At the age of 18, my mother (a Bengali Hindu), like the female protagonist Sapna (played by Rati Agnihotri) of the film Ek Duuje Ke Liye, fell in love (rather rose in love) with my father (a Nepali Christian). My mother was ready to explore her life with a man from a different language, culture and religion. Just like Vaasu and Sapna in the film, my mother faced all the tussles and suffering; she even faced domestic violence from her mother-in-law (after marriage).
When she decided to tell my grandmother (her mother) about marrying her love, a Nepali man, who is my father now, my grandmother was awestruck to see the audacity of her elder daughter. She was slapped and beaten the whole day by her mother, but she was confident of her decision and wanted to follow it without an inch of doubt. That was the year 1977.
If anyone remembers, that was the year when Bengal was struggling with the Naxalite movement in North Bengal. I just want to share this chronology to remind the readers that disturbing the balance of status quo in society and family was in the air those days.
As I grew up, I could also see my mother growing with all her strength and limitations to become a more empowered lady. Her political prudence in our village politics (she was a communist party cadre at village level) in becoming a strong voice in all the decisions of the recreation club in our village (which was highly dominated by men), fighting alone for poor illiterate women who were victims of domestic violence, as well as educating her two children at home, she could do it all in such a swift tireless way, that I used to wonder from where she’d got the knowledge, skill and attitude to do them all with perfection.
Her conflict management skills are excellent. In all the village conflict resolution meetings, my mother’s omnipresence never got challenged by any male counterparts in our village. Her point of view was always considered with full respect, and as far as I remember, she used to resolve it by making both the parties in a win-win situation, which is one of the most important resolutions strategy in conflict management. She was just a Class VIII-passed women. She was envied by many educated men of our village.
The way she brought up my sister and me is praiseworthy, and I will put it forth as an example for modern Indian parents, especially when we see sudden religious hatred around us. I remember my mother sharing stories of The Ramayana and The Mahabharata, as well as teaching us Christian values of love and servitude with the same vigour. In those days, when the two epics would be broadcast on Doordarshan every Sunday, my mother would wake us up early morning to attend Sunday Mass at local village Church. Then, by 9am, she’d take us to the neighbouring house for the Ramayana and Mahabharata serial.
This is India, where a Hindu mother teaches her kids to be tolerant as well as respectful to all religions. She (and my father too) never showed any kind of intolerance towards each other’s culture or religion. She always showed the power of love with her own example, so much so that when my sister decided to marry, she did not even give a second thought about choosing a Tamil man as her husband from a matrimonial site.
My mother was a voracious reader, a beautiful singer, and a good leader. Professionally, she was a primary teacher in a Hindi Medium school (for poor tea garden labourer’s girls), teaching Bengali as third language. She always fought with the school management for the rights of teachers, as well as ensured to empower tribal girl students so that they can be strong in all that they do in their lives. Since the school was a private missionary school, after school hours, she used to walk down the lane of tea gardens to meet tea garden labourers and motivate them to send their girl children to school.
She never minced her words according to the religious institutions (especially local church) if she found them doing something ethically wrong. Maybe she was highly influenced by the Marxist ideology. She was bold enough to accept her faults openly. She was often a very harsh mother. She used to beat us mercilessly when it came to disciplining or tutoring us. She was the first one who taught me to how to lie, albeit unknowingly (which every mother in this world does), when she scolded me one rainy day when I had lent a bowl of sugar to my neighbour, who always used to forget to return the same when she’d asked them for it.
So, my mother, who was street smart too, advised me to always say, ‘No’ to the neighbours when she’d come down the next time asking for sugar. It was her way of teaching me to be street smart. When now, I accuse her of teaching me to tell lies, she feels very guilty and regrets it. I have a lot of feminine traits in my personality and deliverance since my childhood. I was bullied in my school and college. Although I am proud of it today, it is only because my mother always taught me to accept myself first and then fight for others. She never forced me for marriage (like many mothers in our country and abroad do). She gave me and my sister the freedom to be whatever we wanted to be or do whatever we liked and enjoyed.
My mother is not God. She is full of shortcomings and weaknesses. There are a lot of areas for improvement; she is definitely imperfect. But with all her imperfections, she stands tall as a woman. If I was the king or President of this country, I would have awarded her for being such a good human being. Today, she is suffering from a chronic kidney disease. She is on dialysis twice a week, but you cannot imagine her inner strength, which makes her live a happy life. I always say that she is an example for all women in my village at least, if not for the whole world.