I’d give up a year of my life for just half a day with my mom. Would you?
Today is Mother’s Day and my children are planning to gift her a nice dinner or whatever. But the one thing I want most — this and every year — is something they can’t invoke, and Amazon can’t deliver. I’d like my mother to pay a visit, sit with me at the kitchen table and catch up on all she’s missed. I know that won’t happen. My mother’s been dead for nearly 60 years.
It’s been a 60 year since I lost my mom to cancer. When I say the words “I lost my mom” out loud, they don’t seem right, because a lost book can be found again. This isn’t just a missing book. This is a huge hole in my heart, which will never, ever go away.
I have very little memories of my mother since she passed away in 1958, when I was barely 8 years old and my father was posted as Collector at Ganganagar (Rajasthan). I used to call my mother ‘Bhabhi’ and father ‘Kaka’. I guess that was the practice in our families at Udaipur.
My father, the eldest son of Nawal Singh Mehta use to suffer from convulsions during his early days. The family could not find cure. However, one day a fakir announced at our haveli in Udaipur, “Kunwar Inder Singhji could be cured if his father begged (bhiksha / भिक्षा) for his bride”.
I think it was 1930-31, when my grandfather and a noble, Nawal Singh Mehta and his entourage were returning from pilgrimage to holy places of Marwar, by Mewar-Marwar Railway, established in the same year 1930. At Marwar junction railway station, whilst the entourage was waiting for change of train, there was a group of Sanghis (Sanghi is a member of a Jain group / sangh proceeding on Jain pilgrimage) on the other side of the platform. My grandfather spotted a young, beautiful and charming girl amongst the Sanghis.
He sent a messenger to invite the father of the girl for a dialogue. The gentleman called Jaswantraj Singhvi, a small-time money-lender from Sojat, arrived and paid his respect and reverence to the noble from Mewar. Upon which they exchanged a few pleasantries and grandfather begged to give his daughter in marriage for his son Inder Singh.
Jaswantraj Singhvi was mighty pleased but accepted the proposal with reluctance as he became mindful of the class difference of the two families. The marriage was solemnized in 1931. The bride Kamala was rechristened Bhikam Kanwar, as she had been begged for the alliance. The health of my father, Inder Singh improved gradually and considerably. Rightly so, Bhikam Kanwar became the most revered ‘Kanwarisa’ (कंवरानी सा) of the house. Though she was hardly educated but highly admired and respected for the profound maturity and wisdom she demonstrated in running the affairs of the household.
In mid 40s, my maternal grandfather Jaswantraj Singhvi fell ill and was brought to Udaipur for treatment and stayed with us in haveli. In spite of my mom taking great care of her father, he did not live long and passed away after a few months.
My mother passed away in 1958, after a brief illness. Her abdomen cancer was detected in final stages. She was taken to Delhi for treatment by my father, while my sister and myself stayed back in Ganganagar. After about 20 days, we were informed when my father returned home that she is no more. We didn’t even get the chance to witness the funeral. My father trying to explain to an eight-year-old the idea of someone being gone was pretty impossible. He tried the “Bhabhi is in heaven and she’s an angel and always looking down on you”, stuff. And for the most part it worked.
The life was not only tough but lonely for my father as his life partner left him when he was just 48. My elder brother, who was about 22 years old was studying at Calcutta and lived with my uncle Jai Singh. My elder sister was about 12 years old and she had to be shifted to a convent boarding school at Ajmer. I too was sent to Vidhya Bhawan at Udaipur as boarder.
Life did go on — but her death left a void that’s been impossible to fill and difficult to explain. I recall that a few months before she fell ill, we got a parrot in the house and the cage was hung in the veranda. My mom, every night before retiring made sure that no table was kept below or nearby, as a cat could jump up to cage and grab the pretty bird. One day she missed, and the house staff did exactly what she did not want, kept a garden table below the cage. The cat in waiting didn’t loose this opportunity and killed the parrot. The mom grieved so much that she did not take any meals for next three days.
In the previous year 1957, my dad and mom had gone to Calcutta, to spend a vacation with my uncle and meet my elder brother, who was studying there. Both my sister and myself stayed behind in Ganganagar, at the care of our family nanny Gopi Bai. Since Diwali was just around the corner, mom got new clothes, toys and crackers from Calcutta. She had even bought a bicycle for me, but to her regret it was stolen in the train near Mughal Sarai station, besides some jewellery. Ask the old timers about the notoriety of Mughal Sarai?
Yet another incident that I cannot forget is Diwali day of 1957. I wore a nylon bush shirt, fresh from Calcutta and made from a newly invented fabric in vogue. As my sister lit a rocket, it went parallel to ground and hit me on my right chest/armpit. The nylon shirt instantly caught fire and it was followed by commotion in the house. I was rushed to hospital and in trauma care with 50% burn injury. Recuperation and care is a history. I was bathed, I was fed and everything else for nearly 4-6 months both by my mom and sister. My sister, Jeewan Prabha was particularly sad, as she felt guilty of her action, which resulted in burn injury to me. Even now, I still imagine the conversations we have had and how close it brought me to my mother.