Can’t remember what triggered this memory, but today I was remembering my childhood days and my taste for jiri (sugar-coated fennel seeds) introduced to me by my chacha (father’s younger brother). Every single evening, I waited for my daily jiramin-dose, and no matter where we lived, Bombay or Pilani, my chacha on his way back from work unfailingly brought me a pudiya of jiri. I was a jiri addict with no hope of kicking the habit. The moment he walked in, my small hands stretching out in demand – jiri chahiye.
My chacha himself had, and also instilled in us, some particular habits – never to eat anything out in the open, never to shake-off water off wet hands, never to wipe wet hands on the clothes worn…. to name but a few. There was an episode from my childhood my bhuas (father’s sisters) reminisce…
A little background first… All my three bhuas were very possessive about me.. They would fight with each other for me, take turns to pick me up, sleep next to me in turns, take me to the market, and so on.
Now the episode:
One day, they took me to the market and bought me my favourite drug, jiri. Like a greedy pig, I poured the whole packet in my hand and was about to stuff my mouth with it when all of a sudden I saw my chacha coming from the opposite direction. I knew he didn’t like anyone eating on the streets/or out in the open/or under the sky. Seeing him, I got so frightened that my hand, that was close to my mouth, turned upside down (a knee-jerk reaction) with all my favourite stuff on the ground, mixed with the balu ret of Rajasthan. My bhuas still laugh when enacting the whole scene, but I don’t think it was funny losing my day’s quota of the delicious mithi-saunf. What a loss!!
It was an early start. Ahmedabad has changed to an unrecognisable extent. I drove from there through S.G. Highway to Makarba one July morning in 2018 as per the directions given by Bubbles in a cutely sincere manner – two lefts, then right, then straight for 2 kms, then three rights, and so on. It must have been the combination of her accuracy and my ability to grasp that I reached the masjid with sheer ease. The light from the golden torch was making its way to the earth before bribing its way into the roza’s courtyard.
Bhavna stood there to greet me. Oh, what a beautiful face she had. Those eyes!! She instantly came across as a warm person willing to share her knowledge of the place. She spoke a welcome mix of educated English and raw Hindi. We entered the monument, removed our shoes, covered our heads.
A typical morning scene. Touchingly serene. A few men, unperturbed by my presence, read the morning papers. I felt at home. I kept taking photographs as Bhavna’s soft voice kept singing in my ears. We Indians are spoilt. Our history dates so far back that we casually declare a six centuries old structure as recent. We even neglect it.
This was Sarkhej Roza, once the home of sufi saint, Ganj Baksh. To one side stood a stone pavilion in a sad state of disrepair and to the other, a courtyard with a masjid and quietly guarded tombs. Several mausoleums, an old well, hundreds of wide steps leading down to a dried tank and the infinite expanse. One part of the mosque, with its tall pillars reminded me of the Acropolis of Athens. It was too much for me to take in on a short morning tour.
Once in a while a person will walk the white-painted path, that led to the masjid, to speak in private to the supreme being. This path was also taken by the Sun to kiss the cheek of the messiah who must most definitely reside in such quietude.
A small girl jumped and skipped on the steps oblivious to all. A spoke of the well-wheel pulley made to resemble an exotic visitor to the Sabarmati River. A cormorant or a spoonbill perhaps. The little bookshop opened early. A few men sat selling to no customers at all. Bhavna enjoyed a nice chat with them. A silvery bearded man in immaculate white clothes and matching taqiyah takes over the shop. “Maybe he’ll sell only one book today,” I thought. I buy one. But he will remain all day no matter what. Dedication. Service. We all can learn.
The cleaner, with her younger grandson in her arms, complained about her useless son-in-law. From Bhavna’s story to this – it felt like I had changed the radio station.
Her elder grandson played near the main gate. His angelic face captivated me so much that I took several photos of him. He kept changing poses. A young man sat on the chair. Maybe, that was the accused.
My gaze locked on a woman sitting outside the room that housed the tombs. She was not present there. She appeared to be talking to someone. But there was no one. She then laughed, and continued to laugh. Her ankles were swollen. She was a regular I was told. She walked out as aimlessly as she had walked in.
Outside the mosque, another lady sold balloons. “She’s my friend,” announced Bhavna. Where did these people buy such delightful smiles from when they could not even afford a decent meal? How can they afford such precious attributes?
