Asst. Professor, Department of English,
St. Joseph’s College, Jakhama
As a young boy I remember myself rebellious, self-willed and difficult. Growing up with two brothers and two sisters, and a drinking dad, life was not always been delightful. However confused things were to my boyish mind, my mother’s presence would lighten them up. She had a beautiful soul and an uncanny aura that exuded fairness and compassion. Born with not too many words I relied much on tailing close to her to divest myself of my cares. A fleeting glance and she knew but never ask. Often times she would rather I work out my problems. Amidst all the chaos in the little world under the roof of our dilapidated house, there was this warmth. There need not be a fire to keep the house warm when there is a mother. The comfort of coming home had always been my mother’s presence. I would hang around waiting for mom to come from her fields. When she’d finally come back I would still have nothing to do but a warm blanket of comfort had wrapped around me and I’d feel complete again.
Then came a time when I suspected I had a rather queer mother, because whenever I happened to engage in a fight with anyone it was always I who would be at the receiving end, with some whacking. Unlike some mothers she never took side with me. For the right my reward was “you did well”, for the wrong always was never nice. Like many other children my brother and I were friends and also enemies and we seemed to take turns to make each other cry. On any of those incidents, if it was not a mistake and my mother happened to have noticed, without doubt I get the larger share because I am the older- two for me while one for him. Thus, more or less, mom’s scale always measured right. Like every good mother she knew her children well enough to know the likes and the distastes of all of us. If she were to reprimand someone she never did it with anyone around, she always looked for the perfect time, and since she had already slept with the issue, the best words in the most precise way.
My father’s drinking habit had always been something she never came to terms with. If there was something she knew but fiercely refused to show was fear. I remember us siblings draped in warm old woollen shawls under the clear winter skies sitting round mom and she would narrate to us biblical stories and folklores. My mind took wings and very soon I would leave my body to be flying with the angels looking down at Jesus in the manger and I planted a kiss on His forehead, or I surpassed the cripple who, according to the legend, must latch the gate being the last man to reach. Sometimes she would teach us songs which she already did when she was free. Everything she called us to do was always very interesting. We’d scamper to our own room with the sound of dad’s arrival, the mirth suddenly turning to dread. We loved him in the morning and feared him in the evening. The spirit in his veins he did become another man in the evenings. Very soon I realised mom had been doing all these to keep our minds away from fear. How she suffered for us. From where she gathered the strength to not give up on us is a mystery. And to think we were not the most obedient bunch of children to have lightened her burdens. She saw to it that nothing about her betray the slightest sign of frustration lest trepidation fill our flimsy hearts which must have been the last thing she would want happen to us.
She never tired giving advice, you wanted it or not. She had so many good things to say, so many warnings, and so many restraints. She would repeat herself time and again, “Respect young and old alike. God loves the humble. Man may attribute this quality to the weak but remember we are not more human than a cripple, a deaf, a blind, a maid, a mason etc. then who are we to lord over?” No doubt, I failed to make mine many of what she insisted I should be, yet she did give us enough to ponder over when we go astray. She kept assuring us or more to herself that even someone like my father could change; that prayer is the most powerful weapon. She prayed for us day and night, and sometimes I listened to if she had forgotten to add my name in her prayers. She never forgot. Inexplicable as it were, her prayers finally brought to fruition when one day father promised to do away with his devil. All through the roughest roads she never parted with her only true friend, God.
Mother was full of antics. She had a collection of funny stories and songs composed then and there or some local love songs and even hindi songs. When sometimes, inevitably, things heated up she would get on with her larking and let fly the safety valve. Oh, how she loved to joke with us! She was quick to notice the funny side of things. Many of the best moments of my life were shared with mom. We’d race to the field, tried beating each other digging to a target mark and when we were to have our lunch she would sing some songs or perform some of her silly antics making us often squirm over the clods, laughing.
It has been two years since the warmth dissipated. Life tainted with remorse over my loss and over what more could have been done but not done. She ran up to my lap, overjoyed to see me: “Look, Acü, I know you will not understand me right now but you are more than I could have wished for.”