Sunday, December 1, 2013

The Story of a Girl

Long, long ago, there was a family that had come over to India crossing the border of what used to be East Pakistan. They came to the city that was the greatest of all – the City of Palaces, the City of Joy, and in the early 1900s, the City of Tagore as well.

It was one of those joint families that so defined the city of the era. There were seven children in the family: the elder three were siblings, all sisters. The other four, their cousins, were a sister followed by three brothers.

Despite not exactly being showered with riches from childhood the septet grew up together in the same way that teeth or fingernails do.

But this is not a story about teeth or fingernails. This is a story about one of these girls; more specifically, this is about the second of the lot (who, I must admit, has an issue with her teeth these days).

She was almost a short girl; she had hair curly enough to give her head the look of char-grilled Maggi Noodles; she did not have 20-20 vision either, and was blessed with old-fashioned spectacles at an early age.

She made it up, though. She studied in one of the more renowned schools of South Calcutta and topped in nearly every examination. She also had a rather curious, unusual, somewhat inexplicable penchant for mathematics. In fact, solving mathematical problems used to be a hobby.

It was an absolutely normal childhood strewn with the rather singular traits of the post-Independence era – the kind that came with restriction like children needed to be back home by evening. She accepted everything without a single word of protest. She was, by all definition, a good girl.

School gave way to college where she obtained a scholarship. In college she found a non-trivial man and decided to marry him. Gone were the prospects of pursuing education and becoming a doctorate. She got married, just like that, and went to a distant city miles and miles away from her birthplace.

The scholarship money went into buying a Godrej stainless-steel almirah that she still flaunts with pride. She blended into adulthood with the same ease with which Nutella melts in the mouth.

She came back after about three or so years and almost immediately assumed the dual role of teaching and running a household. This included looking after the in-laws as well.

Obviously she taught mathematics. That was her forte. The surprising bit was her choice of school. Though she got offers from the high-profile options she decided to stick to a nondescript suburban (village, more likely) school instead.

Her father had managed to instil certain non-trivial principles within her. “There will never be any shortage of teachers in the bigger schools. But if all good teachers go to these schools, who will teach in the smaller schools that no one cares for?”

So she took a bus every morning; went to Tollygunge Station; took the train to Budge Budge; then found transport of some sort (rickshaws on most occasions) to reach the school.

Not only did she turn down the offer from the ‘glamorous’ schools, in the process she also decided to spend hours in commuting when a single five-minute auto-rickshaw would have sufficed.

Principles.

She had two sons. Both went to the same school that had a reputation for having space shortage, which meant both had to attend morning school for a few years. She got up at five, saw them off to school, went through her household chores, and left for school.

Maybe she caught a few minutes of sleep in between. Maybe she did not. Nobody knew.

Then, when her husband was transferred to a remote location she had more responsibilities in her life: she had to play a father and a son well. She never flinched, though. No burden seemed to bother her, somehow. She was one of those women.

She lost her little sister from an apparently incurable disease. She absorbed it. About a decade later she lost her father (who was, without a doubt, one of the most rational men to have existed).

She did not wince. She carried on. She reached her fifties without anyone noticing. The woman whose life once revolved around books and sport and relatives was now restricted to a routine.

She left home at ten. From school she visited her mother, who had refused point-blank to leave house and stay with her daughters. She used to visit her every day.

She used to come back at 7.45 PM; her tired brain had to fall back upon mindless Bengali serials – provided she did not have examination papers to check. And she often dropped off to sleep while doing so.

Her sons (especially the proud, haughty, ungrateful elder one) often laughed at her for having such poor taste. She ignored. She walked around, carrying on with her favourite activity of arranging leftovers in exact-sized containers and fitting them in impossibly small nooks of the refrigerator the way only the most logical of minds can.

Then, all of a sudden, the Principal of the school passed away. Everyone wanted the girl, now a woman, to become the replacement; she acquired books the size of bricks and started studying in her mid-fifties.

And then, there she was, once a small schoolgirl in pigtails, now controlling a school of girls in pigtails.

As if she already did not have enough on her plate.

With time she lost her mother as well. It was all school and home from there. She came back by seven and hogged the remote-control, or at least fought over it. The soaps that used to mean nothing to her amazing mind years ago became her fodder for the next day of struggle.

She changed the unremarkable nature of the school for good. She introduced the higher-secondary level, ensured that the school-building expanded under her, and ran through the lengths and breadths of Calcutta to attend various meetings and acquire several grants.

The remarkable bit about this was the fact that she had achieved all this within a ridiculously small time-frame. She worked hard and long – often too hard and too long for most teachers approaching the end of a long, exhausting, monotonous career.

She worked with the single-minded determination of making a dysfunctional school work and succeeded. The intense workload turned her into a borderline diabetic, but she never cared. She was never one of those people who seemed to care.

Alongside all this she turned into the agony aunt to many, including some of her seniors. She sat through whines, personal and professional, hearing them out and almost always going out of her way to help them.

The women who used to be her colleagues ages back were now replaced by their daughters. Some of her new colleagues were younger than even her sons. She held fort, representing the Calcutta of the old, still attempting to lay emphasis on the value of education over training. Most importantly, she was one of those fortunate few who actually liked their day jobs.