On my drive back to Ahmedabad, and before I hit the highway, I saw the lady who spoke to the spirits. She was on her way to… nowhere.
We girls waited in the car while the men went to fetch tea for us. A man with long curled-at-corners moustache and a protective kaffiyeh-style cloth tucked under his cap approached us, dutifully asking us to park the car in a certain way. He worked as a watchman for the highway café. I was instantly taken by his kind and impressive face. Briefly ignoring his request I brought the camera to my eye, gesturingly enquiring if I can take his photograph. He forgot all about the car and stood posing. With that face, I knew nothing can go wrong. One photo. That was it.
I admired the photo. It was superb. He looked very dignified. He was very dignified. I didn’t know when I would meet him again. I kept thinking I should have taken his address. I at least had his name from his uniform badge. But that was it. Years passed. Then…
2017 – Delhi-Jaipur Highway
Bubbles and myself stop at the same café to have some coffee. I look around searchingly. No sign of him. There were several new shops in that block by this time. I ask shopkeepers, pan seller, shoe mender. They have not seen him, but they knew him. So, myself and Bubbles go into the café to have our snacks and coffee.
Suddenly, outside the glass window, I see him trotting towards us.
There he was…. Ramdeen Singh Tanwar. Same dignified face, gentle and welcoming smile. Same moustache, this time grey. He had aged fast. Life was hard for him, and it was apparent. But he stood a proud man. He even remembered me.
I took more photographs of him. This time against the backdrop of Aravalli that ran parallel to the highway, his home since birth. The only home he had known. He was extremely pleased by my gesture. Kept thanking me. This time I asked for his address so I can post his photos to him. I also told him about the photo from 2012.
He could not read or write, he said. He did not even have a mobile phone. So, he would have to go home to get his son to write the address and son’s mobile number for me on a piece of paper. He disappeared. It was getting later and later. The sun had set by now, and it was getting darker. We could not wait any longer as we still had to drive to Jaipur. I was very disheartened. After all these years, I had found him, but again lost him.
As we sit in the car to drive off, he comes running. Hands me his son’s number and their home address. Seeing his enthusiasm, I almost cried. Perhaps, he cried too seeing mine.
And after all this effort, I misplace the paper after arriving in England. But, I was certain I have not thrown it. I wouldn’t. I’m careful that way.
A year after meeting him the last time, I diligently hunt the paper down. I call his son to tell him that I will be sending his dad’s photographs shortly.
My instincts told me I should not waste any more time. That it was time I posted the photos to him. That if I didn’t send them to him now, he probably will never get to see them. Not sure what it was I was feeling, but without further ado, I sent him his photos with a handwritten letter, apologising for the delay in sending.
A week later, his son called to say that the photos were received and that his father was elated at the sight of them. That he was showing off to all his friends and relatives and telling them about meeting me and my family many years apart.
A few months later, his son, without adding any words, sent me a photo of his father with a flower garland around it.
I immediately called Tanwar Jr. to pay my heartfelt condolences. I was extremely sad too. That’s when I knew I did the right thing by paying heed to my instincts. I had a premonition.
The special connection I had with Ramdeenji was hard to explain. Out of nowhere, he made a brief appearance in my life, and also in my family’s life. I spoke about him to all the sincere people in my life. Those who will understand me, and not mock at my story. This encounter mattered to me, and I’m blessed to have special people in my life who appreciate things that matter to me.
2018 – Delhi-Jaipur Highway
A couple of months after his news, I stop at the same café. Ramdeenji’s son was not in town, so I couldn’t meet him. The café lacked lustre this time. The watchman’s vacancy had now been filled, but the void created by the absence of Ramdeen Singh Tanwar can, and will, never be filled.
I loved poetry from an early age – learning, reciting verses in English, Hindi, Sanskrit, Urdu and Persian. Partly because it was a compulsory requirement in my school, but also because I enjoyed the analysing and the memory testing process.
I would often buy books by Persian writers. My favourites were Omar Khayyam, Ferdowsi, Hafez, Shirazi and Rumi. I also read Kahlil Gibran for his peculiar style of writing.
Last trip, I packed some of these books to bring along with me. Loved their aged look (they loved my aged look too). I read them again after a long time. All these men were far ahead of their time. So much depth in those words!
