All Mothers are sweet and soft to their children. But my “SEIDH” was the softest and the sweetest for everyone. She was too caring, too kind and too compassionate. Though literally illiterate, she had endowed herself with the right knowledge and wisdom through self learning.
She was the third daughter and fourth child of her parents who left to reside in heaven when she was very young. She was named Radha, (after the life consort of Lord Krishna) as it was those days very much the custom with Kashmiri Pandits to name their children after Gods. After her marriage with my father, my mother was renamed as Seidlakshimi (meaning gentle, straightforward and truthful Goddess of Wealth) as such renaming by in-laws was a wont with Bhattas those days. Hers’ was a child marriage in which my father wore an elderly turban on his boy’s head, which looked quite funny. My father turned into an enterprising Bhatta who followed exception as a rule, to do uncommon things that invoked risk. I was told by a friend of his that he was capable enough to guide Annie Besant in her exploration of India and in her support to India’s freedom struggle.
My father died early, who had staked and lost all his fortune and assets in his business. My mother struggled very hard after his death, from a very young age. She had to raise and educate her three children with few assets and little income. How she managed in those hard days when all our near and dear ones just abandoned her as a poor widow was only due to her indomitable spirit of survival. I can still remember occasions when I felt miserable before my peers because of our material deficiencies. Yet, all such shortcomings were covered and compensated for by my mother’s boundless love and affection for us all.
In my eyes she turned to be both our father and mother, bold and beautiful. On the one end she was a straightforward and simple person. So when my school admission was denied by the school teacher on the ground that I was not of age as per school norms, she agreed to the teacher’s suggestion to report an older age for me. Only by chance I came upon recently that my age was then reported the same as my brother’s. Yet, she knew that good education was a must for all of us and she would take great care to ensure that we studied well.
She was cool, considerate and calm and I do not remember her losing her poise whatever the provocation. Even with her troubles, she was always positive and constructive. She kept away from gossip though she remained social. She was industrious and hardworking and one would always see her busy with household chores, which were many and arduous those days. Rest and leisure were denied to her but she did not even seem to care for these. After back breaking household chores of the day she would spin her Yander (spinning wheel) in the late nights under the dim and wavering light of an earthen lamp. While her small children were huddled underneath a heavy quilt she would create fine Pashmina to earn some survival wages. She actually developed her spinning skills to the level of an art.
She was a careful spender because she could not afford to waste her hard won earnings. She would not waste her money and we would follow her example. She knew the art of using a thing to its final utility unlike our society these days and from her we learnt the art of conservation and preservation. Maybe that is also a necessity of present day consumerist culture? I should mention though that even though she spent frugally, she knew the art of living. So we always felt to be a complete family.
She dressed simple but immaculate. She wore a Pheran (a front stitched overcoat of cotton or wool) duly laced with contrasting red or green ribbon with loose sleeves tucked up with snow white latha posch (lining). She wore a Taranga (a headgear) designed on a Pashmina cap circled with white leared starchy cotton ribbon. This was covered with a Zooj(a contrivance made of starched white cotton net in the shape of the wings of a big bird, duly embroidered with zari work). This was further crowned with a Pooch(a body length contrivance made of starched white sheet of muslin .The Pheran was bound by a lengthy Pashmina scarf around the waist.. She dangled a pair of ear pendants called Dejhor in black thread, a symbol of her widowed marital status. In her this picture, I still imagine her to be the incarnate of Goddess Sharda.
She was a proficient cook. Her recipes were known in her neighborhood, for which she was respected very much. Her fresh river fish mix with radish, turnip, lotus stem and knoll kohl were rated very high by the people who ate them. In vegetarian dishes too she was exemplary. She had a secret recipe for “special moong dall” made on Mahashivtatri. Otherwise she was never reluctant to impart her culinary secrets to those who wanted to learn. She had a technical brain. She would mend all her electrical gadgets and electrical fittings. She knew basic masonry and carpentry jobs also. This would awe people.
She loved her children and other young ones very, very much. She sacrificed her youth and her entire life for her children and maybe that is where her deep appreciation came for all children. She was a repository of folk tales and mythological stories which she wove into fancy fiction with which she lulled us and other children to sleep. Her voice was sweet and sonorous.
She did not dislike any body and as she respected all, in return she too was respected in plenty. She was a rational being, neither orthodox nor superstitious. Yet, she was highly religious and had deep faith in the benevolence of God. To pray, she would go to a temple early in the morning.
She was contended for herself even though she had big dreams for all of us. My mother was simple, clean without any shackles and prejudices. She had no grudges and bickering with any body. She had developed a robust physique and a tall personality after her marriage and her cheeks kept their glow and her eyes remained radiant till her untimely end, in her fifties. After a period of illness she expired in 1975 on a spring morning, in my presence.
After the long winter had ended, just as the daffodils had started to awaken and almond buds had begun to sprout on stark branches, she journeyed on. There can hardly ever be another such a saintly model of self sacrifice and self denial. For me, the radiance of her eyes still shines in the world around me. She was the epitome of motherhood, bold and beautiful, my mother.