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....