When the cops came for my mother…



My mother was the sister of the District Magistrate of Nagpur sometime in the 1950s, when the cops came looking for her. She had sort-of beaten up the mother of her brother’s landlord – or at least emptied a bucket of cold water over her when she discovered the landlady was not allowing her maid to draw water from the compound well.

When the cops arrived at the address, they were startled to discover it was the Collector’s residence and that the complaint was against his sister. “There must be some mistake, Sir,” they said. “We were told that some girl at this address had beaten up the landlord’s mother.”

My uncle just smiled and said nothing. “Never mind, sir,” said the senior-most cop. “We will make out a report saying it was a false complaint.” They left without a backward glance even as the influential landlord was left wringing his hands in chagrin and outrage.

Ideally, my mother should have paid for what she did. But what she did has now, proudly, passed into family legend for the family maid was Dalit; the landlord and my uncle who rented a large part of the premises were not. My mother just did not care. She saw the act of the landlady in preventing the maid from drawing water as discrimination. And so she drew water from the well herself with the cold-blooded intention of emptying the bucket over the lady’s head – in fact, I believe, she stormed off leaving that bucket stuck atop the lady’s head even as the woman screamed, “Maar la re maar la. Pori ni mala maar la (She has beaten me up! The girl has beaten me up!)”.

My mother and I

That’s how my mother was, though – simply unable to bear injustice of any kind. And that is the trait she passed on to all her children – perhaps more particularly me. For, without even being conscious of it, I have not known how to discriminate between the castes and the creeds, the sexes and the colours, even the religions, despite an extremely polarised world today.

For her times, my mother was among the most educated of women among her circle of friends with degrees from Nagpur University (a Masters in Hindi, a diploma in Psychology) and the Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda from where she took her M.Ed. She even wrote her thesis on Brij bhasha aur Khadi boli (a comparison) but never collected her degree as marriage intervened. Sadly, none of her daughters could top her degrees — we all have one less than hers.

I remember, as a child, a Hindi teacher while teaching us the alphabet wrote the Hindi for ‘a’ and put a curl under the letter to make it sound like ‘u’. My mother promptly collected all other mothers of the children in my class, saying their children were being taught wrong, and marched to the Principal to tell him off about hiring teachers who did not even know the basic alphabet. She and some other mothers stood outside class to watch the teacher write the correct form of the Hindi ‘oo’ on the blackboard, as we copied it out into our notebooks, finally getting it right.

In later years, when I failed Class VIII because I had been unable to hem a table cloth and had knitted a hole into a sock where a heel should have been, she would not let go until she had bullied the needle work teacher and the Principal into promoting me to Class IX.

Kamala Anandan with extended family

The needle work teacher hated her because my mother minced no words in telling her, “Tell me which pothi-puraan (scriptures) tell you that a girl must know how to sew or cook to be able to survive! Look at her marks in the other subjects – with grades like that she will grow up to be someone substantial and she can always hire seamstresses to knit and hem for her!”

I did not get a rank that year but I was passed by the Principal and did not have to lose a year for just a hole in a sock.

But despite that kind of education and confidence in herself, my mother never either wrote or taught as friends urged her to in the early years of her life. She sank all her resources into her family and wanted us to turn out doctors or engineers. But when I chose journalism, she unquestioningly encouraged me into becoming one. And although she hated the fact that I was rushing to all riot-torn places, reporting on earthquakes and cyclones, et al, (“Stand at the window of your hotel room and watch the fighting, don’t get into the middle of one!”) she was yet proud of what I was doing and achieving.

My two younger sisters chose to go into banking and finance. One of them was a stock broker and from knowing nothing about markets, my mother learnt what it was to short on a trade or to place a long term bid and supported my sister even through days when she lost huge sums of money in a single trade, egging her on to bid again the next day, just in case she lost confidence, letting go only after all the money was recovered.

My mother was the daughter of a freedom fighter who came into contact with Mahatma Gandhi and other stalwarts of their times, but in later years she refused to believe the Congress, as it is today, was the party of her youth and Indian Independence. ‘’ This is not the party of Gandhi and Nehru as I knew it,” she told me on more than one occasion.

