That is my mother’s picture that you see up there. My mother, who just the other day said to me, ‘Nijer jonye to anekdin bachlam. Ebar ektu anyer jonye bachi!’
(I have lived for myself for a very long time, now I want to live for others)!
My mother was the extroverted extension of me while I was growing up. I was a quiet shadow behind my gregarious, fun loving mother. As I look back, I realize we were just that – an extension of each other. I did not know where she ended and I began, till I started branching out to become my own person. Since I was so intricately woven into her being while growing up, I did not consider her as a woman in her own right. She was my mother and that was the whole of her. The perception was selfish and yet that perception arose from a blind love too. Only when I became a woman and looked at my mother from the perspective of a fellow woman did I see the complete portrait of her. Not just the unidimensional one of a mother but also the little girl, the young woman, the young bride, the rebel, the survivor, the fighter, the whole entity of who she was and who she has become. Her journey, if you will, as a woman.
She fought for her right in the patriarchal family that she was born to right from the start. Fiercely competitive, she fought for her place with her brothers and boy cousins and strangely enough, she got it too. Stories of her spunk and competitiveness have been told and retold by her peers and elders with indulgent laughter. I have heard so many stories beginning with, ‘Tor ma….bapre, koto golp.’ (Your mother….oh dear, so many stories..)!
As a young woman in early seventies when women’s beauty was measured by the length and width of their hair, she went to a salon and cut it all into a fashionable page boy cut. Her society, family and friends were aghast. When covering a woman’s arms was the norm, she went and fashioned sleeveless blouses. There was talk. Married at 19 and a mother at 20, she did not have a chance to finish her graduation, so she went back and finished it when her child was 6 years old. I remember the celebration. When leaving your child and going out to work was frowned upon, she went and got a job. Almost everyday she came home with a book for me, so I was happy as a clam, waiting for her and a book at the end of the day. When women thought husband and hearth were the purpose of their lives, she declared loudly she did not like cooking and cleaning. Life has to be more than just that for a woman. She devoted her time to reading and on her child instead – reading Bangla literature to me, telling me stories that I still remember, reading poetry of Rabindranath Tagore, Sukumar Roy, relentlessly helping with whatever I needed help with. She fought with everyone and provided the best education that she could for her only child going beyond the family’s means. And she told me again and again that I was no less than a boy no matter what society wanted me to believe.
In her personal life, she always tried to break the glass ceiling by pushing a little more. She will perhaps be the first to admit that she made mistakes along the way. But she did not let that stop her from following her heart or taking chances while always choosing the best for me. Now that I look back, she truly lived for me, and then for a while, through me. When I went to college, the dynamics changed and she became an extension of me.
The woman who wanted to do things differently could not contain herself in her retired life. When I set her free, she soared. Yes, I set her free from my dependance, need and my responsibility. She and some like minded friends opened an organization to help the unfortunate men, women and children. I was uncertain about this venture but as she grew I looked at her with utter amazement and then pride. The picture above is from one of the events that her organization organized in Hridoypur Pronobananda Kanya ashram – a school for orphans. When I skyped with her later she said, ‘I was so nervous talking in front of all those people. I have never done it before.’
My father said, with a proud gleam in his eyes, ‘Your mother was very good!’
Life is a journey, I hear. Some rough terrains, some smooth sailing, some uphill battles, some downhill glides. Towards the end of our journey some of us get bogged down by the stress of it all, some of us choose to sit and rest and look back satisfied at the path they traversed, while some get a second wind, take flight and soar high. They finally get to spread their wings after all the responsibilities are done. The shackles that they sometimes willingly and sometimes unwillingly tie to their feet fall free with a resounding, joyful clang. My mother got the second wind. She is flying.
I look up to her flying high and unmindfully hug the shackles that tether me to the ground now. The shackles that I love more than my life. I smile upon them as I turn my face skyward. I say to myself, ‘One day I will learn to fly. One day my time too will come. One day I will grow up just like my mother!’
Happy Mother’s Day, Ma.