Today is Sufi poet Rumi’s day…..
Fountain of Fire, by Rumi, as translated by Nadar Khalili.
look at love how it tangles with the one fallen in love
look at spirit how it fuses with earth giving it new life
why are you so busy with this or that or good or bad pay attention to how things blend
why talk about all the known and the unknown see how the unknown merges into the known
why think seperately of this life and the next when one is born from the last
look at your heart and tongue one feels but deaf and dumb the other speaks in words and signs
look at water and fire earth and wind enemies and friends all at once
the wolf and the lamb the lion and the deer far away yet together
look at the unity of this spring and winter manifested in the equinox
you too must mingle my friends since the earth and the sky are mingled just for you and me
be like sugarcane sweet yet silent don’t get mixed up with bitter words
my beloved grows right out of my own heart how much more union can there be
come on sweetheart let’s adore one another before there is no more of you and me
a mirror tells the truth look at your grim face brighten up and cast away your bitter smile
a generous friend gives life for a friend let’s rise above this animalistic behaviour and be kind to one another
spite darkens friendships why not cast away malice from our heart
once you think of me dead and gone you will make up with me you will miss me you may even adore me
why be a worshiper of the dead think of me as a goner come and make up now
since you will come and throw kisses at my tombstone later why not give them to me now this is me that same person
i may talk too much but my heart is silence what else can i do i am condemned to live this life
i’ve come again like a new year to crash the gate of this old prison
i’ve come again to break the teeth and claws of this man-eating monster we call life
i’ve come again to puncture the glory of the cosmos who mercilessly destroys humans
i am the falcon hunting down the birds of black omen before their flights
i gave my word at the outset to give my life with no qualms i pray to the Lord to break my back before i break my word
how do you dare to let someone like me intoxicated with love enter your house
you must know better if i enter i’ll break all this and destroy all that
if the sheriff arrives i’ll throw the wine in his face if your gatekeeper pulls my hand i’ll break his arm
if the heavens don’t go round to my heart’s desire i’ll crush its wheels and pull out its roots
you have set up a colourful table calling it life and asked me to your feast but punish me if i enjoy myself
what tyranny is this
you mustn’t be afraid of death you’re a deathless soul you can’t be kept in a dark grave you’re filled with God’s glow
be happy with your beloved you can’t find any better the world will shimmer because of the diamond you hold
when your heart is immersed in this blissful love you can easily endure any bitter face around
in the absence of malice there is nothing but happiness and good times don’t dwell in sorrow my friend.
“From my mother, I learnt piety and beneficence, and abstinence, not only from evil deeds, but even from evil thoughts; and further, simplicity in my way of living, far removed from the habits of the rich.“
Reading Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations, his words about his mother resonated the most with me. If he had ever tried writing about my mother, the words would have remained exactly the same.
Like any other person about their mum, I too think that my mother is the greatest and most special woman. But when the praise for my mother pours in from elsewhere, from non-family members, then I need to write about her. Not one person in my life who’s also been in contact with my mum has shied away from mentioning the greatness and generosity of her. I find it difficult to cope with their adulation of her.
Today was one such day too.
On this mothers’ exclusive day, I learnt through a social media post about a young friend, Radha, who had lost her father some years ago, lost her mother in January. My heart sank. Thinking about her loss, and also knowing how we are slowly losing people. We grew up with these kids. We were like a big family of 18-20 different families that got separated due to moving, relocating, marrying and other such life’s reasons. But, to be separated by death is the hardest. Unlike others, who use social media as a tool to celebrate life or grieve death or illness, Radha chose to grieve in private. There was nothing I could instantly think of than to speak with her. It was her mother’s day too, and the first without her mum around.
Our conversation was all about reminiscing the good young days, of our recklessness, carefree late-night conversations, sneaking out, dance, music, movies we rented, games we played, windows we broke, scoldings we got, girls and boys. The call was about crying and laughing in equal measure. She told me that my phone call was the best mother’s day gift for her. It makes it the best mother’s day gift for me too, to make someone smile.
