Maa, the most beautiful thing that happened to baba. This memoir would be incomplete without her mention. The adventurous life that she led right from her childhood is a book in itself. She has been my greatest inspiration and is the strongest lady I have grown up watching.
Struggle knocked at her door at an early age, when she was around five years of age, her mother and the five children were left behind at their village home as her father went in the search of spirituality. He never returned and some villagers say he became a saint and they even saw him conduct sacred gatherings in far off villages, speaking on spirituality. Others have the opinion that he died and thus my grandmother was considered a widow, who single-handedly raised her five children, two sons and three daughters.
Right at the time when the family was coping with the loss of a father, my mother, who was around five years at that time, fell while playing and broke her hand. Some local practitioners gave a temporary treatment but that didn’t cure her. She was left with a broken arm for months. Later, when her maternal uncle visited them, he was concerned looking at her condition and immediately took her to a better hospital for a check-up. There, the doctor said, the radius bone of her hand is broken into pieces and cannot be cured. There again she did not receive proper treatment and grew up with a left hand that had no strength or growth. She spent some time at her uncle’s home to recover from the injury and all of this killed a lot of her time. Her name was removed from the school’s list and she could not continue her study. She was very young to understand the importance of education and happily stayed home to help her mother.
Villagers suggested my grandmother marry her off at that age because now that she is handicapped, she will not get a nice groom. My grandmother, however, didn’t pay any heed to the rubbish and continued her homeschooling with the help of her brothers. She never went to school again. It was only before her board exam, that her uncle helped her register her name so she could give the exams. The school’s principal was kind enough to allow that to happen and the little girl who had to stop going to school because of her broken hand was now appearing straight for the board exams. Strange but true.
After she completed her schooling in the village, she was suggested to try nursing education by one of her aunts who was herself working in the city. My mother convinced my grandmother and she left home for a better future. She stayed with her aunt for the initial few days. She was good at studies, completed her nursing degree and joined the hospital as a nurse. While working there, the doctors suggested she get her hand operated on. The operation would require taking out a part of the stomach and placing it on her hand. It was a major operation and would also cost a lot of money. Maa denied saying her hand just looked weird but didn’t trouble her at all. She was able to do everything with the support of that hand. She had no desire to look any better and was happy and comfortable with one short arm.
She was a fine mimicry artist, wrote poetry and was a star performer at her college. Once, a Bengali film director offered her a role after watching her perform on stage. Nobody allowed her to accept the role because the film industry wasn’t considered a good place to be. She continued to focus on her nursing journey.
She met baba at her friend’s wedding and remembers how it was very late at night when the wedding rituals started. Baba, who was the groom’s friend had fallen asleep by then and suddenly when the wedding began, he somehow managed to walk while still in his sleep and sat beside the groom. There again he continued to sleep and became a laughing stock for maa and her friends. Later, her friend became the match-maker for them and wanted them to get married. Maa’s family members were all very fond of the groom but baba’s family had issues with maa, especially because she was a nurse. Even though it is such a noble profession it still doesn’t get the respect it deserves. However, the wedding took place and many relatives didn’t like her, some because she wasn’t fair, some because of her disability and some because of her profession. She had a lot of pressure from many of them to leave her job, change her name and go back to the village after marriage.
She stood firm and neither did she quit her job nor did she change her name. She remembers during those difficult days what kept her going was baba’s support. He had immense respect for the noble work she was doing, never bothered about the name change and also encouraged her to study further that was required for her job. She completed her education, leaving behind their tiny daughter with baba and returned with flying colours. For the rest of her life, she continued to be a teacher in the nursing school, training young girls and shaping their future.
You must have seen many women who don’t call their husbands by their names, out of respect but have you ever seen a husband doing that to his wife? Baba was one such example, he never called maa by her name. They would both call each other, “shuncho” meaning “are you listening!” That was the kind of respect baba had for women. His love and support for maa were unparalleled.
Our home in Dhanbad has a nameplate with both Dutta and Roy on it and even if it means nothing to others, it makes us very proud of our parents. That is the reason when we all meet, my sister and I tease maa that out of all three women in this family, you got the best husband.
Maa continues to amaze me even in the way we handle grief differently. On Holi, when I was missing baba a lot, I called up maa to see if she was fine. She understood that I was crying and said, “Get up and make some good food today. I have prepared maalpua for him, I know he is not here but if I cook something for him, he will definitely eat it from wherever he is. How will he get to eat his favourite food today if I don’t cook?” This is going to stay with me forever. She surprised me with the way she handled the whole situation.
Maa never fails to thank two people, first, her mother who stood by her when the rest of the villagers lost all hope and wanted her to get married at a young age, and the other person was baba, whose love and support brought out the best in her. Unlike baba, she is an extrovert, can talk endlessly, laughs at the top of her voice, is very strict, gets angry easily, impatient, swift and resilient. Together, they made a beautiful couple, I consider myself lucky to be born to such amazing parents and I wish I can become like them someday.
Coming up next –
N – Not Without You
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