On the other hand she refused to use the internet (and kept pushing her hapless sons to excavate newly published circulars on the website of the Board).

She turned sixty, and as it invariably happens with Government employees, she had to retire. In contrast to many other farewells, it was not a big event, though a lot of her colleagues wept openly.

There was no reason for inhibitions. The woman who had made the school her second home was all set to give up everything to return home for good. A chunk of her life – probably the most significant one – was gone.

This was what she had given up her years and her health for. And now – today – on December 1, 2013 it has all come to a predictable end. There was quite a scene at her retirement with colleagues crying and all that mush.

When all that was over she returned home with what looked like a complete horticultural garden. The flowers will wither away in a day or so; the cards vanish somewhere in the convoluted labyrinth of the house; and the saris or whatever they have given will get stored inside that Godrej almirah.

She will be left with a void forever. It has been a commendable effort all these years – but, but – what will you do all day now, Ma?

***

PS: This concept is a poor imitation of Kuntala's excellent piece.

76 comments:

  1. well kichhuta holeyo lekhata porte porte amar ma er kothayi mone porchhilo suru theke.. sei akrokom mukh buje sob mene neyoa..sacrifice... anyway bhalo :)

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  2. research na korar byaparta..mane ei sacrifice ta akdom ak.. ar sobdik eibahbe pagoler moto khatte khatte samlano.. tomra achho.. kaku achhe.. kakima will be fine. baba r kotha mone porchhe. amar baba ma er ja sacrifice... baba ma der jonye jai kora jak kom.. onekdin por tomar blog porlam... n u made me cry abhida :)

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  3. Now kakima will be at home all day to keep an eye on you and/or pet you silly :D

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  4. Beautiful. And moving.

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  5. Speaking from personal experience,it takes a great deal of self-discipline to not fall into depression once a big chapter of your life is over and you have nothing substantial thereon to occupy your mind with....When i started reading this 'story',i kind of anticipated a sad ending,but thankfully,this was not what i had expected.
    Blame yourself,You seldom give us happy endings :-/
    i Love it when children write about their parents,i wonder if it was really necessary to give out the fact that you were taking about your Ma here?...

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    Replies
    1. I don't know about the last line thing. I'm still not sure. Maybe I could have done without giving out the fact.

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  6. If I was SPOCK, the only way I could describe this girl/woman/teacher/mother is, 'FASCINATING'. This piece is a tribute to womanhood and the title is apt, a story of any random girl. Thanks for writing this!!!

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  7. This is typical of a Bengali mother from our mothers' generation. That 'biye-te-pawa' Godrej almirah and idiotic Bangla serials are part of our house too. The significance of that dented almirah, I fail to comprehend. But I know its not my call or place anyway.

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    1. Does the dented almirah at your place have stickers on it as well? :)

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  8. Teach her how to skyp,facebook etc?
    Btw,are U happy with her retirement?

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    1. She plain refuses to use the internet, or for that matter, a computer.

      Of course I am happy. She deserved a break.

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  9. khub bhalo laglo lekhata - mon chhuye jawar moton.
    mashima ke pronam aar onek onek sroddha janai.
    (kintu uni'o keno oi bhoyanok serial guli'r chokkore porlen bolo to? ogulo ami boddo bhoy pai!)

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    1. Amio bhoy pai. Ami apran cheshta kore jachchhi boi ar cinemar proti divert korar. Kintu raat holei bheshe othe ishtikutum, ishtikutum, ishtikutummmm...

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  10. Apple does not fall far from the tree.
    Like her,u also topped in nearly every examination and share a penchant for maths.
    by that logic,you should have been better off as a professor .but then,U don't have maggi-like hair too. :D
    And why do they give dead flowers on special occasions instead of gold and gifts,huh?

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    Replies
    1. I have no idea why they give flowers on these occasions. I mean, aren't fruits a better option?

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  11. Bhishon shundor lekha ta, Abhishek da... a very lovely tribute to your mother ^_^
    This was such a warm and loving post... :))

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  12. I commented, and your blog refused to publish it -_-
    Anyway...this is one of the best posts I've read :))
    There's something very heart warming about the way you write about your mother...^_^
    Bhishon shundor lekha ta, Abhishek da...

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    Replies
    1. Why would my blog refuse to publish it? :O

      Ar, thank you once again!

      Delete
    2. Like her posts,mine also disappear.
      Please look into the matter dear.

      Delete
  13. Loved the ending and the comment on how the flowers will wither away and the steel almirah will stay...that somehow makes the sacrifice and the pain more real.

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  14. "but – what will you do all day now, Ma?"

    Don't underestimate the power of the retired working woman! She will now astound you with talents and aspirations that she had previously relegated to the back of her mind.