She talked about my mum, ‘Asha auntie’, as she called her. “The industrious, tenacious, brave, resilient and very clean person, auntie Asha.” She remembered, to my surprise, the smallest characteristics and quirks of my mum, like the gentle flicking of her hair locks or habitual moving of that one lock of hair away from her face with the back of her hand while working, the cocking of her head from side to side, her squeeky and sparkly clean home, her contagious laughter and continous preparation of food in the kitchen to welcome everyone, the introduction of the playground-sized gadda in the room where the whole world must have jumped on at least once, like it were a bouncy castle, and many other precedents set. Radha disclosed using the example of my mum in her own home too.
Now, this had to be the best mother’s day gift for my mum. Not only did her kids think she was great, so did the kids’ friends, and their friends and relatives, and the friends and relatives of my dad, and our new families, and the grandkids. Within months of getting married and moving to Pilani from Bombay, my mum had gained the praise and respect of the townfolk. She had learnt a new language to communicate with the new people in her life.
This is my mother, Asha. She grew up with the name Shakuntala (meaning ‘bird’), but dad decided to call her Asha, which means ‘hope’. My dad suffixed the name with Devi, meaning ‘goddess’. He believes that she has kept the house (read family) afloat, preserving hope, sanity and peace among chaos, exactly like Lord Krishna holding Mount Govardhan to protect his people from rain. She has endured pain and suffering with a smile. She has met triumphs and distasters without compromising on her character. She has always been truthful to herself and to others, even if the honesty led to her pain. She knew not what ego meant, for she believed that ego and love can never flourish together. She was approchable and unassuming, instilling courage in us, not fear. She made the effort to reach out to people. If people were wise, they would accept. Fools, she would be better without.
My mum is the strongest woman I have ever known. Mentally powerful and physically ready. She gave us freedom, she watched, but never pried, never imposed, never lied, never relied, kept our secrets, always helped. She is unafraid to ask anything, because she is unafraid to face the truth, and is willing to help. She thinks of today, not what tomorrow holds. If she cannot alleviate someone’s suffering today, what kind of mind’s peace can tomorrow bring, is her thought. She looked upto no one as she is content. A proud person that she is, she would, without thinking twice, give away everything that money can buy, but is very possessive about her soul.
The most secure memories of my life are the ones of returning home from school and finding my mum in the kitchen, getting our food ready. We never had to seek permission to bring friends over for meals. There was always a promise of abundance, without a frown. This was almost a daily routine. She was ALWAYS available for us. There were no worries in life.
My mum is the most successful woman. She wanted to be a good mother, lover, wife, friend, daughter, teacher, sister, daughter-in-law, aunt, sister-in-law and so on, and she made a huge success of all that and more. People say that girls turn out like their mothers, and I see that we both have. Only, my sister is a better person than I am. So like my mum. I don’t know if my life would have ever been what it is had it not been for these two beautiful women. A friend of my sister, who’s pretty successful in her own right, recently asked me if Sheetal was willing to adopt her. Other people have expressed desire to be adopted by my mother. I am proud to be the biological daughter of the woman who, through her entire life, remained a fierce fighter, and advocate of truth, and still continues to be so. She can never be defeated because her strength comes from her character that no one can conquer.
My regret is I can’t be near my mum whenever I want. Lucky are those who can be near their mums. Unlucky are those who squander that opportunity.
But I am my mum’s girl. I am trying to be for my children what she is to us. It makes my every day when my girls want to do everything right by me. I am proud to be like my mum, even if slightly, as even a slight trait from her magnanimous nature will make me stand out.
Unfortunate are those mothers whose children don’t want to be anything like them. The selfish and self-serving mums who only know how to take advantage of their children’s weakness or kindness, to want to look great at their expense. These mothers are like their own mothers who left the disturbing legacy. Such mothers spend their entire lives in unrepentant connivance, dishonesty, deception, gossip, snooping around and bitching – all the essential traits of uncharitable, mercenary, unscrupulous, self-absorbed individuals. Traits that destroy and divide families by doing irreparable damage. Such mums exist too, sadly. They are the control freaks. Shortsighted, they cannot see the long-term implications of their lies and actions. They remain so oblivious and disconnected that they cannot see or feel the pain and suffering they’ve caused their children, one from which some children never recover. Their children don’t aspire to be like them, but are too weak to break free from the trap their mothers have laid out for them, until they assume the same personalities as their mothers. On the rare occasions, the most independent minded, the ones with their own brains, will free themselves from the trap. The rest of them will never have any life, will resent the independent minded, and will propagate this behaviour through their future generations and there goes the cycle “like mothers like their offsprings”.
