Mother Dearest : A Memoir

Married at sixteen years just after she completed her SSLC  from a girls school at Pallakkad, Kerala, my mother went to the beautiful hill-station of Shillong, in Meghalaya.

Fifty six years ago the North East was considered the back of beyond. It was here that my father brought his bride all of sixteen to make his house into a home.

The only language she spoke was Tamil and Malayalam.  Father would translate to mother any conversation made by friends, neighbors and others.

The shy bride slowly learnt Hindi and English and later Assamese and Bengali too. She blended into the new environment like a fish to water and soon became a mother to four lovely children three girls and a boy. She was a proud homemaker and cooked the most delicious food for cooking was her forte. Be it South Indian or North Indian or the local fare which she cooked in mustard oil she was superb. Her masala dosais  and nai roast (ghee roast)  was a specialty which her friends  talk about even now.

"Saraswathi's  paper dosais with the delicious chutney and sambar is unmatched ."  Our home in Shillong was an open house for anyone who came especially those from the Southern states who were pining for home-cooked vegetarian food. My parents were strict vegetarians.

Mother brought us up to be self-reliant, never to shy away from doing ones work to the best of our ability, to be humble  to love and respect and be  a good human being.  She did not compromise on discipline and yet her love was unconditional. She did not consult recipe books or dieticians but ensured that her children ate all varieties of vegetables and fruits, most were freshly grown in her kitchen garden. Even today she grows her greens in pots on her terrace.

Mother learnt driving and would drive us to school. I still remember the day she threw an orange at the policeman to draw his attention to directing traffic as he was engaged in a long conversation with a passing friend.

Mother had a special bonding with our school Loreto Convent. She would make her special masala dosai, chutney sambar at the school fete and donate all the collection to the school. She would never hesitate to help those in need. 

She was the treasurer of her Talents Club for over thirteen years and a great organizer. During the Chinese aggression when our soldiers needed warm socks, the Talents Club members knitted woolen socks night and day and all the children packed them to be sent to the troops in the border areas. During the seventy one war my mother and her friends helped look after the wounded in the hospital and we children went to the hospital with cards and wild flowers to cheer them up.

She would travel by train with her four children all the way from Guwahati to Chennai changing trains from meter to broad gauge; a journey which took almost ten days.  A week before travelling she would make a variety of savories and sweets and pack enough food to last the long journey. It used to be the most fun filled travels that we had for our schools closed for three months during winter.

It was a true holiday at our grandparents, no homework no tensions of being sent to the various summer camps, no competitions.

Mother made sure that we had pure fun.  She had practical wisdom, she learnt from experience. She believes in values and traditions. She is truly secular for she respected all religion and language. We celebrated all Indian festivals in our growing up years. Mother made the special delicacies important to each festival. She taught us to be involved.

Even today, she makes her trade mark rasam powder for the family. The fragrance of the food prepared by mother would linger for hours in our palm.  Her "Vadams, pickles and podis," are relished by her children and grandchildren. Her great grandchildren too love her handmade delicacies. Age restricts her physically but her love to do, keeps her going. 

Her love for the North East is immense; in fact I call Shillong my hometown. She did not fear to live and make her home there. She managed a beautiful home and kitchen with whatever was available. She taught us the same.

The metamorphosis from a small town girl to a homemaker, mother, grandmother is complete.


More by :  Vijaylakshmi Nagaraj

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