Maa- Few memories

My first memories of Maa are of a woman in a Taant saree, wrapped in Bong style, fussing around the home. Always associated delicious aromas with her. Cooking up a warm meal for us in the cold Jodhpur evenings, Dadabhai and I would finish the chapatis before the next one came down from the stove. She was not a great cook in the strict sense of the word, but she fed us enough and proper, home cooked, rice in the day, chapati in the night, even when I try I still can’t get the same taste. I guess she poured a dose full of love in her creations.

Maa 1
The beauty of the youth

Maa, beautiful and declared incompetent, mostly because she bore the brunt of Baba’s wrath, was a philosopher and quiet personality. Her passions in life were literature, drama, music and God. A person who went about her tasks quietly, unlike most other Indian females of that generation, but who was mentally strong enough to fight with her husband for her rights and later with Cancer. A person of few words, she could act, write, recite, direct and sing beautifully in multiple languages. Quite an opposite personality to the extrovert Baba, she would be mostly found immersed in a book or smiling indulgently at his loud bong jokes. As I grew into my primary school days, I adored her multiple facets. She was a fantastic storyteller. Her recitation of Tagore had me mesmerised and at times I would cry uncontrollably as the story ended, feeling the pain of the characters along with the undulations of her voice. I wish I had recorded that treasure house. The next generation in our family was equally blessed with her stories of “Ek Haath lamba Aadmi” (The man as tall as the arm) and so many others.

Maa 3
In her college days

A few years later I started taking advantage of her gullible nature. She could never say no to me, I would play for ever, lie to her face, did whatever I wanted and she indulged me. But at times influenced by the interfering neighbours, she had this incredible vision of a docile daughter. One day, she stated, today you are not going to play with the boys, sit at home like a girl. I fell from the seventh heaven, what happened to my docile Maa, what’s wrong with you?  I begged, cried, please, I must go; my friends are waiting. But she was determined. Finally, when all means of persuasion failed, I was dramatic enough to fall on her feet (actually) and begged her to let me go, today is the last day of my happiness, I am ready to stay a prisoner for the rest of my childhood. She just laughed her hyena laugh (at least that is what It felt that time) and proclaimed, No. To hell with all niceties, I got up, opened the front door and walked out to play. She still never said anything. I sometimes think she was incapable of scolding us kids. When Dadabhai and I used to fight, she would come and make a feeble attempt at scolding us and we would start laughing and forgot the reason why we were fighting in the first place.

Maa 2
Playing an old woman in her thirties

The Banerjee family had the tradition of falling ill one after another, first I would start with the cough, followed by Dadabhai running away with his nose. Interestingly, when we got the flu, as they say, we would be firmly put in bed, covered with three blankets up to the neck, temperature measured every 3 hours with the thermometer stuck into the mouth between coughs and sneezes; while Maa would be coughing away, cover herself with a thick shawl and stagger to the kitchen to cook up something bland for us. And then my dear Baba, would fall sick, all he would do is hold Maa’s hand and cry that this time he was definitely dying and he wanted his entire family around him for his last few precious moments. I guess he got the man-flu that made him sicker than the rest of us mere mortals. But finally when Maa succumbed, we all would have recovered and just left her to tend for herself. What a selfish family we were!

Maa 8
The Banerjee’s in the 70’s

I used to share everything with her. The bond that we had can’t be explained. We spoke about sex, love, philosophy, books, life, anything under the sun, no taboos. In the 70’s and 80’s, where majority of India was so prude, I had such a great thing going where I could ask my questions to my friend, philosopher and guide. I learnt compassion from her, the caring nature that she implicitly had, I got in my genes. Now people say I also look like her, that is probably the best compliment I can get. There are times when we did not need words to communicate. We just understood and the eyes would twinkle, and lips slightly curl.

Of course she had her weaknesses. She was hopelessly inadept in household work, couldn’t see dust under her nose. Had no idea of how to manage money, having been patriarchally shielded by my grandfather earlier and later by Baba. A working woman throughout her life, first as an English teacher in school and later in a college. M.A twice over, she never knew how much she earned, never bought jewellery in her entire life and rarely bought expensive sarees. As I grew older, she started relying on me to manage gifts for relations, buying a bra for her, getting household items, because she would not go to the market to buy for herself. She was superstitious to the S, sit down, if you have sneezed, black cat crossing types. Any gift had to be vetted for a week. If anything, even slightly negative happened, the gift would be wrapped up and go into the extreme gut of the almirah, never to be seen again.

Maa 4
An epitome of simplicity- even on her daughter’s wedding day

She was so into culture and literature, I gave her a rude shock when I declared I wanted to marry my now husband. Her first and strongest reaction was “How can you marry a non-Bengali?” In her mind it was clear that there were only two classes- Bongs and the rest of the world. And of course, Bengalis are the elite ones, how can anyone even think of competing with Rabindra Nath Tagore and Uttam Kumar, Shuchitra Sen, the literature and एकला चोलो रे and the rich history? How could I stoop low enough to give up the cultural heritage and other such blahs for matters of the heart? When I said it doesn’t matter to me- she could not believe her ears- are you my daughter? Is this the संस्कार that I taught you?  Her next problem was “he is so dark; your kids will not be fair”. Long story short, she relented after a long time and was quite happy with the prodigy produced.

