I dreamt of ma last night. I never remember my dreams and I did not remember the specifics of this one either. I just remember the last shot/frame of the dream. Ma was looking at something over my head, in a white georgette saree with black border and tiny embroidery done in the body of the saree. She had her signature big maroon bindi on her forehead. Her skin was glowing with its usual healthy glow. Her body was partially turned. She was not necessarily smiling but her face looked content. When my eyes opened and the vision disappeared, I thought, “Huh! She is dead!” Even with that reaction though, I was not plunged into deep despair. There was a lightness in my heart in the morning because the essence of that dream still lingered. This was the sixth time I dreamed of ma. And yes, I keep count.
I was narrating to Sahana my dream and the snippet of it that stayed with me. I said, “Interestingly enough, it did not make me cry like usual.”
She smiled. “Take the wins, mom. Just take the wins whenever you get it.”
As I pondered over her words, I realized ‘taking the wins’, indeed, is the meaning of contentment perhaps. I will take the wins whenever I get them.
Ma is not going to grow a year older today. And there is no point in wishing her happy birthday any more since she has crossed the realm when ‘be happy on your birthday’ is meaningless. In the years past, we wrote or made a video the night before so she got our “happy birthday” message first thing in the morning. The message brought on a big smile and a ‘thank you’ in a smile-soaked voice. I do not know where her soul went after her heart stopped beating. I grew up with the Hindu belief that our souls enter a different body and lead a new life after it leaves the old one. And this process continues till one attains moksha or nirvana. This thought is comforting. If that is true, then I hope her next life is much happier than the one she left. Also, the thought that energy is indestructible and ma’s energy surrounds me is also very comforting. But the point is I am not wishing her happy birthday. Instead I am claiming her birthday to celebrate the woman she was, the mother she was.
For the rest of my life I will not be wishing Ma a happy birthday but it will always be a happy day. So today, when tears threaten to blur my vision I have to tell myself it is a happy day. A happy, happy day.
“You know the plant is going to die, right?” Sahana said to me with slight panic in her voice, cutting off my effusive gushing over “obstinate ma plant”. In my slightly unbalanced (hopefully temporary) mind, the geranium that I planted the day after ma’s death has truly become her alter ego. Sahana seemed concerned I will plunge back into dooms of despair once the plant has lived its lifetime. I laughed at the panic in her voice.
I was narrating the story to a friend. She asked if I had considered pressing petals of those flowers within pages of a book? I thought that was a brilliant idea. The dilemma, however, was which book deserved the petals of obstinate ma plant? And how did one press petals to dry anyway? The second part was easy since Google has the answers. The difficult decision was which book would ma love to be remembered in? Was it a book by her “pran er thakur” Rabindranath? Manik Bondopadhyay? Mahashweta Debi? Poetry of Sukanto? All of them were her loves but I finally decided on Ashapurna Debi’s “Prothom Protusruti”. My fledgling feminism took flight at a young age when ma first passed on this book to me. Since then I must have read the book and it’s sequels over a dozen times. The story follows the life of a little girl in rural Bengal at the beginning of the 20th century when Bengal society was tightly shackled by social restrictions imposed by upper caste men. The book, while narrating the story of Satyabati, touches on all the restrictions placed on women to limit their freedom – the most important one among many was denying them education. The belief was if a woman touched paper or pen she would be a widow. When Satyabati’s cousin shudders at the fact that Satyabati has taught herself to write, the little girl finds a loophole in that theory right away. How can women touching pen or paper be paap (bad karma) when the goddess of learning, Debi Saraswati is a woman herself? Satyabati questioned each and every tradition that curbed women’s rights and flouted every rule that tried to hold her down. She managed to loosen the chains just a bit for the future generation of women.
Ma too fought patriarchy every step of the way. She refused any kind of limitations to such an extent that I, in my childhood, sometimes thought, “Oh just get along. Give in!” Looking back I realize she was loosening the chains so that her daughter and grand daughter can have space to spread their wings. She emulated Satyabati all her life, at the expense of her own peace and happiness sometimes. I know it is only fitting that petals from “obstinate ma plant” find their resting place in the pages of the book that tell her story.