I, of course, could not bring myself to see eye-to-eye with her over her support of the saffron parties and we had bitter arguments/fights over politics on the dinner table until she banned such talk at home altogether. “Blood should be thicker than politics,” she once told me. “You are my daughter and that’s all that matters to me.”

I never aired my anti-saffron views at home after that but my mother continued to be proud of everything I wrote, even if it went against her basic philosophies of life. How many disagreements we had over so many issues! But I do not recall even a single instance when she stopped me writing anything.

A friend had once told my mother that she had raised not three daughters but six sons. Both she and my father, products of the pre-Independence era, brought us up without any consciousness of class or caste or even the fact that we were girls who could not achieve things or be forbidden from doing anything simply because we were born as girls. And why ever not? My father’s sisters were all great achievers; my mother, the only girl in a family of boys, was welcomed with a shower of flowers by her delighted father, the Principal of a leading British institution of the times in Jabalpur.

But in the 21st century it was still a struggle for her three daughters to bid her a personal goodbye – antediluvian, orthodox priests (they still exist, can you imagine!) thought daughters should not be allowed into the ghats.

But its not for nothing that I am my mother’s daughter. With the same aggression but cool, calm logic that she used to defeat my school teachers and Principals, I and my sisters, with some help from other progressive individuals, out-argued the vadiyars who reluctantly allowed us to break the norms and all the traditions to bid her a personal farewell. It made the newspapers the next day, taken as a sign of the progressive times we are living in today.

My mother, Kamala Anandan, passed away on October 23, 2010 at Nagpur. It is a surprise to me and my sisters that we are still standing on our feet 21 days later because everything we have achieved in life was by her and for her. We never thought we could live without her, never imagined a life without her. “Why am I not dead by now?” my little sister has asked me more than once.

But like a very close friend said, “She would have wanted you to shine on.”

This is a promise to you, Amma, that we will.

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  • D Mishra, UK

    Absolutely brilliant and heart warming. Reminds me of my mother who learnt driving in the 1960’s in Agra so our life would go on when my father was posted to Kashmir. India is full of amazing parents like that who make us what we are. Thanks for sharing.
    Dr Dev Mishra, UK

    [Reply]

    Sujata Anandan Reply:

    Thanks, Dr Mishra. Yes, India is full of amazing parents not to be found anywhere else in this world.

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  • Al

    Sujata,

    I am sorry to hear this sad news. Your tribute to your mother is quite touching. May you have the strength to bear this loss.

    [Reply]

    Sujata Anandan Reply:

    Thank you, Al

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  • http://- Rajeev

    Sujata,
    I am really sorry for your loss. I hope you carry on your mother’s legacy.
    May her soul RIP.

    [Reply]

    Sujata Anandan Reply:

    Thanks, Rajeev.

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  • Praveen Saxena

    A touching post and very nice way to offer a tribute to your mother. We share your grief on the sad demise .

    Regards

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    Sujata Anandan Reply:

    Thanks, Praveen

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  • Amitabh Varma

    Brilliant, as usual! I was sorry to read about your loss.

    [Reply]

    Sujata Anandan Reply:

    Thanks, Amitabh

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  • Diwakar

    Dear Sujata,
    I was wondering why the blog was not coming through in the last 2 weeks !! I am sorry to hear about your mother’s loss. I am happy to know that she has been such a bold, forward-looking person and like a true mother encouraged her children. There is no doubt at all that we are all what we are today only because of our parents. May her soul rest in peace.

    Best,

    [Reply]

    Sujata Anandan Reply:

    Thank you, Diwakar

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  • http://incorrectpolitically.wordpress.com/ Akhilesh

    Sujata,
    You know we have disagreed on many issues, both here and on Twitter. But I hope you also realise that I have always respected your professionalism and the heights you have achieved in your vocation. Now I know from where all this fortitude came from.

    I am sure that you will live, to true the last line of your post, daily.

    [Reply]

    Sujata Anandan Reply:

    Thanks, Akhilesh. Yes, I have always appreciated that factor in your critiques — and, yes, I got it from my mother even if we disagreed politically on so many issues, It will be my endeavour to continue to do her proud. Thanks so much, again

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  • http://na smiths

    Dear Sujata

    Loss is a loss n nothing can replace it.N with it we have to move on in life cherishing the memories of past.
    Line by line was visualizing Cop Incident. Her strong education helped out in the incident and her personality forced cop to back off.
    Every Mother is the First role model for every child, through out life we try to adapt there strategies in as n when needed.
    i understand just like you your other 2 sisters must be doing great in there carriers

    Regards

    [Reply]

    Sujata Anandan Reply:

    Thanks, Smiths.