Pavlov, obviously, proposed his theory based on human interactions and observations.
I want to be like my mum. She is my hero. She means so much to me that I cannot envision a world without her. I’m continuously learning from her.
Jehangir, despite his reticence, and completely out of the blue, one evening, expressed to my mum, “you’re very nice, madame.” My mum started laughing, appreciatively. Jehangir’s compliment meant a lot to me as he never flattered anyone. My friend, Siddhartha, said that she was the most down-to-earth woman he had ever met, that she had everything she wanted, but it never came in the way of how she treated people. She has always treated all alike. Yet another friend in London once said to me, “your mom is a ‘real mummy’, my mom is just a mom.” This friend had not even met my mother, but derived the conclusion only by listening to my telephone conversations with my mum, because she had never had such a warm conversation with her own mother, she said, let alone repeatedly.
That sums it all.
Happy Mother’s Day, mummy! You are so good that I often forget it is my day too.
This morning I had stopped outside a shop when I saw a hearse carrying a coffin. It read “brother” on the funeral wreath. I felt sad seeing someone’s brother being taken for funeral that early in the morning. I paused to pay my respects (out of childhood habit) like my father taught me, “Say my hello to God.”
As I drove home a couple of minutes later, I saw a gathering of people outside a house. The hearse parked in their drive. I knew the people in the house. The lady’s children attended the same school as my girls. At first I thought her father-in-law must have passed away. We all have to go one day, I thought. I paid my respects again and continued driving.
But why “brother”?! I’ve usually not seen a really old sister requesting that when there are several family members in the man’s own family – wife, son, daughter-in-law, one grandson and two granddaughters.
Oh my!!! Is it possible that it was her husband? Absolutely possible, as I don’t even remember seeing her father-in-law ever. Maybe he’d gone long ago. Not sure. But her husband was not that old. He looked stressed though. Affluent guy, but stressed. He never smiled when our paths crossed. His stress probably killed him. I won’t know until I meet the lady again. There is only one kid of hers in school, and the kid is not a friend of my daughter. Kids usually don’t approach other kids to enquire such things. Never. Her other two kids are slightly older, and at university.
Oh my God, it later struck me!! Could it be the young boy? The “brother” of the sisters? Why not, some said! Anything is possible.
Of course, anything is possible.
Life is indeed very short. It gives no chance for goodbyes and yet there are people who would hold grudges, agendas, hang-ups, excuses. Many value monetary success over a successful relationship. I’m sure such people are built differently. They must surely find contentment in their actions, or they won’t take them. Until their chase for the kind of success they valued more consumes them. Like it did in this man’s case, if it’s him who died. Chances are, it is him. He took nothing he worked for with him in the end. None of us will. After some time, people tend to forget them too. That’s how the world is designed or one cannot move on in life. If we can forget people when they are alive, then so much easier when they are gone.
This is why I’m glad to be the way I am. My madness is for the people I love, not for what I can gain from them. In return, those who can appreciate my passion own me. I don’t want to die miserably like that man. I want people to say upon my death – “Sapna had plenty of time for us and she never made false promises.” This will make my life, and also my death, worthwhile.
Thousands of people pouring in and out of London. Escalators, like conveyor belts, transporting people in all directions. Men, women, transgenders, children, all looking only ahead. Some carry coffee/tea mugs in one hand and Metro in the other. There is absolutely no eye contact but every person is aware of their surrounding and the presence of others as they glide, wriggle, dodge, walk past without knocking into anyone. The whole scene looks like an alien experiment designed to study human behaviour after being injected with a soul-sucking drug. We seem to be all alone together. I am dispassionately humming Abba and switching to The Kinks’ eponymous number.
A piano busker comes into my view. He is playing and singing The Long and Winding Road that echoes in the tunnel. And as if the alien drug injected in me wore off just then….I feel a stabbing pain in my heart. My soul wakes up and moistens my eyes. Tears roll down my cheeks like broken string of pearls.
McCartney wrote every single word for me it seemed as I walk past the pianist, mouthing the song as it peters out…
Many times I’ve been alone, and many times I’ve cried.
Anyway, you’ll never know the many ways I’ve tried.