[After reading Shamsur Rahman’s poem "I never heard my mother singing", my friend Mani shared with me his reminiscences about his mother. I found it fascinating for two reasons. Firstly, it is a beautifully written account of a very special person. Secondly, after reading Mani’s story, it seemed Shamsur Rahman of Bangladesh wrote not only about his own mother, but also about a woman from Kerala who lived in a different time and space. I am honoured to share Mani’s story with my readers. If you haven’t read the poem, I would suggest you scroll down to read it first before you read this.]
Reading your translation of Shamsur Rahman's poignant poem brought back memories of my own mother. She passed away in 1989, leaving my father, me and my wife totally devastated. Especially my wife. My mother and she had shared a relationship that transcended the conventional 'saas-bahu' one. They were good friends.
My mother's education, like many young girls' of her time, had come to a screeching halt after she passed her 6th form (Matric). At the age of 21, she came to Bombay as a bride. Having been brought up in Kerala and Madras State, Hindi was a totally alien language for her. Alien, yes. An insurmountable challenge? No! Though she was never a movie buff, she was a walkie-talkie encyclopaedia of old Hindi film songs. You just had to hum a tune and pat would come the name of the movie, the lead pair, the music director and the playback singer/s!
Till date, I haven’t seen anyone read a newspaper the way she did. She would devour ‘The Hindu’ from the masthead to the last page. Naturally, her general knowledge was very good.
She loved to play Scrabble with my father. My father spoke excellent English. My mother spoke just passable English. But evening after evening, she trounced him. When she had free time, she would open the old Oxford Dictionary and learn new words. My father used to be amazed by her victories. I guess he must also have been proud of her. But he never mentioned it.
She was a pure vegetarian, but that didn't stop her from trying out non-vegetarian recipes for us. My wife still refers to my mother's file of exotic recipes cut out from various magazines and also, recipes written in her neat handwriting.
A few years ago, we were watching an old Hindi movie where the eldest 'bhabhi' lets slip to her brother-in-law that she not only speaks fluent English but has even gone to college. She makes him promise that he should never reveal this secret to her husband as he was illiterate! It was quite a moving scene. My wife commented that it reminded her of my mother. When I asked her why, she asked me if I ever knew what my mother had secretly yearned for. I had never thought of asking her.
Had she wanted to pursue her studies? Had she ever asked her father? After marriage, had she ever asked her husband? I knew her as a woman who didn't like going out on her own. But had she secretly wanted to do so? Had she wanted to see the latest Hindi movie starring Shammi Kapoor and Saira Banu? Did she ever need a break from her kitchen and ask my father to buy dinner from a nearby restaurant? Did she want to visit the Taj Mahal and travel all over the country?
It makes me feel so guilty that we had never asked. Not once. “Such a long time I lived with her, but never found out.”
[Would you like to share your memories of your mother? I will be delighted if you do.]