My mother and mother-in-law have both left this world. When they were alive, they took great care of the family, home and the people around them. The simplicity of their lives, extraordinary courage, spirit of service and sacrifice humble me and keep me always down to earth. They were in some ways similar and some ways very different from each other.
Born in villages, they grew up in a way of life that has to deal with on a daily basis people, agricultural produce, village gods, livestock and nature. My mother’s birthplace is Shakhariyapara in Coochbehar district of West Bengal – a hamlet with families living closely together with agricultural lands producing crops, ponds abundant with fish, and milch cows and buffaloes giving bucketful of milk. Simplicity is naturally bred in people who live with small ambition of growing crops sufficient to feed the family throughout the year, of building a house that would withstand the vagaries of weather and of educating children for finding a job. My mother bragged about fish and milk that she had enough of in her childhood.
My mother-in-law was born in Goalpara district of Assam. I visited the place only twice. It is a prosperous village in the floodplains of river, Brahmaputra, where people have abundance of agricultural produce and are culturally inclined towards song and dance.
After marriage, my mother moved to another village and my mother-in-law to the district town of Jalpaiguri.
My mother was a perfect homemaker. She kept our home and the surroundings absolutely clean. She would not allow fallen leaves to lie on the ground or dust to gather in furnitures, utensils or the floors of the house. With a broom, she would keep sweeping them away from time to time. She was well versed in puja (offering) to village gods and celebrations of religious festivals, harvesting season and all that. The rituals needed special knowledge and skills for which my mother was sought after by womenfolk in the village.
My mother taught me ABCD and taught me to be simple and honest. She took great care of me whenever I fell ill, nursing me waking sometimes the whole night. She brought up her two children – my elder sister and I – in this manner.
My mother-in-law was a progressive woman who pursued her studies on law and her passions even after marriage. She later joined politics and fought many electoral battles and served people as municipal commissioner. She was also a matchmaker who took great interest in finding matches for marriageable boys and girls.
A trait shared in common by my mother and mother-in-law was, however, their penchant for inviting people for lunch or dinner.
Mother-in-law could make some very special cuisines and she would rustle up something for guests as soon as they arrived. Another trait of them was their expertise in home remedies for fever, cough and other ailments.
My mother-in-law was interested in literature and wrote poems in Bengali and Assamese and got them published. It is in this aspect that I had a special bond with her.
The lives of both mothers were lessons in service and humility. Their selfless service to family and all people connected with their lives without personal ambitions humble me. I have built my home in a big city. Here ambition, selfishness, greed, loads of aspirations and race for success suppress happiness, naturalness and simplicity of life. People do not have time to think about others. When I get swayed by ambition and greed, I take comfort from the fact that there is also a way to live devoid of all this and live a fulfilling life. The path shown by two mothers!