A Homage to Mother
by Ravi Chitrapu
(Visakhapatnam, India )
This is a tribute to a mother of the last century who performed her duty to her family with perfect dedication, diligence and concern. Like all other moms, hers was a story of indomitable courage, perseverance and indefatigable patience. We pay our tributes to her, and, to all other mothers through this story of hers.
Though born into a traditional and conservative family and married into a similar household, Mother displayed a rare courage and independence, far ahead of her times. Mind you, this was not disobedience but only a fearless way of expressing her feelings and needs – of course, with strong support from two important men in her life – her father and later her husband. How else could you explain the fact that at the age of about 5, she bravely went to her father and demanded that he change her name to Sita (because her friends were making of her rather old fashioned name – Viyyamma). A bemused father relented but called her Janaki rather than Sita because he associated the latter name with ‘hardships’. Nevertheless, in later years, Mrs.Janaki would face many difficulties but come out a winner most of the times.
A similar freedom was given by her indulgent father when they were searching for a groom for her. "Janaki, agree to a proposal only if you like him", he told her. "I may get tired and angry if you refuse but don’t say yes for my sake". Mother believed him and must have seen and declined at least three dozen prospective grooms – some on rather flimsy reasons like the boy sporting ear-rings or he having studied only upto Class X!! It was the irony of fate that she finally married a man whom she never saw – it was only on hearsay that the two got married but they never had any regrets, for over 50 years - though they were poles apart in certain areas.
Married at barely 17, Janaki had to travel alone to Poona where Father was working – somehow Dad couldn’t come to the station to receive her and there she was all alone – a Telugu girl who couldn’t speak any other language and only knew that her husband worked in the Defence Accounts Department. It was a wonder and testimony to her shrewdness, courage and intelligence that she managed to get into a tonga and reach Dad’s office only to be stopped at the gate – luckily some Andhraites were passing by and they sent word to a visibly shocked father who took her home. She quickly learnt to speak Marathi and run a house (soon to have 3 children) on just 45 rupees a month – Father’s salary! Maybe it was this financial necessity that made her (and Father) learn how to spend wisely and frugally, and, practise the 3 ‘R’s – Reduce, Reuse and Recycle. And thus it was that Mother became an expert home maker and manager – balancing the single income with the demands of a middle class family, yet, always ensuring that we had good food, clothes and education – not to mention the small luxuries we looked forward to – an occasional movie or a toy. Clothes were re-sized for the next sibling, night-dresses were stitched at home, and, worn out clothes were stuffed and made into a rozai or converted into floor-scrubs. She would save from the little money Dad gave her to run the house and bought small pieces of gold and silver – which would later come in handy for the daughters’ marriages.
She soon became an expert at time management and planning ahead – having to cater to the needs of a working husband and 3 school going students and visiting relatives – cooking rice, daal and sabji – all on a kerosene stove and a ‘boggula kumpati’ (charcoal stove). So efficient was her planning that she never forgot to set the milk in the night to have curds (dahi) ready for the next morning, nor to soak urad dal on a Friday evening so that we could have ‘minapa rotti’ on Saturday night and ‘idlis’ on Sunday morning.
She also learnt to travel alone with the children in tow with her little knowledge of Hindi and Marathi – from Eluru in Andhra to Poona. She would often tell us the few times when she had security problems – about how once she was alone in a bogie and two strangers tried to misbehave and how her prayers were answered when a big group of army jawans boarded at the next station and she could heave a huge sigh of relief.
Mother also tried to learn English from her strict disciplinarian husband – it went on well for some days but somewhere along, she persisted in saying ‘I does not know” and an impatient Dad got annoyed when she wouldn’t correct her grammar; an exasperated Mum gave up. Years later, on a flight to the USA, again alone, she had to change flights and when in a queue, pestered the airport officials in Los Angeles , in her half-broken English, to send her quickly as she was elderly, with arthritis and asthma. She would proudly tell us how she could manage to jump the queue and get into her wheelchair to catch her connecting flight.
Though she was a very devout and religious Hindu Brahmin and harbored her own personal views on caste and practised seemingly queer customs of ‘madi’ (once she bathed, she would not touch anyone, till she finished her prayers) and ‘antu’ (rice/dal based items were to be kept one side of the table and other items such as sabji and milk /curds on the other side), she never imposed them on us. She (and Father) never said anything when her eldest son married a Bihari girl or the grandchildren married a North Indian / non Brahmin. All were welcomed warmly into the family; similar hospitality was extended to the British friend of our elder brother and the Muslim friend of the younger daughter. What’s so great one may ask but considering that she was born in 1928 and studied only upto Class 5, one must acknowledge her broad-mindedness.
Mother was highly instrumental in instilling in all her children values of justice, equality, honesty, compassion and liberty. When she had to let her brothers stay with us for their higher studies at Vizag, she unhesitatingly invited Father’s nephews too into the house, when their family needed some place to stay. She was acutely aware of, and empathetic towards, what she called ‘Noru leni jeevulu’ (living beings without a mouth /voice) – this included, on the one hand, the poverty stricken people who lived at the mercy of the rich, and on the other, the helpless animals, wild and domesticated, often exploited or killed by Man. And so it was that we would end up bringing home stray kittens, giving food to sick and lame dogs and shunning non-veg food.
A staunchly religious woman, she had her own channel of communication with God and strongly felt that He always helped her and her family. I can still recollect the umpteen times she lost something valuable – a gold ring or some cash stashed away somewhere (she had this penchant to store money in the unlikeliest of places) and she would hurriedly make a ‘mokku’ or vow – to visit the nearby Kanakamahalakshmi temple if she found it. Invariably the article would be recovered and she would faithfully trudge along to the Goddess’s temple. A pity though that her health did not cooperate with her in later years as she developed arthritis of her knees and fibrosis of the lungs. Two doctor children unfortunately could not help her medically and her problems got accentuated due to the multiple drugs she was forced to consume. Unfortunately, she became bedridden towards the end of her life and needed help with her daily activities too – something which this strongly independent lady hated her entire life – ‘I should never be dependent on someone else to do things for me’ she would often say but her God willed otherwise. And she passed away, physically and psychologically weakened by a cruel destiny. But her principles, beliefs and values – her ‘way of life’ continue to exist, though perhaps not in similar measure, in all her five children who cherish her memories. ******** Note: On Mother's Day, this article is published as a special tribute to all Mothers.