"Bangaaali tarah sey puja karnaa hai!!"
Shouted the Brahmin Pundit at the crematorium
"Kelaa welaa laye ho??"
The same irritating Pundit questioned.
Someone from behind me said "Aap Batao kya Chahiye Hai"
Some one else said "Arrey Aap Bolo to kya Chahiye?"
My mother hated Brahmin Pundits who couldn't pronounce their mantras and shlokas well. She taught Sanskrit to under grad students. The kids of Brahmin Pundits came to our Model House home to study sanskrit from her. She would scold old Pundits who came home to do Puja. As she grew old she refused to have a Pundit home because they didn't know sanskrit anyway. And she had begun to hate caste system. But she wasn't a marxist or a reformist by any means. She and I often had arguements on class issues.
My Ma was traumatised when I had announced my marriage to Parvez. It was my father who told us 'I am happy that my daughter is marrying outside community'. But I never went beyond what my mother couldn't take. I have always known what my mother will accept...and what she wouldn't.
When I had asserted that both Parvez and I don't believe in religion.Thus we are closest as a community than I can be with any Hindu or he can be with any Muslim she understood. She almost always appreciated a logical debate.
The other day when I insisted that my students should be given some warm soup my mother blurted out 'No'. I asked her 'why'. She said they wouldn't appreciate the taste of soup. I asked her how did she know that! I was livid. Was ready to have an arguement with her. But she kept quiet. Not out of embarrassment. She knew she had been classist. She observed the kids relishing the soup. I observed her observing them. We also discussed how she and others in our family had actually not grown up drinking european or chinese soup.
I also realised my mother often vaccillated between wanting to gift and hoarding things. My mum's father Hemanata Das Gupta had travelled from East Bengal, the present Bangladesh. This was many years before partition. However, a large part of his rest of the family moved from bangladesh post partition. Hemanta Das gupta worked hard. My presumtion is that they really had to save food and ration. My mother has never said they were short of anything. However, my mother always rushed back home from school to take care of her younger brother Gaurang. In one of her accounts my mother writes how once when she was twelve or thirteen she stayed back in school to play. She returned home a little late that day. My grand mother Nirmala Devi was very upset with her. Only when my mother would come back home would she go into the kitchen to cook. My mother was Gaurang's baby sitter.She loved Gaurang like her son. My hunch is she became a mother too soon.
My Ma, Sangita Sen Gupta was nick named Khuku (little girl). Khuku's father regretted in his later life that he hadn't done enough for her. While Hemanta's both sons had tutors Khuku was required to study all by herself. Khuku was expected to marry post high school. What worked for Khuku was that she studied in Shashi Bhushan School. The founders of this school were Vidynat and Lila Vidyant. The Vidyants were a rebel couple. Mr Victor Narayan Vidyant was not a SAVARN (out of the four Varnas). He was a reformist and an educationist. Lila Vidyant was a SAVARN and married Mr Vidyant out of love. My mother was very close to her teacher Lila Vidyant. She learnt to challenge gender,class, religion and caste due to Lila Vidyant's influence. However her father was an upper caste Hindu from East Bengal. Her family made friends with muslims. However, they were scared and hated Muslims. Muslims were from another planet for them. My mother had inherited these values as well. My mother grew up reading stories of reforms and appreciating them. She supported Women's rights. She made me aware of my rights as a girl child. She inculcated values of independance in me. It was for her that I work. I didn't have to make a choice ever between marriage and work or love and work or kids and work. I saw a life where all of these were present. She taught me to respect myself. She was the fisrt person I discussed my divorce with. That was way back in 2001.
"What are you saying? He is such a lovely person! He loves you a lot'
"I am not sure about that Ma."
"Bokaami koreesh na"
I remember her 'Bokaami koreesh na'. And how the very next moment she turned around on the bed and said "Bhalo Thaakeesh...khub problem holey aalada hoey jaash". No arguements there. On another occasion she had said- 'Opomanito hosh na...boreyr kaacheo na". There is no easy translation to that.
But it wasn't always easy with Ma. She had an agile brain, a sharp tongue and a brave heart. My divorce took a toll on her. She suffered every bit of it with me. She was often irritated becauseI wouldn't talk much those days. She wanted me to be critical of either Parvez or me. I was so tired that I couldn't do anything. Then one day we had a family show down. My parents, my brother and I argued and cried. That was the show down of our life. Interestingly my bro and I never saw our parents fight. We did see them hug and flirt with each other often. In later life I began to question the NO FIGHT syndrome! When I asked my mother about it once she said they were smart. They did fight. They treasured their fights and respected them just as much as their love.
Back to Khuku. Khuku was expected to get married after her high school. But the marriage didn't happen. She had passed her tenth with second division in one go. Her elder brother had not been as successful as her. So when Khuku decided to continue with her higher secondary her father was ok. Both father and daughter believed that this was only till the groom arrives. My mother passed her higher secondary with better marks than her Dulal (her elder bro). Lila di ie Lila Vidyant was by her side. Her school was proud of her. Now Khuku had tasted the blood. She told her father that she wanted to do BA. Hemanta Das Gupta was proud of a daughter who had studied more than him. Everybody seemed to think his daughter was smart. Nihar di, Kamala Di...all the other teachers of Khuku.
Khuku did her Masters in Sanskrit. She studied Education after that. Lila Vidyant's school had turned into a Degree College by now. Khuku joined a Primary School. Lila Vidyant sent for her student from home to chat about a post in her college. Khuku now a big Sangeeta was baffled with the offer. She was happy in her Primary School. She would have never realised her intellect if her Sona Di's husband had not rebuked her one day.
"Why didn't you take the offer?"
"I want to finish my B Ed"
"You are scared to be a Lecturer. Finish your B. Ed while you teach. Do your PHd as you teach in college'.
"I like teaching Kids"
"You are scared...and you don't want to rise and feel more confident...You are scared to be big...good for you! Keep teaching in a primary school...keep getting a small salary...good decision"
My mother must have narrated this story infinite times to me. She also said Sona Di's husband was Dalit. His struggles were aggressive. He instilled that in her that day.
When Sona Di had suggested a marriage alliance between her daughter and my mother's nephew my mother was very delighted. Theyv were a very educated family she had told me. But My Mama and Mami were not as complex as my mother. They were simply Uppper caste Hindus most of the time.
Part 2 follows...