Sunday, 15 November 2015

A warrior who never killed a fly!

White locks of hair pulled into a tiny bun, often covered with a pallu that is but a vague white extension of the once white but now faded 5 metres stretch of cotton, perhaps with a hole here and there over its entire stretch but carefully tugged inside to not be spotted – that is how Dida has looked ever since I can remember. Dida - the common grandmother – in our small but complete world of the neighbourhood, the place we were born and grown up at.

For a long time in my childhood, I did not know that my home and the house right adjacent to it are actually two different families. I’d get up in the morning from either of them just the same, and have food and take bath at this or that one, as if there was no difference. Dida, the mother of the two sons and the four daughters in that house, the uncles and the aunties who I grew up under, with, alongside, was the eldest and yet the most timid of the family. She’d silently work through the day, getting up at 5 in the morning and taking her bath the first thing, continuing her way into the day starting with the religious offerings at her small wood-carved front open box shaped “mandir” which throned many a named and nameless gods and goddesses. Her day would pass with one activity after another, always busy yet with a wide smile on her face, oblivious of the concept of recess whatsoever. We would continue to our schools, tutors, afternoon naps, the group games at the nearly park. The evenings will however be punctuated by a long, mesmerising sound of the conchshell that Dida would blow, thrice all over, as she offers her ritualistic prayers at the Tulsi plant just outside the concrete of her house, as the Sun leaves its place for the Moon to takeover. The smoke from the burning incense sticks, the small white balls of sugar in a tiny plate that she’d then throw open to us to capture, the tinkle of the keys as she moved around the house to distribute the blessings, physically, to each room in it… they created a kind of magic that words cannot conjure.

Pardon me, you, as I write this. I, the eternal staunch atheist, the one to always stand up against such role-divides by genders, such submissive, timid, silent existence of womankind through ages and times that do, urgently, need to be taken a hard look at. And then, writing in soaked nostalgia, about an old woman who stands as an epitome of sacrifice, silence and submission, a personification of deprivations and bereavements. Bear with me some more as I tell you the why and the what.

But before I begin, let me pause and tell you how, behind that apparently submissive, god-fearing, quiet entity of a person lay the bravest, strongest and the most upright person I’ve ever seen. So, let me now introduce Dida, in the way her life has been!

Married at twelve, she had given birth every other year just as women (sorry, girls) in those years would have. Some died, some lived, some even got lost! Two sons and five daughters are what she finally was left with. Hers was a rather peaceful and content life, with a husband that was a teacher, with a house that was big enough to house all of them well, with food and other necessities affluently met, with  farmlands sprawling for acres just behind the periphery of her house which amply supplied her with homegrown rice, pulses and vegetables for her kitchen. Cattle and fruits home-bred, schools nearby, life was just like a normal life should be, uncomplicated and self-propelled. Until, it happened! The Bangladesh War!

She had just stepped into her forties when the Banglaesh War happened. Located on the other side of Partition, as the communal war broke out, people had to run for their lives. So, when her husband was stabbed to death right in front of her eyes, she couldn't afford to stop to mourn. Rather, she packed all what she could and set out for an indefinite life ahead. She walked at a stretch - for seven days and nights, or more - with her seven little children. The youngest, a baby girl – she was merely six months old and feeding on her mother as they walked across the border.

“Those were the days,” Dida often recounted later on. “We walked through the dark of the night, and at times we’d spot a fox or a snake on our way, and freeze. When the sunlight showed up, I’d look around for food for the kids. I’d fast, but only until I could still milk enough so that the baby doesn’t go unfed…” – she would tell us, her cataracted eyes teary and gleaming with memories that were now but a nightmare, beyond which there has indeed been bright sunlight, no matter how long it had taken to shine back.

Days and nights spent in cantonments and tents set up to house the refugees that came from across the border, she had lost and found her kids quite a few times more until they found themselves, finally, a shelter. They never knew what had happened to their home there, to the fields and the farms. They just could save their own lives, and for then, for them, that was all they could ever ask for!

Life for her has been long and eventful ever since that time. Some lived, some left, and then, some died too. Life however moved on… Schools, colleges, mark sheets, jobs, marriages, kids, grandchildren, and much more. They said - the Muslims took away all what she had; she says – no, it’s just my fate. She never held a point of contention, a grudge of the loss. In fact, years later, when one of her daughters eloped with a Muslim boy that she loved, Dida was the first to ask them back, accepting the couple back into the family in full glory. Of course these communal divides are nothing but playing pawns to the hands of power, but yet, would you expect one to be matured and forgiving enough to see it beyond the divide, after all that life had put her through? She wore her smile intact as she walked through life, gritted teeth, with the struggle for bare sustenance, and yet she saw to it that each of her children get the education and the respect they deserve, each of them stand up in life in their own chosen ways, each of them have as little left to yearn for in their upbringing as much as she could put together.

And, you know what the most surprising fact is? That all these, all these, she did not just bear through with clenched teeth and tight fists, no! She went through it, embraced it - embraced life with its many salts and sugars as it brought along - with a wide smile, the happy kind of smile that she always wore on her face. 

Now, if that is not #madeofgreat, what is?

Fifty years since the Bangladesh War over which took away almost all that she ever had, which she herself had only barely survived, she's here today! She’s here, now, surrounded by her six children, grandchildren, their spouses and in-laws and greatgrand-children, and many others like ourselves whose lives she touched. She touched lives with a kindness, with a magic wand. She touched lives in a way that left a mark. Forever!

She passed away earlier today, just shy of ninety years in age. Painlessly. With a smile – a toothless, wide smile. A happy kind of smile! A heavenly kind of smile…

Good life? This!

Or rather, call it History!

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