Ode to my Mother:

My mother is the reason I am in existence and she is the single most reason for whatever little I have done in my life.

We have been farmers for thousands of years probably. I don’t not have access to any information beyond the names going up to my great grand father. The family went into penury because of the early death of my grandfather when he was just 32 years of age with the eldest son being 12, my father 7 and his younger brother 5. Despite 50 acre plus combined land holding, income was very meagre. My father could manage education only till Interpass and joined the Army as a soldier and eventually retired as JCO. He had left home, when there was no money left at home to continue education, when he was 18 and walked to the Army recruitment camp at Ahmadnagar which was 180 kms away with 25 paisa in his pocket. He walked with naked feet as he didn’t even have shoes or slippers when he did this journey. What he wore was the only clothes he had, which he had to wash in the night to wear again the next day in the morning. On the way he stopped for some days in Kopergaon where someone from our village who had settled there took care of him. He has a phenomenal memory despite 1 major and 2 mild strokes and can rattle off granular details of things he did on particular days in 1958, 65, 71 etc. Our generation doesn’t have this. At least I haven’t seen it. He fought in 2 wars but he is not the hero of this story.

My mother never went to school. She was illiterate when we were kids and by now reads Marathi though not proficiently and her focus is spiritual stuff. Despite her own lack of education, she forced the decision to send me and my brother to an English Medium school on my father. My father is supposed to have argued with her asking her that when they grow up they will give you “gaalis” (cuss words) in a language you wouldn’t understand. She put her foot down and when mothers do that, they normally have their way. She had seen the Army officers speak in English at various functions and she wanted her children to grow up to be like them.

My younger brother had Cerebral Palsy and passed away when he was only 5 and I was 7 and in class 2. Because of my brothers illness my parents spent a lot of the five years of his short life in various hospitals in Nashik, Pune and Mumbai but there was no remedy. My elder brother learnt to cook with me as his able assistant and we managed everything on our own in the long periods of absence of my parents with some family friends pitching in to help once in a while. It was after his passing away that my mothers attention turned to me and both my parents discovered that I was a blank slate even in Class 2. I hadn’t even learnt the numerical and the alphabet well at age 7 (I also probably had ADHD about which I may write a separate post later). At first my mother requested my father to teach me. He did try and one day when he found I was not getting it, he hit me with his chappal and my hand was fractured (The same hand had a fracture 3 more times in times to come for different reasons). That was the end of his career as my home tuition teacher! My mother then found a kind lady by the name of Mrs. Lazarus who took me under her wings and after a brief assessment started teaching me everything from the basics (KG level) again. I remember her having a small Taj Mahal statuette in her room where she would teach me. She once told me it was made of sugar. Out of curiosity and in her absence, I licked one of the minarets and found it sweet and it become a habit. One day she saw me licking the Taj Mahal and broke it up to give me a couple of pieces every day to eat as a treat for studying. After the 3rd standard I made good progress and was considered a good student at my school thereafter. I had a few ups and downs on the way but didn’t need any more interventions from my mother on the education front after the 2nd Standard except in 90 which is a story for another day.

I went on to become quite a book worm and would read though dozens of books a week. I was allowed to use library cards of a bunch of my non-reading friends, so I always took a bagful of books home on Friday for reading before returning them next Friday. I went to ridiculous extents to get hold of books and even comics because we bought none ourselves. (My father bore the burden of his entire extended family which included marriages of 7 nieces, caring for a widowed sister, providing cash to brothers for managing farms etc. so we were always hugely short on cash.) I remember a senior from the same school who would give me books/magazines in exchange for a foot massage. I didn’t find anything amiss with this puerile expectation of the juvenile though this would upset my elder brother and his own family members. I was used to giving foot massages to my mother as well as father when they were tired (I wonder what the millennials of today would think about that!!). My mother would snatch away books from me when she found me reading continuously for long periods of time. She was worried that I would damage my eye sight through excessive reading. She was no “Tiger Mom” and never enquired about school results etc. For her 50 or 60% was as good as an 80 or 90%.

