My Mother (2)

My Mother (2)

My mother was raised in so small a village in Punjab that there was no school in it for girls. So she never learned even to read a write. But she was very learned in community skills such as making friends, maintaining good relationships with them, and home making. She could spin yarn, weave simple cloth, knit sweaters, and do a great deal more. When, later in life, she came to live in a large cosmopolitan city she learned Hindi and was able to communicate with most of her neighbors. We changed apartments 5 times in 12 years. In every new house she quickly found new friends.

She was a good person, but I do not remember her being religious in the sense of regular visitor of temples or a staunch believer in any ideology. Hence she never tried to teach us any kind of religious belief system. We would often go with her to the temple on some festival occasions and celebrate important festivals such as Diwali. But we were free to absorb religious ideas that appealed to us. Mother taught us many moral values and insisted that we learn to live by them.

My mother’s friends: the Iranian lady.

I vividly remember some of my mother’s friends. One was an Iranian lady roughly her own age. Our apartments were opposite each other on the third floor and we were neighbors for about 4 years. A wide cultural gap separated us. For instance, we were strict vegetarian but she ate meat or fish daily, we were Hindus and she of the B’hai faith, she spoke Persian and we Punjabi. But like my mother she had learned enough Hindi to communicate with the local people. The list of differences is long but the two became close like sisters. Both, however, had some strong ethnic constraints that were very hard to overcome. But they bridged the chasm so skillfully that nothing stood between them to dampen their love for each other.

My mother always gave food to her Iranian friend, especially to her children. But she could not bring herself to eat what came back from her friend’s kitchen. The wise Iranian lady took care to send only vegetarian food, which then our mother gave to us children. There were several other differences. But both of them understood the cultural divide and soon set up a comfortable working relationship.

The Iranian lady automatically picked up from my mother a kind of favoritism for me. She saw that I was very thin. Thinking that eating meat will probably put some extra flesh on my lean body she started to feed me fish, mutton and eggs. She would leave a plate full of food for me in one of her two bedrooms, find me and lock me in it. If other children wanted to come in she would send them away saying that she had washed the room and wanted everybody out till the floor dried. I suspect that my

Mother came to know this, but pretending ignorance she kept quiet. I am sure both friends knew what they were doing. They enjoyed keeping this loving secret for four long years until we had to leave Karachi at the time of partition in 1947.

My mother and her friend met every day, sometimes for several hours, and shared personal secrets, ate snacks, joked and laughed. Whenever we went to Punjab my mother remembered to bring some special gift for her friend. The Iranian lady too gave us gifts of food from her husband’s hotel and a variety of gifts she received from her relatives in Iran.

The Sweeper woman.

We had a Punjabi speaking sweeper woman coming daily to our house to clean the latrine and the bathroom. I remember her pretty cheerful face to this day. My mother was very fond of her and gave her some food to eat and sometimes grain or flour to take home.

Once on Maha Shivratri festival the sweeper lady asked my mother for some special food that is eaten to break the all day Shivratri fast. My mother was glad to give but she jokingly asked, “But, Jeeto, you people have become Christians. You cannot be observing fast on Shivratri?”

Jeeto replied, “Yes, Bibiji, you are right, we have become Christians. But that does not mean we have given up our Hindu dharma. We still celebrate all our old festivals, observe fasts, and do the pujas (worships). Some older Christians keep telling us to give up all Hindu customs and celebrations, but we are so far able to resist the pressure.”

Some Punjabi woman friends.

One floor below us lived two Punjabi families from Amritsar. They were of our own caste and in hardware trade like my father. Their establishment was large and they were wealthy. One of their boys was my age and we went to the same school.

My mother was friend of the ladies in both houses. They were of same age and often exchanged food, gifts, gossip and more.

During the years following Partition I met many old relatives. Whenever I met women who knew my mother I asked them what they remembered of her. Without exception they praised my mother very highly for her friendliness, kindness, and readiness to share.

No more specific memories come to mind at this time. I will write more when I recall anything.

Partap Aggarwal

June 27, 2009

MOTHER, My Mother

MOTHER, My Mother

My daughter Indu has been goading me to write about her dadi (paternal grandmother). I have been making promises. But I have not written a word till today, and as I sit down to write my emotions well up and turn into real tears. You see; my mother died in 1945 when I was only 14 years old and the gaping gash she left behind remained open for decades. Then it healed but the scar is still there. My memories of her are not long, but few and very intense. I have been keeping them in a strong box in my heart, never lifting the lid, nor letting a word slip out of my mouth.

