indian Air Force where you cannot live outside the bachelor quarters till you are married. It was going to be her first visit to my place of posting. I was coming back to Bangalore with my wife, parents and my three months old daughter. We were waiting for the train at Berhampur, my home town. It was announced that the train was going to be late by a couple of hours. Coincidentally, the child fell sick. We rushed to a doctor and got medicines. Being novice parents we panicked and decided to cancel the journey. But my mother would not listen. She insisted we carry on with the journey and that everything was going to be alright. So we carried on with the journey, though not sure whether it was the right decision.
We reached Bangalore without much problem. Still I could not forgive my mother for being so adamant and putting us to such risk. After a few days she explained during a casual conversation, “ See, first of all I knew there was nothing serious about the baby and at this age these are common ailments. Secondly, if I cancelled the journey you would have got a very bad name. Without understanding he situation the neighbours would have murmured that you were trying to avoid the responsibility of taking us with you. Thirdly, who knows whether I will be able to visit you again at your place of posting?”
Hardly convinced, I told my mother not to say so. But the depth of her concern and her foreboding could be realized only after her death three years later. Even though everything for her second visit to our place was arranged for, she died just three days before the proposed visit.
She preferred to be misunderstood so that her son was not condemned. That is what distinguishes mother’s love.
And she had a premonition that she would not be able to make it for a second time. If I had missed the chance first time, it would have been a regret of a lifetime.
On my mother’s twenty first death anniversary as I recall her, I am reminded again of the Shradha chantings done by my father in his mesmerizing and mystical voice inviting the ancestors to come, partake of our offerings and go back fulfilled.
If only, we could really get those ancestors back, even if for a day!