Maa 5
One of my most treasured moments- smiling away

Oh, I love her so much. When she looked after me, and when I looked after her. When I lived with her and when she lived with me. When I was her child, and when she was my child. I don’t want to talk about her later years. She lost interest in God after multiple illnesses that ate her away. She would say, if God did this to me, enough though I prayed all my life, I am denouncing God. And she did. She stopped praying, looking at the idols. She stopped crying. But she felt, how she felt, her looks said it, her writing said it, she was strong enough never to break down. She lived on and fought on for almost a decade. Fought on till her last breath. Then she gave in. Last year. The morning after Dusshera. But never once did she say I am in pain, always “bhalo achi” (I am good).

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The waiting room

Reminds you of the railway station, the crowd and cacophony, the chai and the stink. Train whistles, the incomprehensible announcements and the strain to listen for your own train. But this is a different waiting room.

Here only those people wait, whose trains have derailed, or are about to. They are trying to repair the tracks, push and pull to get the train back on track and somehow make it run, so they can leave for home. A few never do. 

Here they dont say ” train no so and so has arrived on platform number so and so.” Here it is ” Bed no 102″ and Kamble and Banerjee, the names and the numbers, and the call to feed or meet the doctor or sign something you have not read.

I am in the waiting room of an ICU. All around me is chaos. Sea of people, waiting to catch a glimpse of their loved ones, waiting for that ray of hope, that word from the doctor that can change despair to a smile or bring a frown and a tear. Noisy, crying, sharing, yet so distant from it all. Hearing it all, but not absorbing.

Hospitals are a part of life. And death. I am at the same place I was slightly more than two years ago. Same hospital, same ICU, same waiting room. I lost Baba here. He was already lost, but here I lost his physical being. All around me are faces, in despair, but still hopeful as they cross the nights of nightmares. 

When you think it cant get any worse, it does. And we get used to that and then there is a new low. How much the human mind can accept and get on with life, feels like a trial and error test.

Why does she have to suffer so much? In the past so many years, I have seen her lose her speech and her smile, her walk and her zest for life. A vegetable, that breathes and swallows, with a beating heart. That is about it. Just pain and more pain, which she doesn’t feel, or maybe feels and does not  express. Cancers, and then free from cancers. But not from this hell called dependence. Not from this journey that is a constant struggle for survival.

Who will I take home from here, a whole being or a part? A person who always smiled at me, now closes her eyes and shrinks away as I talk to her, or touch her.

Do your job, dont worry about the consequences. I was reminded today. Do your best, dont expect anything. Maybe that is the learning. And emotions? That are ready to flow, that have to be pushed back because there is so much to be done.

I try to work. In an effort to remain sane. Not break. I have to be strong and stronger, specially when I am powerless. Someone else pulls the strings and we dance. I do- the biggest fallacy. Who are we? Who am I? My face is expressionless, as I listen to the doctor’s verdict. Impassive but with a storm inside. 

Life sucks. Death sucks more. But maybe it is the end of suffering, pain and despair. But can’t it be painless? Among so much pain and pleasure, something goes on- that they call life, as it sits in the waiting room, for death. Somebody give respite from it all,  she needs to rest. In peace. 

Extracts from my mom’s diary

On this Mother’s Day, sharing extracts from my mom’s diary. Her journey through cancer and how the mind won over disease. This is as is taken, no word changed, and most of it is in Hindi. I can’t describe the emotions that I went through while copying this. It is a story of hope that overcomes depression. I love you Mom.

25 May, 2008, Noida

कठिन रोग-ग्रस्त अवसादमय मन लेकर जब मैं हताशा के समुद्र में डूबती उबर रही थी, झिलमिल ने मेरे हाथो में कागज क़लम थमा दिया – “माँ, जो तुम्हारे मन में भाव आए, उसे कागज में उँडेल दो, भाषा की चिन्ता मत करो। मन की भावनाओं को दबा कर मत रखो ।

डायरी लिखने की आदत मेरी पहले भी थी। लेकिन पता नहीं क्यों मुझे लिखने की इच्छा ही नहीं हो रही थी।

समय जैसे ठहर सा गया था। समय एक सूनी सड़क की तरह मेरे सामने फैला हुआ था।आगे बढ़ने का मेरे पास कोई रास्ता नही था। रात, आधी रात, भोर, सुबह, फिर दोपहर, लम्बी शाम काटे नही कटते।

बीच बीच में उठकर बैठना, फिर लेट जाना यही क्या मेरी नियति थी? Condemned cell में जीवन यापन करने वाले कैदी की जिंदगी? निर्वासित यक्ष जो हमेशा अल्का पुरी की याद में डूबा रहता था, की तरह, मैं केवल पुराने दिनों को याद करती रहती थी। पुराने मतलब, बहुत पुराने, बचपन की यादें, जवानी की भूलें, पुराने गानों के बोल, पुरानी फिल्में याद आते रहते।

