A lesson my mother taught me…

Posted: October 29, 2009 in family

My mother passed away six years ago on the night of December 9 in Lucknow.Why did I suddenly think of her? My student Ruchika Shah’s note on Facebook about life and the way we see it through our coloured lenses triggered it off. I told Ruchika I’d comment on her note in detail, but memories came flooding back…

From Trichur to Lahore; from Meerut, to Aligarh; from Patna to Bhagalpur to Ooty; and finally to Pune where she lived with us after she retired as a teacher; then moving with us to Delhi, Chandigarh and finally Lucknow, where she died my mother lived life on her terms.

She walked out on an abusive husband, with her two children and brought them up on 400 bucks a month, till she could afford to. When she couldn’t do so anymore, she sent me off to Pune to stay with her younger sister and my elder brother to Patna to live with my father. In a way that was good because both of us brothers grew up with memories of a man, neither of us ever wanted to see or be like.

My mother loved life and had more friends among the teenagers than she had among people her age. My friends were her best friends. They would discuss movies, books, their drinking, smoking, girlfriends/boyfriends, affairs, just about anything with her. Somehow, youngsters gravitated towards her much more easily without bothering about the difference in age. To them she was always “one of us.” If she was leaving town, I would be getting an auto-rickshaw and a friend would call up to say he was coming over to take her to the station!

Till three years prior to her death she was (metaphorically speaking) the life and soul of every party! Her memory for people, faces and places was phenomenal. She taught us the importance of nurturing friendships. The friendships she made lasted a lifetime. She could fly off to London and stay with friends for months and months and they would renew her visa without telling her when it was time for her leave! She could just take off for Bangalore or Delhi and be welcomed with open arms. When she died, my cousins and friends called to express their condolences, not because of my relationship with them, but because of their relationship with her.

Then, sometime in 2000 everything went downhill, although, thinking back, the problems set in almost ten years before her death. But we had no inkling. The alarm bells rang first when we heard that she had got off a long distance train at a Railway Station somewhere in UP, in the dead of night, barefoot, telling the conductor that she was meeting a friend. She sat on a bench on the platform “waiting for her friend” and the train left without her. It was only because of an alert station master that she was reunited at another station with her sister, who she had been travelling with, and escorted by a Railway Police official. When I asked her what she thought she was up to, she giggled like a schoolgirl, blissfully unaware of what she had done. There were other signs such as not being able to smell anything, but none of us paid any attention to it.

The doctors at the PGI Chandigarh told us she had dementia in the last stage. She stopped recognizing people, family and started seeing people who were long gone into eternity. She started hiding her food in her cupboard as if afraid that we would stop feeding her. She would talk about calls she got from friends, even though the phone had not rung the whole day. Then she started saying things completely unintelligible.

It was ironical, that she was diagnosed with a disease that destroyed something that she always prided herself on – her memory.In Lucknow, a year before her death, she was reduced to a walking, talking zombie, swearing at anyone she saw, kicking and biting anyone who dared to approach her to reason with her. Yet we were unwilling to accept that her mind was too far gone into the abyss.

The night she died, I returned home from work just after midnight. My aunt asked me to check on her because she was asleep. I called out softly and touched her shoulder. It was stiff. I tried to turn her, but rigor mortis had already set in. In death she was peaceful, unlike the turmoil we had seen in the last few years of her life.Sadly, more than remembering the life she lived and loved, it’s those last three years that are imprinted on my mind.

  1. Zubin Kabraji says:

    Old age calls for patience – more from those who look after than those who need to be looked after.Both my parents died of old age, but what you say of your Mother, I can recall of my father. For a man who commanded the respect of thousands of soldiers he commanded, in the end it was a hard struggle to respect the losing battle of a fading memory.We all need to consider this because first we have to take care of those who took care of us, before succumbing to the same set of conditions.

  2. Anonymous says:

    I remember meeting your mother a few times in Poona. Never really got to know her well because I rarely came to Pimpri but I recall watching a film with her in the old West End theatre. I think it was 'Darling Lili'. I think I remarked to Babu once that Mohan Sinha's mother is a such a genteel, well-read and intelligent person and a blithe spirit – what the hell happened to Mohan Sinha? I knew she had passed away some years ago but I didn't know she had suffered from Alzheimer's. Its an unforgiving and harrowing disease both for the sufferer and those looking after her. It's best to remember the departed as they were in their happier heydays than as they were in their declining years. Nandu

  3. Ruchika says:

    I dont know whether to be happy or sad that I triggered off all these memories…

  4. Anonymous says:

    A touching reflection on your Mother's life. I know someone just like her to whom I will send your writing to. Aubrey

  5. Joe Pinto says:

    My dear Sinha,I can feel what you and your family went through: seeing your mother in decline. The same process of senile old age occurred with my father-in-law, who was one of Maharashtra's most respected freedom-fighters.But I console myself (and I ask you to do likewise): recollect and think of the great days that you had with her.Above all, because you are lucky to have been trained as a journalist, please write a memoir of your mother. I wrote about my mother on my blog: a five-part memoir. As I wrote it, I relived the great days I shared with her. Now, her-story may be read by my mother's seven grand-children, including our daughter Pallavi.Find some pictures of your mum and post them for us to see. I am going to link this post close to my memoir of my mother on my blog.Thanks, Sinha, for sharing your mum with us. I met her only once when I visited your place in Salunke Vihar, Pune. And she was quiet that day. Now you have brought her to life again for us all.Peace and love,- Joe.Blog: Against the Tide: http://sangatizuzay.blogspot.com/

  6. Anonymous says:

    Very moved by this article.I remember your mom as always being such a great sport, always hospitable and approachable and warm. Didn't realise what an ordeal her last 3 years might have been for her and those around her.God bless,Vinni

  7. Ushnota says:

    i miss my mother too..very moving article Sir..

  8. vidya says:

    i wanted to grow up and become Edathy!! You were so lucky to be brought up by 2 very amazing women. I regretted not seeing her towards the end, but now am happy that i missed out her Alzheimer period. I still recall her as the warm, intelligent and erudite woman i was so much in awe of while growing up.

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