Monday, May 25, 2009

Lessons my mother learned me - Part 5

My dear students, friends and colleagues,

Words and songs. Words I have loved; my mother learned me to say and write them. Songs I have loved; my mother learned me to sing and hum them.

I used to hear from my uncle, the late Pius D’Cruz of Malad, Mumbai, that my mother Mary Therese D’Cruz, was a great Konkani playback singer. He said, in her heydays, she was called the “Lata Mangeshkar of the Konkani stage”.

Born on 6 October 1925 and educated in Mangalore, she came to Bombay with her brother and started to teach English in Hume High School, run by the American Marathi Mission at Byculla. My uncle finally got a job in Life Insurance Corporation. He too acted on the Konkani stage.

As a child, I had seen my mother’s song-book, from which she used to sing us songs. It was a plain ruled exercise book, the kind children use in school, and Mummy had written out the songs in her beautiful cursive hand-writing.

I wrote to my family, if any of them had seen her song-book. My sister Flavia has replied, “I have her song book and I have preserved it well. It would be of antique value now, I think. Some entries go back to 1940!” That means my mother started her song-book when she was 15 years old. As and when I lay my hands on a photo-copy of the song-book, I shall reproduce some of the songs.


Here I have copied out the anthem of St Agnes College, Mangalore, where she studied and whose motto is “God is our Strength” to give you an idea of the values, which my mother held dear. She was brought up by the Apostolic Carmel (A.C) nuns, who were one of the deep and pervasive influences on her gentle yet strong character:

“God is our strength, let us commit
Our lives into His hands this day;
Trusting in Him to compass it
That we may find the perfect way.

“Fearless of foes, we cast aside
The days of ease we loved of yore;
And stand to the shock of battle-tide
Despite all trials hard and sore.

“God is our strength, why fear the foe?
His love like armour doth enfold
Our weak and wayward nature so,
That vanquished lies the tempter bold.

“Behold His arm of valour strong,
We'll cling to it in stormy fray,
Nor fear we any harm or wrong,
God is our strength, now and for aye.”

When I read the words of this anthem (I do not recall my mother singing it at home to us), I can hear the lyrical resonances of the Romantic English poets like Keats, Shelley, Byron, and Wordsworth, whom I have loved all my life.


But I do remember another song that I hum to myself even today when I am down and out. My mother taught it to me. The song soothes and comforts me like a lullaby that puts a child to sleep. I can feel the caress of her soft hands and the smell of the “Afghan Snow” she used on her face and the Mysore Sandalwood soap on her body, as I sing it forlornly to myself.

The song she taught me is actually a Welsh song, “The Ash Grove”. I have taken it from the Net for your reading pleasure, though I can distinctly recall that the words my mother used to sing to us were different:

“Down yonder green valley where streamlets meander
When twilight is fading I pensively rove.
Or at the bright noontide in solitude wander
Amid the dark shades of the lonely ash grove.

“Twas there while the blackbird was cheerfully singing
I first met that dear one, the joy of my heart.
Around us for gladness the bluebells were ringing
Ah! then little thought I, how soon we should part.

“Still glows the bright sunshine o’er valley and mountain,
Still warbles the blackbird its note from the tree;
Still trembles the moonbeam on streamlet and fountain,
But what are the beauties of Nature to me?

“With sorrow, deep sorrow, my bosom is laden,
All day I go wandering in search of my love!
Ye echoes! oh tell me, where is the sweet maiden?
She sleeps ‘neath the green turf down by the Ash Grove.”

I have also discovered on 10 June 2009 some recordings on YouTube, which give a feel for the folk beauty of this Welsh song. The first is from the film "Pride and Prejudice", based on the classic novel by Jane Austen. The song Ash Grove starts at 1:02. These are the words I fondly recall my mother singing to us. Second, John Kovac plucks the song on harp, the music coming through so clearly for those who want to pick up the notes. Rosa Wol, soprano, also sings Ash Grove. You can feel the lingering beauty of the folk song by a classical singer. And then Nana Mouskouri presents her own husky version.


