Come summers, and the raw mangoes, fiercely protected by her from street urchins, would come off the tree in the yard, and the process would begin.
Some were sliced vertically in thin, long slices to make the traditional aam ka aachaar.
The rest, she would grate finely to prepare what was her very own speciality – the delicious, sweet and spicy Gujarati chutney we called `choonda’. The mix had to be `cured’ in the sun for about a fortnight, for which we would trudge up to the terrace every morning with the huge cauldrons, only to bring them back down after sunset.
The glass jars (barnis), normally stocked on the upper shelf above the dining table, had to be taken down. As I climbed up onto the chair, she immediately stopped me, and asked my elder brother to do the needful. “Pappu”, she told him, “Tu laa. Ede kolon tut janiya ae!”
My brother tried to reason with her that I was now a full Colonel in the Indian Army, was commanding a Regiment, and was therefore, perfectly capable of retrieving the jars without breaking them.
“Ede thalle barah sau aadmi henge” (he has 1200 men serving under him), he added for good measure.
But my mother’s faith in my abilities remained unshaken. She shook her head “O vi saare ede varge e hone ae!” she said. (I’m sure they’re all exactly like him!)
My mother was something else. Her rustic sense of humour, and her one-liners delivered in her own brand of Punjabi, have become folklore in the Puri household, and have been passed down from generation to generation.
For a woman with no formal education, she made sure that all the six children she raised (including one grandchild) were well read. Two engineers (Colonels too), one doctor and three graduates!
Although her name was Rakshawati (check the beautiful way she embroidered it on her khes), she was called `Rixaben’ by her Gujarati friends. She, however, remained `Mataji’ to all of Pudumjee Park – our Sindhi neighbour Ishwari called her that, and the name stuck. I think only me and C2 (my kid sister cum niece) called her Mummy.
Knitting was her forte. She won the Dhariwal Knitting Competition three years in a row. She had to just look at a design for a few minutes, and could replicate it stitch for stitch. With no formal education, mind you. Her sweaters, and I still have some of them, could beat the best of Marco Polo hands down!
She was asthmatic, and spent most of her life in Poona, which is not kind to asthmatics. Winters and monsoons were her bane, and she suffered terribly in those months. She passed that on to my sister Shobha, and to the rest of us she bequeathed her `nervous’ digestive system.
|With grand daughters 2T and Sumi|
Between her two daughters and her eldest son, there was a gap of about ten years. In this period, she suffered eight miscarriages, and it seemed her desire for a male heir would remain unfulfilled. It took a trip to Sialkot (now in Pakistan), and a holy bath at Puran Singh’s well, for her to finally bring forth my brother Satish into this world.
She had made that trip with a cousin of hers called Mahinder (or was it Surinder?). Apparently this guy was called Mahinder, but his nick name was Surinder (seriously!), or as Mummy would put it “Na Mahinder si, kehnde Surinder si”. This has now become a standard phrase in the Puri lexicon for anything that is absurdly named.
She was in her late 30’s when I was born. Asthma had made her totally feeble, and I barely remember her ever carrying me. She hated being touched, hugged or even fondled, but I was her youngest, and got away with everything.
“Je tenu nahi karanga, te ki Ishwari nu karanga?” I would ask her. She would push me away, saying “Tere na hath nichlay nahi rehnde!”
Mummy passed away on 25th September, 1996 – barely two and a half months after my father. When she passed, we tried to locate her cousin Mahinder/Surinder. All we knew was that his surname was Yakhmi, and he lived at Shahdra, near Delhi.
When we finally managed to get through, we learned that he too had passed away two weeks ago!
Mummy died at Vishakapatnam. We took her ashes to the banks of the Godavari river at Rajamundhry, about four hours away. Throughout the journey, I held them in my lap, and as I caressed them gently, I could almost hear her plaintive voice, asking me to stop.
“Tere hath hale vi nichlay nahi rehnde!” she seemed to be saying.
Some chapters in life are difficult to close. And mothers, no matter what their idiosyncrasies, will always be mothers..