She taught me the value of a rupee and every time I asked her for money to see a movie (the entry ticket was Re 1 for front rows and Re 2 for balcony) or something equally frivolous that one hankers for at those ages, she would ask me to complete some tasks for her in exchange for the money. Though I was brought up in a township where my father worked, our farms were just 85 odd KMs away and I, my brother with my mother would go there every fortnight to supervise and work there on the 13 acres of land which my family owned(after division of my grandfathers property over course of time). The preferred mode of travel to our farm was on trucks and it was much more convenient than buses those days since the bus involved multiple changes till we reached our village whereas the truck would drop us off virtually 2 km away from our farms. I have travelled to many APMC markets in Maharashtra sitting in the truck cabins and many a times on top of the cabins with my produce like Pomegranate, Guavas’ etc. The non perishables were mostly sold in the Malegaon APMC which was just 9 km away.

My mother has laboured extremely hard since a very young age on her fathers farms, then our farms and kept working well into her late sixties. Farming was very arduous those days and our area is in the rain shadow region and hence very dry, arid and hot. 30 years ago we had been foolhardy enough to have Pomegranates, Guavas and also Grape orchards at the same time on the farm. I remember at least 2 years during times of very severe drought, I, my brother and my mother carried thousands of pots of water and directly poured water to each and everyone of those thousands of trees just to keep them surviving in the summers. It was like a human-powered drip irrigation system. This would be when the temperature would hit the mid 40’s and it was a good test of physical endurance. Drip irrigation during those initial years was pretty expensive relative to purchasing power and we could not afford it at all. My mother was the anchor for the whole family during these times and egged us on with the work and kept us motivated with her faith in the divine about better things being in store for us in the future.

My mother is a very pious woman and even as kids I have listened to renderings of most of our religious texts multiple times over though I didn’t understand most of it. She always kept telling us not to waste food. She would say it was “purna brahma” and it was sin to waste food etc. My parents are now settled in Nashik. Whenever I visit, the only thing she expects from me is to to visit a bunch of temples with her. The more temples we visit, the more satisfied and happy she feels. In the temples, she prostrates before maibaap by lying down on the temple floor and one can see how she has surrendered herself completely to the supreme. I feel a sense of awe for her deep and unwavering faith. I have never ever have bought anything for her ever in my entire working life nor has she probably expected anything.

My elder brother, a lawyer, passed away in 2012 at just 47 years of age. My younger brother passed earlier as mentioned. For a mother, there is no greater suffering than to cremate one’s own children. She has been stoical and resolute throughout this with her unshakeable faith in the supreme.

In conclusion, I owe everything to her and love her a lot though I have probably never told her this in my entire life. I will do so now and try to make it a habit to tell her what she means to me. I also need to talk to her more though picking up the phone and talking to even my parents is as challenging to me as it is with other human beings.

For those younger than me, I would like to share the following:
1. Encourage everyone you know in the rural communities or even among the urban poor to send their children to English Medium schools wherever possible and feasible. English is the quickest way to upward mobility for those on the lower rungs of socio economic ladder. Vernacular language education does becomes a handicap in getting better quality jobs and general mobility.
2. Please treat your mother and secondly your father like living gods on earth. They should never lack anything no matter what sacrifices you need to make their last years in life peaceful and stress free. Their blessings will stand you in good stead through adversities and calamities which are a part and parcel of most lives.
3. Do talk to your parents as frequently as you can. It is an area where I need to make an improvement myself and I guess such is the case with most of us.
4. For the millennials, if any among readers, I suggest putting your mother and fathers picture as a wallpaper on your desktop, laptop, mobile or any other device you have. This will act like a moral compass for you in the choices you would make and in the decisions you would take.

The picture is on the occasion of my father turning 80. He is 83 now. My mother is 78. Lovely young couple!!

Published by Sunil Khairnar

I have been working in the agribusiness, commodities and development sector in India for more than 27 years. I have a B. Tech in Agriculture Engineering and a Management Post Graduation from IIM Ahmedabad.