If I recall these words and hum the tune to myself, I also remember the beautiful Hindi film songs she used to sing. Later, much later, when she was no more, my father gave me some audio-cassettes from his personal collection. Among them was his favourite song: “Tu mera chand, main teri chandni” from Dillagi (1949). The singers are Suraiyya and Shyam. Lyrics by Shakeel Badayuni and music composed by Naushad.

“Tu meraa chaand main teri chaandni.
Main teraa raag tu meri raagini.
Tu meraa chaand main teri chaandni.
Main teraa raag tu meri raagini.

Ho, nahin dil ka lagaanaa koyi dillagi, koyi dillagi,
Nahin dil ka lagaanaa koyi dillagi, koyi dillagi.

“Saath hi jeenaa saath hi marnaa,
Ulfat ki hai reet, haan, ulfat ki hai reet.
Saath hi jeenaa saath hi marnaa,
Ulfat ki hai reet, haan, ulfat ki hai reet.

Pyaar ki murli hardam gaaye teri lagan ke geet.
Pyaar ki murli hardam gaaye teri lagan ke geet.

Main teraa raag tu meri raagini.
Tu meraa chaand main teri chaandni.
Main teraa raag tu meri raagini.

“Bhool na jaanaa rut ye suhaani,
Ye din aur ye raat, haan, ye din aur ye raat.
Bhool na jaanaa rut ye suhaani,
Ye din aur ye raat, haan, ye din aur ye raat.

Jab tak chamke chaand sitaare, dekho chhoote na saath.
Jab tak chamke chaand sitaare, dekho chhoote na saath.

Tu meraa chaand main teri chaandni.
Main teraa raag tu meri raagini.
Ho, nahin dil ka lagaanaa koyi dillagi, koyi dillagi.”

Theirs was a love marriage of the 1950s, consumated along the railway line. And I can recall my mother singing this haunting 1949 number, at my father's request. She died on 2 May 1969, just 20 days before their nineteenth wedding anniversary. Tears used to roll down his eyes, as he thought about her, listening to this black and white melody. He out-lived her by 32 years and passed away in Pune on 26 March 2001.

One day, while I was browsing I chanced upon the Scottish folk-song "Roaming in the Gloaming" by Sir Harry Lauder, a 12-inch, 4-minute recording from the 1930s. I recall my mother singing the chorus lines. By and by, the tune would come to me, whenever I used to feel down and needed to get up and walk again. Click here.

I have already described how she learned me to cook. And she also learned me how to control and modulate my voice. She trained me to exercise my lungs and control my breathing so that I could “throw” my voice, while speaking and singing. I use this technique today when I give lectures, though the latest microphone and loudspeaker technology has conspired to make speakers and singers lazy, just as computers and the Internet have made journalists slothful.


Gauri Gharpure has requested me, “Can we see a picture of the great lady?” In response to her query, I quote my sister’s letter again, “I have a not-so-clear picture of Mummy. Dad used to say she had an aversion for photos. Seems when you and Leslie were small (before I was born), on one happy day they were sitting and admiring both of you. Mum said, ‘We must take a family picture.’ The very next day it seems both of you came down with a bad cold and fever, which eventually led to whooping cough. Soon, she had a pair of sick babies to care for the next three months! So that’s the reason why she had this aversion for taking pictures.”

My father also told me that he used to carry a beautiful photograph of our Mummy, which she had given him in the days before they got married. He kept her photo, which showed her in pigtails, in his wallet safely in the back-pocket of his trousers. One day, his purse was picked as he was getting on to a BEST bus. And gone was the picture of our beloved mother in pigtails!

Eventually, because of the manner in which he lost her picture to a pick-pocket, my father stopped stitching back-pockets for his trousers! Even today, I do not carry a wallet, preferring instead to carry my money in re-used plastic pouches that are made to pack milk.

Because of our mother’s aversion for having her or our photographs taken, we do not have her picture. My sister has a not-so-clear picture. So Gauri, you can see the blurred picture of my mother (see the margin at the top of my blog), now that my sister has sent me the scanned picture on 27 May.

