I am an Indian Woman, do you know me?
Basanti Dasgupta — Celebrating Life
Now that the mother’s day fervour is over I wish to share a woman who happened to be a woman who lived by her own standards. I was born to her so she was my mother without mothering me. There are so many like her who live and die without being celebrated.
25th January 2013 evening my mother died. It was her teaching that I could take her to the crematorium from Prem Niketan Old age home all by myself to cremate her with help from strangers. How does one combine memories of sixty three years in twenty four hours of Mother’s day? I am my mother’s first born, whom she was not allowed to breast feed by her mother-in-law so that my fairness does not get tinted! I remember my mother saving my grand-mother from my father’s wrath! She would magnanimously say that what my grandmother had been through it was surprising that she did not become mad!
She was from comparatively poorer family than my father’s and married him knowing that he had had an affair with someone whom he did not marry as she was asking him to leave his family and settle abroad. She loved this family as her own remaining aloof unattached. I learnt to call her ‘Ma’ on my own accord, when I was thirteen, as earlier I would address her as ‘Bou ma’ what my grandmother used to call her!
After keeping the telephone in safe custody for almost 10 months with a heavy heart I eventually surrendered it on 15 March 2016. When I shifted to a house near the University in March 2010 the BSNL landline was my residence proof. I left the place and shifted to a one room studio apartment in May 2015. That is when I put the phone in safe custody with intention to get it back when I would rejoin after my leave in August. Since this did not materialize I was forced to surrender with telephone bills increasing per month and my inability to go to the BSNL head office to inquire into it. When I went my comfort of the telephone office space made me realize that it was always so. Got me thinking on my way back after surrendering that why I who is usually an unattached person is feeling this sadness of letting go something that I hardly use. There was no telephone in my childhood home. Even after marriage the telephone was there in the house only to be attended to and not for making calls. I was trying to convince myself that it was only because I was so against mobiles. It was then I remembered that my mother worked as a telephone operator when she conceived me. While I grew in her womb until it was time for me to come in this world, the telephone office was an outlet for her. No wonder I had this affinity with telephone without any urge of using them!
When I was 10, I had asked did she faint when I was born to her. I remember her face glowing as she told me that she definitely did not faint, she saw me being born. She never let any apprehensions take shape about something as natural as childbirth, with that radiance. She never stigmatised my three sisters and me in gendered socialization. She taught dancing and playing stick (self-defence with stick) with the same rhythm. She set me free for life when the next day of my first period she gave permission to ride my bicycle to my school like any other day — no stress, no under currents, no purity, no impurity, just as regular as the sun rises in the east. She had decided when she had periods waiting in the bathroom for her sari to dry that her daughters will have none of the created nonsense of this natural phenomenon.
My parents were an amazing couple with love and respect for each other. So hesitantly when I asked her if it was ok that I share that my father beat her she said noncommittally ‘of course, it is the truth of your life’! Even though she found endless excuses for him she never cowed to his beatings and never did stop speaking her mind. It was only after she got a brain stroke when she became a child to me and I a mother to her did she acknowledge that the man was not good, but then he was not her husband just some man whom she had no recollection of!
After her stroke in 2007, the old age home in Jaipur was a space she liked as it resembled her childhood sprawling home. She stayed there in peace for a year and half. Her fifth attack on 17 January 2013 early morning did not take away her will to live but her body did not support her. She came to the same old age home from the hospital on 24 evening to die the next evening in the presence of her two elder daughters and two more, who were not her daughters but taking care of her.
I am barely scratching the surface of memory lanes in an attempt to share a bit of my mother who did not believe in belonging to anyone!