Although we may see fault in the ways of people and clearly mark out ‘souls’ that bring love and light vs. those that create painful surroundings, I intend to appreciate the greatness shown by each person in some way. Many film stars display heroic qualities but there are many more real-life unspoken ‘stars’ that have left behind examples of inspiration. I began the ‘Parent-of-the-month’ series with an intention to celebrate these ‘Parent-Heroes’, acknowledge their greatness, (leave aside any of their shortcomings), and inspire the ones on the road.
THE BIOGRAPHY OF A LADY WITH GREAT VALOR
Today I am introducing an Iron Lady who proved her buoyancy over the consistently frosty waters of life during her 91 years of courage and commitment.
Read her short story to know how she waded through the troubles of poverty coupled with many mouths to feed.
Kasturben (Ba in short) was overall a cheerful, outgoing person. In India, 80 years ago, girls got married as early as in their teens and the cultural tradition demanded a troupe of children. It sounds funny to hear but I can only imagine the burden that comes with it.
Kasturben lost her husband at the age of 35, leaving 9 young mouths and a 10th one (my mom) on the way. The tragedy of life was emphasized by severe scarcity of finances. She had some experience in running the provision store with her husband but after his death, it was a tough balance to create between her work and so many children. At that juncture, she did receive remarkable help from her brothers; yet, the path ahead was for her to carve.
Without a doubt, she worked day and night to ensure enough food and shelter for her little ones but there were severe challenges with her business. Most of her clients were construction workers on the airport building. Often, customers crowded at the same time after their work was over in the evening and this demanded bone-breaking work from her. The fact that women were considered as the domestic, weaker section of society, and many of her customers as well as workers would be males, demanded that she step up with exceptional bravery to assert her power.
Running a provision store requires work not only when there are customers but also before and after: bring in products, arrange them, clean up, manage the accounts, ensure that groceries are free of insects, and much more. Even after her workers left, work demanded her presence and it left her requesting help from her elder son and daughter. Her children showed similar qualities of courage and hard work and they all stepped up to drive through the dark times of life.
Ba’s sense of responsibility was very high. She looked after her parents until the end, while being dedicated to her 10 off springs, on a limited income.
WORDS FROM HER FAMILY:
Narration from one of her daughters: “She would ask us to recite poems and tables before going to sleep. As a result, our studies were not neglected. In fact, she taught us the importance of education and sent my elder brother to USA in those times when there weren’t even proper flights from India and only 1% of the population ever left the country. It encouraged me to do my Masters and eventually I became a successful college teacher, because of my mom’s dedication and support. Had it not been for Mom’s hard work, we would not have had a shop at Church gate and a home in Juhu scheme. (Both are one of the best suburbs in Mumbai). We younger siblings were lucky to study in the prestigious -Mithibai College. Everything that she did helped us in our lives tremendously”.
As per the Indian tradition, a widow must wear only white saree (Indian dress) and Ba willingly followed that tradition too. Even though times were horrendous, she had the determination to keep moving forward with faith and courage. While fulfilling duties of the family she also became very religious. She did every possible fast from her religion and attended several religious ceremonies. Highly inspired from her, her elder daughters continued the religious tradition of fasts, known as ‘Tap’ in Gujarati and until today, they remember her for that.
LACK OF A FATHER:
While Ba was swimming against the odds of her life, all of her children had their own trials. They did have a powerful mother to show them care and strong will, yet they missed the roof of a father that would shade them from the heat of life. They deeply missed having a father figure to give them the confidence to bring themselves out in the world and guide them through. Her children showed their own kind of courage which cannot be worded in any way. Later in life, her son who flew abroad gave her continuous and immense financial support.
As if life had not offered her enough trouble, Ba had her biggest blow with the untimely death of her last born (my mom) at a very young age. This was an irreparable loss for her that left her completely shattered. She also steered through the pain of losing her sister, eldest son, and her grandson! Ba showed her high morals and helpful nature by caring for her mentally retarded cousin brother and for her sister’s children like her own.
BA with her GRANDCHILDREN:
Ba had a lot of affection for her grandchildren and enjoyed cooking for them. I remember how she would insist we eat (more than we could) to show her care. Most of us enjoyed her white dhoklas and rice flake treats (mumra ladus). Her cooking clearly reflected her motherly love for us. One of her daughter-in-law says that Ba’s cooking skills sparked interest in cooking for her.
One of her grandchild says – “She did not have just will power, she had horse power, she was such a strong person”.
My memories with my maternal grandmother are surrounded by the moral stories she narrated. I saw very little of her until my early 20s but the time I spent after my 20s was highly memorable. The fact that her face would light up just when we entered, told me a lot about her affection for my sister and me. Last, I saw her in 2007 when I had visited my home country. She had severe health problems, yet she would daily give food to the birds on her window roof.
Ba was extremely strong-willed and I applaud her for the way she waded through getting her children to study, the girls to get married, sending her son abroad, and being at the funeral of her own children. Wherever you are Grandma, know that it is my honor to write about you and be inspired with courage and determination like yours! We all Miss You and Love You!!
————-Original article and copyright by Rima Desai May 3, 2015—————–