But what do I care that I do not possess a clear photograph of the mother I love? She is engraved in the deepest recesses of my heart and mind; she abides in the secret nooks and crannies of my memory; she sings her songs and hums to me as I drift off into sleep and move awake; she is imprinted in my mind’s eye; she stands fearless before me today, walks with me, her hand on my shoulder; undiminished and unvanquished by the passage of forty years.


Much after I wrote this post, I chanced upon this 9 November 2008 poem,
Kya tum samjhogi ma? (Will you understand, mother?) by Smriti Mudgal, one of my SIMC students, who has already written two beautiful pieces earlier for my blog on Mumbai and a tribute to her school-teacher, the late Chitra ma'am. Smriti has a blog "Ambaree" in Hindi which I could not read till today, 4 June 2009, due to the Devanagari font. But I share the universal feelings Smriti expresses, and I am sure, that my mother though gone 40 years now would have understood.

This is the fifth and final part, concluding the series of memoirs on my mother. I await your comments and suggestions, since I intend to publish a small printed book in her memory.

Your support is my strength.
- Joe.

Pune, Monday, 25 May 2009.


Mohan said...

Hi Joe,
I thought I'd wait to read all of them before posting my comments.
Your blogs brought back memories of my mother who died of Alzheimer's at the age of 89. For someone who had a phenomenal memory and could recall even the smallest incidents in her life, it was tragic that she finally died of Alzheimer's disease.
Lovely to read about your mother. She must have been an interesting woman.

Gauri Gharpure said...

i believe tht god compensates such a loss in a manner we can fully appreciate only in the hindsight.. your wonderful memoirs show what a deep-rooted and longlasting impression your mother has on you, perhaps even stronger than many who take their relations for granted.

that there is only one photo of her magnifies the mystery and haunting sweetness your words have created. looking forward to that blurred photo.

Joe Pinto said...

My sister's daughter Nisha writes:

"Dear Uncle,

"I've read all your memoirs of your mother. They are truly beautiful memories, well-written and very touching.

I wish I had got to know my grand-mother. Mom has her hand-written song-book and we learnt a beautiful song from that book titled, 'A girl's best friend is her mother'.

Take care. Love,
- Nisha.

Joe Pinto said...

Shashidhar Najundaiah, a former director of SIMC, writes: "This is a very personal side of you -- one that you never show while teaching. Great way to share."

Harman said...

Sir, these are extremely moving pieces with beautiful words. Inspiring and heartening.

Gauri Gharpure said...

such a lovely photo.. a nice printed book and the memories will be secure for many more years

gynelle said...

hey joe...

the honesty and love with which you have written this... thank you for sharing:)...we never lose what we love...

Ajit said...

dear joe,

Very beautiful & touching memories of your dear mother. such a strong personality!You have paid a wonderful tribute to her love.I too believe that our mothers are with us all the time.

take care...medha

Anjum Dhir Kulkarni said...

Dear Sir,

I absolutely love your blog!!:) Your writings on your mother are beautiful, as are the ones on your father-in-law and your life:))Looking forward to more...!!:)

Warmest regards:))

Nifriz said...


I can see that you have really lived your mom every second of your life inspite of the fact that she has not been around physically.
I am able to see your thoughts from either side of the fence; as a child myself and as a mother from the other.

My father lost his mother at an early age and today as he nears the 80th year of his life with his children and grand children, everyday he religiously stands before a picture of my grandmother and spends time with her by himself. I can feel what you share with your mother very closely.

You have brought all of us back to realising the fact that our mothers have been the pillars of our very existences and this is what keeps the goodness in us alive.

aroon said...

Hi Joe,
Provocative beginning. Evocative middle and then on. Am inspired at the end.

The lump in my throat tells me that your mother's story mingled with your own has touched a chord in me, like the harp you mention in the song your Mother loved.
The twang of it takes me to 'places I remember...' But I do not mean the song that John Lenon wrote. I mean the places I remember because of what you wrote.

The nostalgia has a shade of peace. It is more like a mantle. Thank you for a beautiful tribute to your Mother. - aroon fernandes