Sunday, April 26, 2009

Lessons my mother learned me - Part 1

My dear students, friends and colleagues,

Our mothers … and our fathers, are the most beautiful persons in the world to us. They are the kindest and the warmest. They may not be the wisest or the most intelligent, but they are the most caring. We are the only people that matter to them. Our parents think about us and feel for us like no one else. And our mothers are with us … all the time.

I imagine a part of the brain of our mothers is always switched on to their children. We may be at school or college; at work, travelling; in another part of the world; accessible by phone or remote and out of reach. But we, their own children, are held in the fondness of the hearts, cling close in the warmth of the hugs, fondled dear in the minds – of our mothers. We are the most beautiful persons in the world to our mothers … and our fathers.

Forty years after her death, my mother is the most beautiful person in my life. Saturday, the second of May this year, will mark her 40th death anniversary. Many of you who responded to my piece, “Along the line, at railway gate No. 58”, expressed an interest to know something more about my mother, since I had mentioned that she was known as the “Lata Mangeshkar of the Konkani stage”. Most of my relatives, whose parents knew my mother well, would also be happy to read about her, since they too knew her as children.

I was 18 years old and had just finished the second year of my B.Sc. in Chemistry at St Xavier’s College, when she left us on 2 May 1969. We were staying in a first floor flat at the Officers Quarters, along the railway line at Dadar (East), Mumbai. She had not been well for some time, and used to regularly visit a family doctor friend on the sixth floor. That day too, she walked out of our home in front of us like on any other day, telling us sitting there in the front living room that she was going to meet Dr Shrivastava.

A little while later, somebody screamed to tell us that she was lying on the ground below our balcony. It was an accident; she had vertigo, what is called “falling” sickness, I have it too, she must have gone in to the balcony and fallen.

The most beautiful and kindest person in my life had left us.

When I look back after these 40 years, how do I see her? I see her in a kimono dress, sitting by a lighted window with the soft light falling across her face in profile. A book or magazine is in her hands and she is reading, head bent and often glancing around to keep an eye on us, her children. At other times, she is in the kitchen cooking, softly humming to herself some Konkani “cantara” (songs). But mostly she is reading, and sometimes, writing letters.

From stories of her childhood told to us by her and our relatives, Mary Therese D’Cruz, the eldest daughter of Pauline and Joseph D’Cruz, resident of Urva, Mangalore, in South Kanara district of present-day Karnataka went to Lady Hill School and St Agnes College in Mangalore. Born on 6 October 1925, Mary had two brothers, Pius and the late John (who died of typhoid at the age of 14).

My grand-father was a “writer” in a coffee plantation and my grand-mother took care of the house. They were not poor not well off. I recall my mother’s resourcefulness at getting by with whatever we had; not cribbing, whining or moaning; and making do.

Mary passed out from St Agnes College, Mangalore, with History and English. So you can see where my passion for the two subjects comes from. She not only “learned me lessons” in English, but also the history of English literature. But for all her excellence at English, to her it was always and is today for me a “foreign” language.

Her one and only passion in life was Konkani – the language, the songs, the literature, the culture. She knew English well and spoke it fluently; we had been put in English medium schools for my father was a “transferable” railwayman. But she noticed, during 1956-63 when we were at Jabalpur, Nagpur, Solapur and Manmad, all railways towns on the Central Railway section, that we tended or tried to speak in Hindi or English at home.

I remember her swift response with gratitude and reverence today. It was strong, fierce and clear: she would reply to us if and only if we spoke to her in Konkani; otherwise she pretended she was deaf and had not heard us at all. We had no choice but to speak at home in Konkani. Our father too was happy with this rule, for he too was a lover of languages, not only Konkani but as many languages as you could learn.

When she referred to English she called it “porkiyo”, which meant “foreign”. When she referred to other languages like Hindi or Marathi, the languages spoken around us during those days, she called them “thanchi bhas” which meant “their language”.

