Monday, March 02, 2009

Sixty years, Fifty gifts, and infinite good wishes....

Just read a blog post and remembered .

Umamami was a favourite aunt from my childhood. She was married to a distant relative. A passion for books, a love of children and an inquisitive mind ; not something to get ecstatic about when you live in a far away village, with a difficult monetary situation. And being one of a set of several children, she was married off to someone in the city when she was very young..

She lived in the heart of the city, a young girl thrown into a mature life, and she would watch the school children enviously. Her own children happened, and she got her joys from teaching them and enjoying their school books. She visited my folks often, and my mother realized her burning ambition to learn and study, and convinced my grandpa to help with the fees and stuff.

Umamami never looked back. A mother of 3 wonderful children, she and her eldest did the high school board exam together. With great encouragement from my mother, she ended up doing an M.A. while working as a school teacher in a reputed school, and was highly regarded. As it happened, her husband later had some health problems, and she was able to do her bit in those difficult times.....

Many many years later, I was visiting my mother with my children, and she came calling . Brought all her children with her. And their children too.

You are never to young to learn.

After the initial niceties, she took out a simple but wonderful sari from her handbag, asked for the red powder with which we anoint every gift that we value, no matter how small. She put a red dot on my mothers forehead, gifted her the sari, looked around for my late grandfather's portrait on the family room wall, and bent to pay her respects to him. She then asked her children to do so, and herself , touched my mother's feet.

I was totally taken aback.

She turned to her children.

"You know, everyone retires at 60. No big deal. But this 60th birthday is more than special. I wouldn't have seen this retirement day as a teacher, if I had not been encouraged, to study and educate myself by the old gentleman, thanks to the lady here, despite doubts and snide comments from conservative folks in those days. "

For years after that, my mother would recount this with a lump in her throat. Her fondness for someone and the amazing way she realized her 60 years on this earth. Several years have gone by since then. Umamami is no more and my mother is no more. But Umamami's children and we , all have all learned something.

A few years later .....

My parents both turned 70 in the same year. With a wide circle of friends , they didn't let anyone know about this. Not that it would matter. Birthdays were a time to be grateful for what you had and where you were . It was all about having the honor , of being able to give....Their closest friends knew about it, but they also knew that massive parties were not their scene, so to speak.Their children were in far away lands and only their daughter and family would be with them , and touch their feet on that day.

So what did they do ? My mother and I made some sweets and snacks, packed them in approximately 60 individual packets, and they both bought about 50 tickets of
Richard Attenborough
's film "Gandhi" . Why ? Because they had plans to take 50 children from a nearby residential school-for-needy-children, to see that movie, which everyone was praising. It was an era in which they had lived, and this would make history come alive for the kids.

A bus was organized for the children. And so, 53 people, including the bus driver saw that movie, and hopefully learned something. Delicious eats, prepared by my mother, and carried from home in the packets, , were had in the intermission, with a lot of chattering. The only thing that was sourced was the ice cream the children had after the film. The children , the driver and my folks, all had a great time.

I went to pick up my folks from the theatre, and thought that was the best 70th birthday party I had seen. In keeping with their specific and frugal eating habits at their age, I had made a simple traditional dinner and a nice fruit salad for dessert
, which was much appreciated.

No one reported on this.I am not aware till today what the tickets, the bus, and the other things , cost. Our downstairs neighbors were not even aware of it. When the bus with the children drove past our house waving to my parents, nobody thought it was special as they knew my parents were associated with so many social and community organizations, and thought these were some rather extra enthusiastic types driving by.

Their own children, my brothers, from 12,000 miles away, called at night, and thanks to today's technical excellence, it sounded like they were sitting in the same room. Relaxed chats, Reminisces. Then the grandchildren got on the line, to sing their birthday songs, in uniquely unmusical voices, and then discussed presents as small children often do.

Bright eyes. Important questions...

"Aji, How many gifts did you get ?"

"Fifty!" ...... and my mother smiled at me across the room, completely and indulgently entertained, by her grandson being so seriously impressed....


  1. That is such a beautiful story about such compassionate human beings!!

  2. Such a precious memory, Ugich! Thank you for sharing it. Just goes to show you don't have to look very far to find role models. I think I'm going to have a wonderful day. :)

  3. Oh, Ugich! what a beautiful story, and yes, thank you for sharing it! I'm so touched by the love, the generosity, the sharing! You've made my day beautiful.

  4. I am touched by the story. Battling a dilemma within between simple life and keeping with the Joneses, i have chosen the former.Although, the latter was kind of trying hard to make a comeback !

    Today was my mothers birthday. She says her greatest gift was that we were all here together..And then, i just wonder how the next years will flow by.

    Just as the last many have flow by,she says. And in the comfort of her love and presence, we have promised to make it as beautiful as possible.

    And this post is perhaps the best read that i can share with her...!!

    Thank you !

    And, like they say, i can see you won the parent lottery !


  5. What a beautiful birthday story. It is an inspiration and maybe I will try to emulate it on my 84th or 85th birthday. Sharing with so many would really make it special.

    Your parents were wonderful and that explains why you, too, are such a nice and talented person.

  6. Very beautiful story!!! I am truly touched reading it !!!! thank you for sharing it with us.....

  7. The story was so wonderful and touching. I'm so glad the kids and the busdriver got to see the movie. It was a wonderful act of generosity from your parents. I think that teaching has been passed on to you.

