One Life, Many Mothers

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Reading Time: 5 minutes

Arindam pays a tribute to his many mothers on Mother’s Day. He also tells us of a man with 81 mothers.

“How can he have so many mothers?” A divisional accountant general, administration (DAG-Admin.), Ramam (name changed), thundered.

He sounded exasperated. This was many moons ago. He was speaking about a wily employee, Ganesh (name changed), to his peers. This is a real story of the AG Office, Allahabad, as told to me by a DAG friend.

Everyone knew that Ganesh was cunning, with wit and a sharp tongue. He was best avoided. This was the mantra among senior officers.

But, Ramam, a forthright and strict officer, would not have any of these. He instructed his personal staff to get Ganesh’s file and go through it with a fine comb. He was in service for nearly two decades by then. A leave application of Ganesh triggered Raman’s rage. Third time in ten days he had stated, “Kripa ek din ka awkash pradaan kareN. Mere Mata ji ka dehant ho gaya hai (Please grant a day’s leave. My mother has passed away).” With Ramam’s working knowledge of Hindi, his inference rightfully was how his mother could die thrice in 10 days!

After toiling for a month, grudgingly, his staff had submitted him the elaborate tabulation – at that time computer and spreadsheets were not in vogue. In a little over 19 years of service, Ganesh’s mother(s) had died 81 times!


Ramam was hopping like a cat on a hot tin roof. The DAG Admin. Was insistent on issuing a show cause notice, followed by suspension, thorough enquiry and dismissal of that scoundrel called Ganesh.

His peers dissuaded him. But, he was not ready to relent. However, he heeded to the advice of a senior and decided to seek a verbal explanation from Ganesh before initiating the disciplinary action against him. He was also advised that he should have some of his fellow officers with him, in his chamber, as possible alibi, when Ganesh was summoned.

Though Ramam did not quite understand why so much caution was advised, he agreed to do as advised. That evening, at 4pm, he and three other officers, were having tea in his chamber. Immediately after, Ramam asked his staff to summon Ganesh.

When Ganesh came in, bowing respectfully to all, an epitome of politeness, Ramam asked him, sternly, “How many mothers you have?”. Wily Ganesh got the flow. He answered, “Sir, aap logon k jaise, sirf ek (Sir, like you all, just one.”).

Ramam pushed the tabulation sheets towards him. Ganesh said, “Aap do saal pehle ka November 10 tarik dekheN. WahaN mainey likha mere Amma ka dehant. (Please see Nov 10 two years back. There I wrote my Amma passed away).”

Ramam took back the sheets. Fluttered through pages and asked, “Toh kya? (So what?).”

Ganesh smiled triumphantly and added, still more polite. “Hum badi budhi mahilao ko aadar se ‘Mata ji’ kehte hai. Aap logon mey kya kahaN jata hai, pata nahi, Sahib (We respectfully address elderly women as ‘Mata ji’. Am not aware what you call thee, Sahib).

Ramam was visibly confused. His faux pas had backfired.

On a serious note, it may sound strange to many but in India, it’s possible for a person to have 81 mothers.

On this Mother’s day, I recall that unlike Ganesh I did not have 81 mothers. I was brought up by three mothers.

Here’s my childhood story that I look back in glee.

I was born twins. My twin brother died when he was three months old. Sixteen months later, my younger sister was born, and many years later, my youngest sister. We called our biological mother, Mummy. My Jethima (Tai ji, paternal aunt) was our Ma, as her two daughters, our cousins, much elder to me, addressed her.

Being the only son in my father’s family, I was Ma’s apple of the eye. On very rare occasions, when Ma was very happy with me, she would endearingly call me ‘Madhya Mani’ (centerpiece jewel) – with two sisters on either side. Cousin is not what we ever considered them. Brought up in a joint family, all of us were brothers and sisters – this is something that the Western mind cannot comprehend fully.

Ma was blatantly partial towards me. She would stealthily feed me the best fish piece, the best portions of the fruit or anything that she cooked lovingly. She would also instruct and caution me not to say a word of it to anyone.

When Mummy would feed all of us, she immediately would guess that I had been fed a while back. She would fight with Ma for being partial towards me. Interestingly, Mummy fought tooth and nail for the rights of my elder sisters (I loathe to call them cousins). While, Ma would advocate my case, strongly.

When asked why she did what she was doing, Ma, a flagbearer of the patriarchal system, perhaps unknowingly, would say in her Bangal dialect, “Erey khawaitam na toh kare khawaitm re. Amar sorgey bati deb keda? Baiman guli, kokil e r bachcha guli toh jaiboga (If I don’t feed him who do I feed then. Who will hold a lamp to my heaven? These ungrateful, cuckoo’s nestlings will fly away).

While Mummy would argue that all these would instill wrong values in me and might make me a monster. That I would not learn to respect women. Both mothers had their reasons.

There was parity in being partial.

For many years, Ma would bathe and feed me. I slept with her too. In fact, Ma’s Bhabi (elder brother’s wife), came to know that I was not her biological son after I passed my High School. This she told me later. How amazing!

Other than the two mothers at home, I had two other mothers in my childhood. As a toddler of a year or two, I would invariably slip into the home of our next door neighbor, the Sharma family, who I lisped as ‘Maiya’, somewhat similar to Munna Bhaiya (her son’s) Mai. She fed me and put me to sleep. I refused to eat from my two mothers at home. I had no recollection of this but my two mothers and elder sisters told me about it.

I continued calling her Maiya even when I grew up.

When I was three, my father was allotted a much larger house. We moved away from Third Avenue to First Avenue.

Here, our neighbour was a Muslim family. While Anjum and I were same agers, my younger sister, Jhunu and Guddu were same agers too. We called Anjum and Guddu’s mother as ‘Ammi’, while they called my mother and Tai ji, Mummy and Ma.

I have faint recollections how four of us would clamber and be all over Ammi. During holidays, in particular, if we were playing in any of the two homes, Ammi or Mummy would feed us all.

All my four mothers are in the heavens. They are shining like bright stars – as we were told in our childhood. I bow to them in loving reverence.

But, I have a Little Mother with me. That’s what I call my daughter, Ishita.

Mothers never die!

©Arindam Roy

Pix from Net.

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