Thursday, 31 July, 2008


Happy Birthday Ma.
Today is my mother's birthday. Even though I am writing this piece for her, I know she will never read it. Maybe that is why I am writing this. Maybe one of these days when I am home, I will read this piece out to her, I can almost see her nodding her head when she hears this.
Unlike my dad who was a midnight's child born in the twilight of India's freedom, my mother was born a good ten years later. She was born in independent India, much after the horrors of partition and blood shedding.
My mother's side of the family was settled in Birbhum district of Bengal. They were the traditional kobiraj (doctors) there and did not come to Kolkata till the 1940s.
A small annecdote about my mother's family. My mother tells me that her gradmother was a real fiesty lady. She took it as her solemn duty as the village kobiraj's wife to look after all the sick in the village. In the nineteenth century an illeterate lady crossed the strict caste boundaries of the village society and visited houses of the dalits and looked after them, offering them food and medicines. There was one dalit kid whose mother had died at child birth, he was brought up by the grandma and he became a part of the family, even is till today, his son has adopted my mother's family's surname and became truly one of them. The village could not alleniate the family because the kobiraj is needed but they did not eat at the house, so everytime there was some festival or celebration or social gathering raw food used to go from the house to the other village upper caste houses. And my mother says her grandmother's pet line was that "when I die these bhaggars/dalits would burn me, I dont need to go to the upper caste heaven, I will be in with the dalits wherever they are." She, my mother's grandmother, lets call her simply grandmother used to pamper my mother a lot. Her idea was that girls' are temporary gifts to a family, they soon would be going away to another family so till they are there pamper them. My mom says bypassing her four brothers she got the best food, best clothes, was not allowed to do any household chores etc. In a nutshell she was spoiled rotten by her grandparents, uncles and aunts, much to my grandmother's horror. She is another fiesty lady, but will talk about her in another post.
Thus my mother started her life on this earth and thus she continued, thankfully. Her family are practicing Hindus and sometimes too much into it. Once my mother starts visiting religious places or gets on with her rituals there she is no stopping her, making my brother and me, climb up the wall with impatience. But there are other parts to her as well. She was put to a convent of missionary sisters who wanted to educate girls. My mother knows the Bilbe by heart, was always telling me and my brother stories from it while we were growing up. And just next to her house where she grew up there was a masjid. She grew up hanging out in the masjid, chatting with the maulvi shaabs, who used to come visting to 'nazar uttaro' whenever she used to fall sick (which was quiet frequently). She loves visiting masjids, listening to ajans and peer babas are extra special to her. So my mom grew up a wieird mix of Bible quoting, Masjid loving, practising Hindu. Whenever I hear the word 'syncretic' she comes to mind. She is the best example of tolerance and respect. She is the ideal citizen modern India had in mind, till it went so horribly wrong.
Another thing which I love about her and have tried to imbibe is the immense respect she has for everyone. In her own way she is one of the most indiscriminating person I know. She is friends with just about everyone. She is the only person whom I have seen, who speaks to eunachs with respect. There was this old eunach who used to visit our house frequently when we were growing up. She would come and sit with my mom and chat for sometime, my mom would always push us towards her and tell her "bless them". She was such a gentle person, hardly the brash eunachs you meet now a days.
Anyways I think I have rattled on, long enough. So need to stop here.


  1. I wish your mother a peacful birthday and am so onspired to read about pioneering woman like her and her family who goes against the community and the law of the day to fight for what they believe is injustice. Its great to get to know about such a fantastic woman.

  2. thanks jell...i will pass on the wishes to her :)

  3. Please convey my birthday wishes to your Mom. What a fantastic tribute you have paid! It is because of people like your Mom and members of her family, I believe there is still hope for today's India. Simple, ordinary citizens who stand by their principles. I consider them the true Bharat Ratnas.......

  4. Yes please to be wishing momie dearie from me too and its ok I am alright with cutting the birthday cake without her being physically present here in Delhi and wouldnt mind some yummy bengali food too... what say u??

  5. bongo food in the evening :O yeah we can dream about the way did i tell you that i am honestly over food? not feeling hungry carried over since yesterday evening to today...i love this kind of worry which makes me go off food...if only the worry remained worry and nothing else!


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