  8. There should be no stigma about turning seventy Suranga - it's the beginning - not the end!
    June in Oz

  9. Roshni,Sujatha,Sylvia,Ranu,Amber Star Thank you for the kind words.

    One reads (The blog I linked to), the news items about grand celebrations in one of India's leading industrial families (celebrating their Mom's 75th), and with all the show and money dazzle, I feel they arent having much fun and satisfaction at all.

    Writing this certainly brought back some wonderful memories.

    Kavi This has to be the season for mothers and quiet birthdays. And something we call "yogayog"; else I wouldnt have remembered all these events, on the day of your Mom's birthday. My best wishes and regards.

    June I dont think folks here think of growing old as any kind of stigma. In fact , unless your are super-money-obssessed-and-or-super-money-enabled, you kind of look forward to getting older and wiser. I think common people in India dont have any desperate issues about the "trauma of aging", "loss of beauty" etc :-) .

    And why only 70, all birthdays are a beginning !

    Ask the next lady in this list ....

    Darlene I might frame the last line of your comment and display it prominently in my house....:-)

    Actually, all this Gandhi stuff with the children was not done on the exact date of the birthday. It was done during that week, so as to not disturb the children's school schedule. But we , as children learn from all these things...

    Let us know when your birthday is, Darlene, and we will have a Web birthday for you...:-)

  10. This is a very touching post and I had a lump in my throat while reading it.

    " Birthdays were a time to be grateful for what you had and where you were "

    This is so amazing. Changed my perception of birthdays. From next year no fighting with the hubby to get a present :-)

  11. This is such a wonderful post ! No wonder you have so much love imbibed in you !
    Its always a pleasure to listen to your stories. You have seen so many changes (like girls getting more freedom, society becoming more liberal etc.) happening around you ! Please share many more stories about you and your family ! I love them !

  12. Hello...

    What a wonderful memory... it makes so much of relevance especially when young and old are more keen on materialistic gifts as such...Sometimes.. life's simple pleasures ensure that a lot of it is gained when shared..
    thanks for sharing :) such a wonderful post.

    keep writing.

  13. This is a beautiful post. I had goose flesh! :). Now, I know why all ur posts seem to be from heart! Enjoyed reading it...

  14. This is a beautiful post. I had goose flesh! :). Now, I know why all ur posts seem to be from heart! Enjoyed reading it...

  15. What a beautiful and meaningful post. It brought tears to my eyes. I love the way you write. You are so very talented.
    I know now that I have rolled past 3 score and 10 - all I want from my children is for them to spend time with me. Have a great day - a world away from this One Woman.

  16. what a great birthday party. This is a wonderful example of great citizenship where everyone looks beyond their own needs and wants and shares their wealth, experiences, time, thoughts with the less fortunate to give them the opportunities which other wise they would not have had.

    Education plays such an important role in our upbringing and the way we think. Hats off to your parents for setting such wonderful examples and by living the life they lead. These are our true leaders who lead by example.

    Encouraging a young girl to educate herself who had so much potential and having fun with the kids by taking them to a move. True Gems.

  17. Wonderful all-inclusive way to celebrate a life rich in experiences and love. Brave actions come from the simplest folks, and simple things like being together make for the greatest joys. Well told tale, as usual.

  18. Enchanted I am glad it changed your perception of birthdays. Getting presents is also great :-) (Dont abandon that...:-). Amchya wayachyaa zalat ki wichar badalto...., ani aai wadilanni kai kai kela te pataila lagta....

    Radhika Thank you . "...You have seen so many changes...." , well, makes me feel I am an "institution" :-))

    Tina, Maggi Thank you

    One woman's journey Thank you. The best presents are almost always the simplest .....

    VinitaThank you. Maja ali...

    Sucharita Thank you. I never thought Kokilaben Ambani's birthday stuff would ever inspire a post...:-)

  19. What a beautiful post and what wonderful parents Ugich. I have just come back from seeing Slumdog Millionaire by the way. Remember that Australian couple we were talking about well they should be doing what your parents did. Giving back. Just plain inspirational was that story. Gosh how I would love to see your stories on the big screen one day. I think honestly you are such a talent in so many ways. Thanks for sharing this beautiful memory.

  20. Great post. That was a nice way to celebrate birthday. I feel terribly embarassed when they get me to cut a ckae in office. I will do something different this time on my birthday inspired by this post...


  21. Lilly Thank you, Llliy. So what did you think of the movie, I am curious to know. Maybe you can do a post . Incidentally, the ruling Congress Party has bought the rights to the song "Jai Ho" for a fairly obscene sum, as we are having countrywide elections in a month. So the film will get free publicity for afew months now....not that it needs it.

    Vivek Thank you. And here's a hint. Have a drawing contest (1 hr) for children of your workers and ask them to draw what they like about Mumbai. You can have prizes and stuff. Your company can always provide the free paint :-)

    Then you have an exhibition of the stuff and do a post on that ......:-)

  22. This is such a wonderful story. Your parents had to be very special and giving people. I can see that you are like them. I know that you were so proud of your parents and I am sure they were so proud of you, too. The children enjoyed their birthday and never forgot these caring people. You have made my day, just like your parents.

  23. Admirable to learn of the lady to whom education meant learning a way of looking at things, and enjoying the insights it would bring her way.

    I thought the idea of celebrating the birthday the way they did was remarkable.

  24. That was so wonderful! How I wish there were more more, many more of your kind in this world. usual, you brought tears to my eyes and a lump in my throat.

  25. Ah, gappa, this brought tears to my eyes.
    The world is a beautiful place.

  26. Thank you for sharing a beautiful memory with so much meaning. The kindness of your family is moving and inspiring. Your mother sounds like an amazing woman with a generous spirit.