Mother’s day may be an excuse to send good wishes to one’s mother once a year. But I think of you many times a day every day. There are so many things that you did for me and taught me that I can’t imagine what life would have been without them.
Forgiveness and unconditional support and self-discipline are the first things that come to mind, Vahini, when I think of you. Every time I made a mistake I was forgiven and then told where I was wrong. If I lost anything or broke anything, was not nice to someone or did wrong I was never spanked or yelled at. It is so important for a child to feel secure in his parents. I always felt that with you and Anna I had the most wonderful childhood. Naturally therefore I too try to forgive and support my children.
You taught us to appreciate good food. You cooked it for us under the most difficult and even peculiar circumstances. Patiently, you made the dishes each one of us liked. We all wanted different things for breakfast or dinner and for each of us you thoughtfully made them,even as you insisted that we taste everything that had been cooked.We had to finish what was served to us. We could take more of whatever we wanted. Even as you cooked things we were allowed to taste the goodies and not forbidden to do so as in many other homes.There were always snacks and different types of food at home so we were able to have a variety and not get bored with the same stuff daily. We had western food, a variety of regional Indian food, Chinese food and you acquired new recipes all the time. I have learnt to cook seeing you do things, although you never ‘taught’ me anything. I have consciously taught my children to love food and cooking. We all enjoy cooking and food. Thank you. As you know, the influence carries on so that Sameer always cooks the main dishes for parties at his home and Kaumudi has gone farther and become a recognized chef.
Meera, age 9
I remember how you allowed us to have cookouts in the garden or yard with our friends and supervised us. You gave us pots and pans,any ingredients we asked for and other equipment to enjoy ourselves.It was such fun. All our friends and the four of us had fun cooking and eating what we made in the garden. We learnt a great deal from such experiences, but most importantly, we had a very happy time.
You showed us by example how to face hardship and difficult situations. You drove Ramesh to the hospital without crying or panicking when he broke his leg. Each time I was ill you sat by me and massaged my legs or head and comforted me. You fearlessly extracted the big nail that Ramesh accidentally drove into Nishu’s thigh before scolding the culprit. When Maya had diphtheria you stayed by her side throughout in the hospital and helped her recover. When Anna was brought back from NEFA, now Nagaland, with his harrowing experience of being snowbound, and everyone feared that he might even lose a limb or two, you showed uncommon grit and strength. And you supported him and the family despite knowing that this setback spelt the end of his bright career when he was barely 42.
Even the one time you yourself were in hospital with a slipped disc and in great pain and more or less immobilised, it was not your pain that troubled you, but concern for the two of us at home alone. You worried if we would be safe by ourselves. Anna was in NEFA then and ‘the boys’ in the NDA (National Defence Academy). You lived with both us sisters in the separated family quarters in Delhi, managing very well. In this and such ways did you train us to become independent. It stood me in good stead, indeed, with Aditya and all his health problems and all the other times I have had to face any difficulty.
Vahini-Anna (center) with their younger daughter, Maya (far right) and one of their daughters-in-law, Manisha with her child, Neena
You always bought clothes, gifts and necessaries for all of us but I can’t ever think of an occasion when you got a sari or any cosmetics for yourself. Sacrifice and unselfishness were the ideals you taught us simply by example. In your footsteps I have never used any cosmetics except cream for dry skin in winters.
Hospitality and an open house for our friends and relatives is a trait all of us have learnt from you and Anna. He invited the whole world to your table and you fed it. We do the same and so do our children. You always had some young officer or a relative or friend for a meal. You always had extra food and an extra plate at the table. I remember occasions when even after we had cleaned up the kitchen and got ready for bed, guests arrived and whole fresh meals had to be cooked. There were kerosene stoves and woodstoves in those days, not the comfort of gas or electric stoves. Yet you did all that was expected cheerfully and without complaint. We were there sometimes to help you but often than not you did everything on your own.
You taught us to do things well and beautifully. We always had flowers in vases, a nicely arranged drawing room, cushion covers and table cloths you had embroidered, a beautifully laid out dining table with shining silverware and crockery. The food you brought to the table was displayed attractively, whether it was Indian or western food, a sit down dinner or a buffet. And you sang! We were very happy to have a mother who sang beautifully and who was always humming as she worked. Always there when we needed you, never nosy or bossy, you welcomed our friends smilingly even if we were not home.
Our home was home to many officers, too, who were away from their own families, sometimes in bewildered states of mind, sometimes homesick, sometimes in real trouble. They were able to drop in when they felt like a cup of tea or, tired of the Mess ‘mess’, wanted home cooked food.
Nishu, Meera, Maya with their mother
(Alas, I have no young pix of my older uncle, Ramesh to include)
Unlike the women around you, you never went to coffee klatches or gossip or rummy (cards) sessions with other women. You went if help was required or there was any occasion. You never gossiped with anyone or spread any rumours. I don’t go for any women’s dos either. However, I do indulge in gossip for fun and do also criticise people now and then!
You didn’t spend any money on cosmetics or makeup, never went on personal shopping sprees like so many Army wives. Yet you were always the most beautiful and most beautifully turned out woman in the station. I have always seen you well turned out and presentable, never in nightclothes dawdling or lazing about. Up early in the morning, brushed and washed, ready for the day with a smile. And you kept yourself fit. You exercised regularly and I have followed your example to this day.
You were a picture of tolerance and forbearance. Even if you had a headache you bore it quietly and carried on. I have not enjoyed good health like you. I do, however, have a great degree of tolerance and can bear a great deal of pain before complaining. I avoid medication, just like you.
You never went to ‘your’ family for visits like most women do. If you went at all it was with all of us. Your love and care of us mattered more to you than your personal satisfaction of going to see your brothers or mother. I have done the same. If I go we both go together briefly, and earlier we went as a family with the children. Yet you were always there when we needed help.
I never saw you borrowing things from neighbours as they always borrowed from us. You ensured that we had all we needed or went without.
All servants—available to you because Anna was in the Army, but who almost never reduced your work—were paid on the 1st or 2nd of the month. You knew that it was difficult for them to manage on their wages and did not wish to add to their woes by delaying paying them. And you never bought things on credit. That is the way to stay within a budget. Attitudes to borrowing have changed in our society over the years, but we follow your rule. We hardly even use the credit card. When we do, we pay the dues the day the demand arrives.
If there were leftovers in the kitchen, you offered the fresh food to us and made sure you ate the leftovers. If a dish fell short, you said that you were full or didn’t like it, really, so that we would get a bigger portion of it. Such was your selfless devotion to your children and husband. Today people may be puzzled by your ways or even frown upon them. Or call them foolish. We only feel immense respect for you because to you your family mattered above everything else. And yet you married ‘for love’, adventurously going away from such home as you had to be with the man you loved. Your personal relationship with Anna and your devotion to him have been another (almost unattainable) ideal for me.
Among all these roles that you played over your long life, the role of Mother is what mattered to us your children most, naturally. And it is that role that the world celebrates on this day each year.
Meera, aged 33, laughs as she serves cake at Kaumudi's 10th birthday party in London, Canada
So, Vahini, I wish you a very happy Mother’s Day. May every day be good for you, too. There was so much to learn from you that even now I may have missed out some things in my list!
I am like you in many ways, although I have a lot of Anna in me also. I love you very much. At your very great age you have the health that you built throughout life. Enjoy your years and smile, smile, smile.
With special love and hugs for this day,
09 May 2011