Only Konkani to her was “amchi bhas” which meant “our language”. To her, the world was simple and divided into two parts, “them” and “us”. Us is Konkani.


The next four parts of these memoirs on my mother will appear on the next four consecutive Sundays, 3, 10, 17, and 24 May. Make your comments here itself before you move to the next part of this column.


Gauri Gharpure said...

A very touching post. Again, you have created powerful images. You can even get these memoirs printed for your children and their future generation. Something in writing for them to fall back to in order to know their roots..

baruk said...

honestly, joe, i'm not sure how to react to a 'konkani rules' attitude, especially when couched in terms of 'us' vs. 'them'. i think a little less of that attitude would do us all good.

my grandad, whom i loved dearly, had the same attitude when it came to mizo-an attitude i heartily detested, especially because most of my friends were not mizo. having said that, i think i begin to understand his position-mizos are even now only 6 lakhs (voting list) in population. there are groups who are even less in number.

on the one hand, i have seen the worst of language based intolerance and hegemony; on the other, i know of languages/cultures that could die out if not careful. while i do not personally have any particular loyalty to any religion, language or country, i think i begin to understand those who do.

Amith Prabhu said...

Three thoughts that come to mind. a) I too lost my mother, who to me will forever be the most beautiful woman and one of the finest mothers one could have and I was 21 when she died in our apartment's balcony to an asthma attack.
b) My paternal grandmother also studies in Ladyhill school at Mangalore and must have been your mothers clasmate, as she was Feb 1926 born, a few months younger to your mother but contemporaries for sure.
c)I agree with the Konkani bit and i think each of us should have an inkling of our mother tongue and be proud of the rich heritage it comes with.

Well written - straight from the heart.

अब्द said...

Again, story of a great human being.
1)It remembers me of all those great, rude but sweet, old people who lived "genuine" life.
2)I feel Language is an expression of emotions woven with the thread of letters.

Thanawala said...

1. Your article has stirred quite a few emotions inside me. It will take some time for me to relish and recover. Somehow, I am reminded of my maternal grand-mother - a person totally dedicated to reading the Bhagwat in Gujarati - a scripture which she would read continuously, almost. What dedication!!
2. I also feel doubly lucky to have both my parents alive to see me get married and see their grand-daughter.
3.Your mother belongs to the class of simple people with great values and virtues.
My salutes to all of them!!

Anonymous said...

Dear sir,

A very touching post..makes me remember so many things from my own childhood. Your descriptions have helped me create a very vivid image of this wonderful person.Looking forward to next three sundays.


Sushant Kulkarni said...

Our parents and grandparents are real pillars of our life. Thanks for portraying for us, one such pillar of your life.

Indian Home Maker said...

Writing this memoir is a beautiful idea... I have realised our blogs can be such treasures of memories and information... your memories of your mother have brought her alive for us in this memoir.

salim said...

Add some of her singings. May be even on YouTube.

Pat said...

So very sad to lose your mother when both of you were so young. I particularly admire her making the best of things and not complaining. She sounds a wonderful woman.
I believe her spirit lives on as long as there is someone who remembers her with love.
I hope your health improves.

Joe Pinto said...

Thank you, Pat, for your kindness. I hope you find time to read the other four parts of the memoir on the blog.

As soon as I prepare the print-ready version of the book, I will let you know.

My best wishes for your memoir.

- Joe.

Sunil Kaushal said...

Dear Joe, My apologies for not having read your comments on my post "Remembering Her" on my blog earlier. Actually I didn't know how to go about it. My daughter happened to do it for me today.
First of all I want to thank you for nudging me into writing a blog. It is a wonderful experience opening me up to writing freely and expressing myself. Thanks once again.
Just read your blog about your mother -v. touching and comes straight from the heart. All respects for a lady like her--epitome of love and wisdom. Read the first post yet and felt compelled to write . Will read the rest soon . Regards.Sunil

Joe Pinto said...

My dear Sunil,

Thank U for your kind words. Make time to write about what the people in your life mean to U.

Peace and love,
- Joe.