30 May, 2008

कल मेरा जन्मदिन था। मेरा जन्मदिन हमेशा ही बेरंग, बिना उत्साह के, बिना किसी समारोह के आता है, और चुपचाप बिना आवाज़ किये चला जाता है। आखिर जन्मदिन का मतलब तो यही है कि मैं मृत्युदिन के थोड़े और करीब आ गयी हूँ। कुछ कोषाणु अपने ही शरीर में आतंकवादियों कि तरह आतताई बन जाते हैं और स्वयं उसी को नष्ट करने में लग जाते हैं। युद्ध! महायुद्ध! महारोग से युद्ध! रुग्न अंग काट के निकाल दो, जहर से शरीर को भर दो ताकि वह विषाक्त अणु नष्ट हो जाये, फिर भयंकर किरणों से उस भाग को दग्ध कर दो। कभी समझ में नहीं आया कि रोग अधिक दारुण हैं कि उसका उपचार।

15 June, 2008

पूरा सप्ताह प्रिंटआउट पढ़ने में लगाया। कैंसर के स्टेज, कैंसर रोगी के जीवन की अवधि, इसके कारण व उपचार। क्षतविक्षत अंग, केशहीन सिर, दुर्बल शक्तिहीन शरीर। यह जगत हैं स्वाभाविक स्वस्थ स्त्रियों का, पर हमारा संसार दूसरा हैं जहाँ हम अस्पतालों में हारे हुए जुआरी सा चेहरा लेकर डॉक्टर का इंतज़ार करते रहते हैं।

20 July 2008

इस विपदा में भगवान को याद करना, प्रार्थना करना, कुछ अवसरवादी सा नहीं लगेगा क्या? बाहरी मंदिर में कभी पूजा पाठ, जप-तप नहीं किया। पुकारे भी तो किसको पुकारे,  श्रीकृष्ण, संतोषी माँ, काली माता, या शिवजी ? क्या यह सचमुच कर्मफल हैं? क्या मैं आत्महत्या कर लू? किसी भी तरह, पानी में डूबकर, फांसी लगाकर? मगर फांसी लगाने लायक पटुता भी मुझमे नहीं हैं। भगवान् के सामने असंख्य आवेदनपत्र हैं, क्या मेरी वाली अस्पष्ट पुकार वैकुण्ठ या कैलाश तक पहुंच पायेगी?

30 July 2008

मेरी बीमारी ने मेरा सारा ध्यान ले लिया हैं। मुझे इसके आगे किसी की परवाह नहीं हैं, चाहे किसी राष्ट्र पर बम गिरे या आतंकवादी बम फेंके। बाढ़, तूफ़ान, भूकम्प, यह सब मेरे दुःख के आगे नगण्य हो गए हैं। मुझे हमेशा, हर क्षण अपने अलगाव, अपनी पृथकता का बोध होता हैं। मैं सबसे अलग हूँ।

4 August 2008

अब मैं नकारने की स्टेज से आगे आ गयी हूँ, स्वीकारने पर। जैसा भी रोग हैं, अब तो उससे जूझना ही पढ़ेगा। जोधपुर से रोज़ दोस्तों के फ़ोन आ रहे हैं। सब सचकित हैं. सशंकित हैं, दुखी हैं। “ना काहू से दोस्ती, ना काहू से बैर” सिद्धांत पर जीवन यापन करने वाली, स्वच्छ, राग द्वेष से परे, जीवन व्यतीत करने वाली मैं उनके शुभ कामनाओ  के भार से दबी जा रही हूँ। क्या सब लोग मुझे इतना चाहते हैं, यह तो मैं जानती भी नहीं थी।

सोचती हूँ मैं अकेली ही दुखियारी नहीं हूँ। मुझसे भी बदतर लोग हैं। यदि मुझमे यह बीमारी सहन करने की शक्ति नहीं होती तो भगवान् मुझे यह रोग नहीं देता। यह मेरी परीक्षा का समय हैं। मुझे इसमें उत्तीर्ण होना ही होगा। यदि दो चार वर्ष और जीवन ही हैं तो उसे हंस हंसकर ही व्यतीत करुँगी। लोगो की करूणा या दयापूर्ण दृष्टि मुझे सहन नहीं होगी। मैं फिर सीधी खडी होकर माथा ऊँचा करके चलूँगी। किसी अज्ञात कवि की इस कविता ने मुझे सहारा दिया


I asked the Lord for a bunch of fresh flowers but instead he gave me ugly cactus with many thorns

I asked the Lord for some beautiful butterflies but instead he gave me many ugly and dreadful worms

I was threatened, I was disappointed, I mourned.

But after many days suddenly I saw the cactus bloom with many beautiful flowers flying in the spring wind.

God’s way is the best way.

थी कभी चाँद तक अपनी उड़ान
अब ये धूल ये सड़क अपना जहान

 

maa