Sunday, May 17, 2009

Lessons my mother learned me - Part 4

My dear students, friends and colleagues,

Small is beautiful, and some of the smaller lessons I learned from my mother I remember today as vividly as her love for Konkani.

For example, her lessons in cooking. My mother learned me all the basics of cooking - making rice, dal, and vegetables. And I can clean, cut and cook meat and fish. But I do not like chicken. My mother, however, took a lot of trouble in learning me patiently the intricacies of spices and grinding masalas on the traditional stone used in Mangalorean cooking.

I recall sitting with her as she measured out the spices for various dishes and I was her obedient helper for grinding masalas, cutting vegetables, salads and fruits. She used to say, "Tuka aun randap shikaitan. Tuzhem kajar zalya uprant, muzhea sunek, muzho udas yeje." (I will teach you to cook. After you get married, my daughter-in-law must remember me.)

I think she was a traditional wife, accepting a woman's duty to cook for the family and the home. But, secretly, I know she hoped for another world in the future, where women would be equal to men and work shoulder to shoulder. And for that brave new "Amrita Pritam" world, she wanted to prepare her eldest son, by learning him how to cook.

Unfortunately, by the time I got married in 1982, my mother had been gone 13 years. But I tell my wife that if I can cook, it is because of my mother. I cannot claim to be a good cook, though I can cook well enough to live without having to depend on others. However, cooking is not something I would do for a living.

*****

How do I miss her lessons, let me count the ways?

As a little boy, I remember we had just entered a new house in Nagpur. It was pitch dark and the railway khalasis, who unpacked the luggage and the boxes went away leaving us three children alone with our mother. I must have been five years old. And one of my memories is carrying a kerosene lantern at the head of a line, with my brother and sister behind me with my mother at the end. And I can hear her comforting voice behind me, "Bhein naka, Babu, aun thuzhea patlyan asan." (Do not be afraid, Babu, I am behind you.")

She is not with me today. But I do not fear the dark. For she is always behind me, taking care of the unknown.

She always called me "Babu" at home. As I grew up, I used to feel ashamed when she called me "Babu" in front of my friends. For I felt I had grown up and was too big to be called "Babu". My teachers used to call me "Joe" in school and college. But she did not mend her fond ways.

Today as I reflect on her habit of calling me "Babu", I prefer to believe it was a pet name for her eldest son, a honeymoon child, born within nine months of her marriage on 22 May 1950. Calculate the days, I was born on 5 March 1951.

Do not be afraid.

*****

One more story, my grandmother "Manjya" told me when I grew older and I will be done with this fourth part of my serial memoir. "Manjya" (why did we call our mother's mother by that name?), told me that once when I was a little baby in my mother's arms and she was expecting her second child, she had been waiting at a bus-stop.

Suddenly, she was overcome by a fainting spell. My mother handed me over to a stranger saying, "Aka sambhal." (Take care of him.) And fainted.

Even today, when I see a pregnant woman carrying a baby, I recall my mother at that bus-stop and see myself being carried by my mother. Maybe such a story stirs in me compassion for the weak and helpless. Maybe it is such a story that inspires me to trust complete strangers. For didn't my mother entrust me to the care of a stranger that day? Is that where our values are born?

Trust people, even strangers. Help the weak.

*****

How I miss the lessons my mother learned me?

Next Sunday, in the final and concluding part of this 5-part series on my mother, I shall write about the simple songs my mother sang me, and the great singing my mother learned me.

Your support is my strength.
- Joe.

Pune, Sunday, 17th May 2009.

10 comments:

feddabonn said...

loved the story of the fainting spell!

अब्द said...

Every time I read this blog, I get more and more nostalgic.

The Ketchup Girl said...

after reading this, i called ma, and told her how much i loved her. You bring alive simple values with such profundity. Beautiful, touchiing.

Gauri Gharpure said...

the image of siblings negotiating pitch dark is so powerful.. i learnt how to fight the fear of darkness, ghosts and lizards as a child from my mother. touched...
can we see a photo of the great woman? her face in profile that you talk about, for some reason has made me believe she must have been extremely beautiful

Amith Prabhu said...

Your blog shows how dearly you loved your mother, have read all the parts so far. I'm inspired to write about my mother in my blog between June and August.

It is said God could not be everywhere so he made mothers. And those who lose their mothers early god gives a special grace to feel their love and care in their absence too.

Joe Pinto said...

feddabonn, abd, KG, Gauri, Amith --

Thank you all for your patient and carefull reading of my memoir.

Your observations encourage me to write about what is essentially a deeply personal relationship. Now I search in it for something that is universal.

My mother moulded me in a far deeper and subtler way than I could realise when she was alive.

As I write, I feel her presence around me, comforting and soothing.
Forty years is such a fleeting moment when it comes to the way our mothers look after us. I can feel her hands reaching out to me across the forty years.

That is why, Ketchup Girl, you have done the right deed by calling up "your ma" and telling her how much you love her.

Warm regards,
- Joe.

Joe Pinto said...

Vinita Deshmukh writes -

"I just read all the parts - your style is so simple and touches one's heart instantly.

"The multi-dimensional aspects of your mother make fascinating reading and reflect the high moral ethics and deep values of family and social life with which she led her life and passed it on to her children.

"You are so fortunate and I am glad you have posted your feelings for posterity."

Glassbeads said...

Your memoir stirs very strong feelings as i stand today at the threshold of motherhood wondering how i will cope with the life changing experince. Its lovely and inspiring to read about your personal experiences and the strong lady.I identify a little with her love for the dwindling konkani as today i feel very bad about my mothertoungue Sindhi which has very few takers and no state to back it. But i hope i can keep the language alive by passing it on to my next generation.
thanks again :)
-nm

Joe Pinto said...

My dear nm + ,

Take care. And please drop in.
Call 2444-4392, before you come.

Warm regards,
- Joe.

Pat said...

It was a great gift your mother gave you by teaching you how to cook. I tried with my sons - it worked with one but not the other.
I also believe that one's beloved mother is always there behind you.