    When my mom retired, the ever-too-busy-to-be-social lady joined the SBI pensioners association, started writing articles for their monthly newsletters, organised a 'ladies choir' for their meetings and events, that became famous enough to get them invited for a performance at a Pune SBI meet. That my mom *SANG* on stage still stumps me, because as a kid, I simply don't remember her singing at all. I knew she always wanted to dance (she got me enrolled so she could keep that dream alive). And now that I intend to get enroll my daughter for dance classes, she wants me to find an institute that's close to her home, so that she can join too! She laughs so much more now, goes for her daily walks, spoils my daughter rotten (she was a pretty strict disciplinarian with me).

    I wait with anticipation to see the next article dedicated to your mom, maybe a year or even 5 years down the line. That is when you will see layers unfold and a very different lovely lady behind that stoic façade that she has been holding up all these years.

    Much love and a heartfelt salute to her. :)

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    1. I simply *do not* want my mother to sing. I have inherited her musical skills, which are pathetic. And may I die before she takes up dancing.

      Five hours back I was coaxing her to write an algebra book. Let me see how serious she is on it.

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    2. She will sing! You just wait and see! And she will embarrass you in public and secretly you *will* love it! You just wait Abhishek, you just wait! :P

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    3. Ha! She is one of the elite few who sing worse than I do, which is saying something.

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    4. In fact, if I can ever get in touch with her, I will go out of my way to convince her to dance, and dump that goddamn Algebra book. Better still, use it to whack you on the head! BWAHAHAHAHA!!!

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    5. If you have heard her sing, it means she *WILL* sing! Small victories! (MORE BWAHAHAHA!)

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    6. No, please, algebra suits her more. Please.

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    7. No, please. She just *cannot* sing. I mean, she *really* cannot.

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    8. Bloody, regressive Indian male... deciding what suits his mother/sister/wife/daughter!

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    9. Just a poor human being trying to protect the ears of his countrymen. That is all.

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    10. Hand out earplugs for charity.

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  15. You are mamma's boy!

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  16. My dented almirah is being used by my Mom-in-law with the stickers. Really enjoyed reading. Times have changed a bit:)

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  17. one way to coax up someone into internet is to show them marriage websites, and convince them to browse through profiles for some family member's marriage :). From thereon, you can show them the world of ted talks, sal khan academy etc etc. It's worth a try. It will need some patience and hand holding though, and its good if a child helps her in these activities. She is less likely to be embarrassed.
    Nice post.
    Tanmay

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    Replies
    1. I will try everything to get her hooked to the internet for my sake. Anything to get rid of those serials from her life.

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  18. Retirements are fun. That is again, as Malavika has pointed out, because I have seen parents, uncles and aunts really enjoy their retirement. It is that much needed break that they need after having slogged it out for years. Just make sure that you help your mother enjoy her retirement.

    PS. Has she read this post? She should if she hasn't. :)

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    Replies
    1. Retirements are indeed fun. I wish I could retire right now. :D

      And no, she is not going to read this.

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  19. U and I both know that at least for a month or 2 she would not be feeling the void or not get the well-deserved rest completely as she feels that she needs to help out the person she has handed over charge to....she intends to visit the school often to help her successor out, and of course to submit checked exam papers,publish the result and so on.....I don't know how long this helping out will last....at least the school has got new teachers....so she will not end up continuing teaching as my Ma did for the next 2 years after her retirement

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    1. I don't think she will ever stop going. People have started calling since morning.

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  20. Another event to folder away...whether or not accompanied by a desire to freeze time..
    A day that spun memories...for opposite of time is memory.

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    Replies
    1. Indeed. I just hopes she gets used to her new life soon.

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  21. Loved this one.. Thanks for writing this..

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  22. Hi Abhishek,
    Good one. Yeh, it is the story of all the mothers of that time. Lots of people, I have seen, start doing things after retirement what they wanted to do for long but could not under the juggernaut called “Sansar”.

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  23. Now she will start reading books. I just know she will. Soon there will be a switch from serials to books. And eventually she'd blog someday. Maybe about mathematics, maybe about her life... She will.

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  24. Bhishon koshto holo. bhishon. keno jani na. Ma-r o retirement ar 3 bochhor por. :( Khali khali mayer kotha mone holo. Your ma must be sad, na? Buy her something she likes.

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  25. Unlike you,does aunty know the art of letting go?

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    Replies
    1. I think she does. I'm not so sure about myself.

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  26. Touching. Yesterday, I saw "Brave" on the TV.

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    1. Ah, Brave. Isn't it the story of all mothers?

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  27. Reminded me of my own mother. Do convince her to write an algebra book, we sorely lack good algebra books.

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    1. I will. I'm really trying to convince her.

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  28. Aamar Maa, who incidentally is also a Maths teacher, is going to retire in a few months! Ki hochhe bolun toh? Erokom bhabe ekshaathe shob retire korle ei nobin projonmo ki kore onko shikhbe?

    Interestingly my last post was related to my Maa.

    "Great minds think alike", na ki "fools seldom differ"? :D

    ~ Krishanu

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    1. Great minds think alike. Also, great maas retire simultaneously.

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  29. Since I've already commented on the post, I'll get straight to why I'm commenting for the third time here...
    I've nominated your blog for the Liebster Award.
    You can collect your award here: http://anieshabrahma.blogspot.in/2013/12/my-leibster-award.html

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  30. The kind of stuff I love to read! :)

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