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  • vijay

    Hi Sujata
    Long ago I wrote few lines ( Hitavada had published that one some time in June 1988) -

    Women should be allowed the burning of their dead
    Along with that burning would be inherited the ash of the shackles that hold us in dread.

    I did not know you or your mother when I lived in Nagpur. Alas, I miss Nagpur so much.

    My father was a Socialist, and gave me a name which represents the two major communities
    in the country.

    However, I have adopted right of center views on almost all issues – and even as he lived,
    we argued incessantly about it. Prof Elkunchwar once remarked to me – is it not the tragedy
    of our times- children repudiate whatever their parents once stood for.

    I am sorry about your loss. I wish you are able to live up to the dreams and aspirations of your
    mother.

    Regards
    vj

    [Reply]

    Sujata Anandan Reply:

    Thanks, Vijay. It was a battle against orthodoxy but we can now live with ourselves that we won the fight. Would never have been able to forgive ourselves otherwise. I am a product of The Hitavada, too. Nagpur is a very different city now, though it still retains its lazy charm. Perhaps you should visit one day again, soon and renew your memories

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  • Ramya Bhargava

    There are good mothers and bad mothers; then there are the great ones. Clearly yours was one. I have been blessed with one too. As my mother keeps saying, Keep the light shining and pass it on! My heart-felt condolences for your loss.

    [Reply]

    Sujata Anandan Reply:

    Thanks, Ramya

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  • apurva saini

    have nothing to say on it but just a little gesture.. a salute to a mother from a son..
    take care..

    regards

    apurva saini

    [Reply]

    Sujata Anandan Reply:

    Thanks, Apurva. My Mom would appreciate it.

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  • Atul8

    My late mother was a feisty lady too, who fought the world like a tigress in order to protect her brood. And while we could do no wrong as far as the outside world was concerned, she was equally firm with us in the way we conducted ourselves, and how we embraced the value systems she imbibed in us.

    Your post brought back many memories, it was heartwarming, yet emotional.

    We are all grateful to our parents in the manner in which they shaped our personalities, but it is a rare person who exhibits pride in their parents at the same time.

    You are blessed, Sujata, and may your mother’s soul rest in peace.

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    Sujata Anandan Reply:

    Thanx, Atul. Your mother reminds me of my Mom. We are indeed blessed.

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  • MA

    C.S. Lewis, in his book ‘A Grief Observed,’ writes “…bereavement is a universal and integral part of our experience of love.”

    My wife lost her mother in 2001. There are times when the memory of the special bond they shared can bring tears to her eyes, even now, 9 years later.

    While the passing years may not have fully blunted the edge of her pain of losing one so dear, she seems to have learned to live in gratitude for the gift of such a precious love.

    Though I haven’t experienced the sorrow of losing a parent, yet, you may come across people on this page and in your circle of friends who have been in the place you are in at the moment. May you find comfort and strength knowing that you are not alone.

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    Sujata Anandan Reply:

    Thanx, MA

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  • nupur

    Very sorry to hear about your loss. I am sure her soul will rest in peace knowing the sterling job you are doing bringing facts to public life. Keep up the good work.

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    Sujata Anandan Reply:

    Thanks, Nupur. I will.

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  • Jyoti AmbadasMohite

    Dear Sujata,

    Sorry to learn about your mother’s demise. How I wishI had met and known your mother. It’s ages since I have met u but I still vividly remember the spark in you and now I know from where u got ur sesitivity and enenrgy. Sujta after reading about your mother, I am so sure that her children will always SHINE ON.

    Jyoti & Ambadas Mohite

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    Sujata Anandan Reply:

    HI Jyoti,

    Sorry to have come across your comment so late. You may have met my mother — just once, whe you came visiting along with Rita, if I recall correctly. But yes, that would have been too little to get to know Amma well.

    Thank you for your sentiments and thank you for your good wishes. I hope we live up to our mother’s expectations. Wishes from friends like you are a blessing in that direction.

    Sujata

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