She loved me more than I can say, and gave me more support and joy than anyone in the whole world can give. I was her only son. She often favored me over my three sisters. Did they mind? As I remember, my two elder sisters, copying our mother, loved me as mother surrogate and did so all their lives. My eldest sister is now dead, but the one next to her continues to treat me as son. Favors she has done to me all my life, I cannot possibly count. My sister’ support and true motherly love sustained me after my mother’s death. My younger sister loves me too, but we have been like equals. As children we sometimes fought bitterly. Most fault, however, is on me because being older and stronger I delivered the punches and she only the complaints. She too was not really weak and sometimes hit me back. She sometimes quibbled over favoritism shown to me. I still remember she complained every time my punches were extra hard. But mother always chided me mildly. As my younger sister grew older, she too began to treat me with deference and motherly love.

My mother was very gentle, very loving. She was a sweet and friendly person. But she also had great moral strength of the kind I have rarely seen. Thinking of all this brings back an incident to my mind. I must have been 6 or 7. I remember this vividly because we were new to Karachi and I was learning to play with children who spoke different languages and had a different culture. One day a boy threatened and abused me in a language I did not understand. Imagining the worst I angrily punched him in the chest. It must have hurt because he began to cry and howling loudly ran straight to his mother.

After some time the mother, towing her sobbing child, came to our house. She told my mother what I had done. My mother listened and pressed the crying baby to her heart. When he soothed down a little, she called me and asked if I had hit the boy. I truthfully admitted that I had. She asked what wrong the boy had done to me. I started thinking hard because the boy had not done anything awfully wrong. My mother understood quickly and did not ask for more detail. Then she said to me, “Son, I want you to look at this boy. He is younger and weaker than you. He spoke up to you in a language you did not understand. W know now that he did not say anything foul. You imagined the worst and hit him much too hard. You should not have done that. I will forgive you this time but do not repeat such a thing in future.” She said sorry to the boy’s mother and asked me to shake hands with the boy.

When my father returned from work in the evening my younger sisters blurted out to him that I was naughty and had hit a boy. He called and asked me. Being guilty I stood with my head bent low. My quiet admittance of guilt should have been enough but to dilute it I very foolishly lied that mother had already physically punished me. Later, when we came close my mother hugged me and said, “I did not hit you, did I? There is very rarely enough cause to lie. Today was not one of those times. Be brave and tell the truth. I love you.” As she talked, her hug became tighter. That incident has remained vividly etched in my memory to this day.

I am sure my mother forgave me instantly, but my guilt feeling has remained and I have prayed for her forgiveness a thousand times.

June 21, 2009

Wants and Needs

Wants and Needs

Early this morning I felt the invisible Spirit whispering in my ear.
She said, you have been watching the world with curiosity. You asked why this why that. You studied in world’s most prestigious schools and you even sat in the teacher’s chair and taught others posing as knower.

You started early in life and at 78 you are still looking. Why?
Answer is simple. Like the proverbial blind man you looked under a lamp in the street when the needle was inside the room.

So you ask, what to do now?

Well, go back and look inside the room.

Do you see much furniture and a locker full of gold and diamonds, while your brothers next door have nothing? Surely you were clever at the time of division. You also humbled your brothers whenever they mumbled the word injustice.

All other issues originate from your own house.

Did you eat a plate full of rice and sambar for lunch? Well that explains why the forest was cut then and is fast disappearing now. If you have eaten yogurt and drunk majjige you know why cows are enslaved and exploit.

If you drink milk and eat mutton, you know why there is overgrazing.

If you flush away your body’s daily gift for the soil and use water out of 15 taps in house, it should be easy for you to know why there is scarcity of water.

Your hunger for electricity will never be satisfied if you use it like the Americans or your rich neighbors. Your nuclear and conventional power plants can never satisfy your want. Regardless of number your solar and wind generators will be like a kilogram of grass to a hungry elephant.

It is needless to give more examples. The answer to all your questions lies in two simple words: wants and needs.

Know that your Wants are insatiable. If you keep chasing them you will soon destroy your entire support base.

Reduce your ‘Wants’ till they come close to your ‘Needs’. Keep them there. Do not wait for the neighbors to begin. You be the first to start. Know that this is the smart thing to do for your own health and happiness. Forgive and ignore those who call you foolish, for they know not what they do.

June 6, 2009