By Avinash Gujral

Dear Beeji….

My mother died thirty two years ago. She passed away suddenly one morning while she was reading the newspaper giving us no chance to say a goodbye or be prepared for the loss. She was sixty seven at that time. I am seventy one now. 

For the last few years, I am leading a retired life, after having an active working life for 37 years. With no specific duty hours and no fixed domestic responsibilities now, I often tend to go down the memory lane. Perhaps most people of my age have this habit. While recollecting old memories, the most prominent  picture that keeps coming back to my mind again and again,nowadays ,is that of my mother. And the more I think of her, the more I admire her and am in awe of the woman who raised us. I often wonder at her amazing knowledge of history, mythology, religion and even literature. Her knowledge of varied fields of life simply looks intriguing when I ponder over the fact that in terms of formal education, she had just studied upto middle class. Short-statured and with her pleasantly plump frame, she had a colllossal responsibility of looking after a large family which included her husband, six daughters and a widowed mother-in-law. My father, an army man, remained posted at non-family stations for long spans of time and most of the time she had to handle the family responsibilities single-handedly. But I never saw her fatigued or exhausted, grumbling or cribbing. Always busy with the house-hold chores, she would keep on narrating some or the other story to us. Because of this, we, her daughters, were not only familiar with the names of ’Dhruv’,’ ‘Prehlad’, all Ramayana and Mahabharata characters apart from the sikh Gurus and the saakhis, but also knew every  detail of their stories right from our early childhood days. She never made any formal effort to inculcate great moral values in us, but unknowingly and unconsciously, she was moulding our characters by just narrating the interesting anecdotes from the iives of great men of history and mythology. She was a great story-teller and also had a great sense of humor. 

I remember our cousins often commenting that this ‘aunty’ of ours has a story for every occasion and moment. Actually it was through these stories that we, her daughters, developed an interest and a craving for learning more and more. She was very fond of reading also—of course she could read and write only Punjabi [her mother-tongue]. One of her brothers was a librarian and she would keep borrowing more and more books from his library- so intense was her love for reading. I really wonder now when I look back, how she was able to steal time from her busy routine to read the bulky novels of Nanak Singh, poetry of Amrita Pritam, Bulle Shah, Bhai Veer Singh, Mohan Singh and many more literary stalwarts of  Panjabi literature. She knew almost all ‘epic’ poems of these ‘mahakavis’ by heart and loved reciting them to entertain us. Till today if I am able to remember many epic  lines from these poems , it is mainly because I had heard Beeji (as we addressed her) reciting them time and again during our childhood.

Only a few days ago, waiting for my turn in a doctor’s waiting-room, I saw a young mother teach her little daughter ‘mathematical tables’ and sounds of various animals.The child fumbled again and again and the stress on the faces of both mother and daughter was palpable. The mother daughter bond and exchange again reminded me of my mother and I wondered how she ensured that we all studied and did well academically. Once again my head bowed in reverence.

Beeji was always proud that though she herself was not educated, all her six daughters achieved great success in academics- four being post-graduates and two graduates- daughters of a middle pass mother- no mean feat. Success of her daughters was her biggest accomplishment in life and often she would openly boast about it. She would often say that had her daughters not succeeded in academics, people would have blamed the uneducated mother for it. Such were those times. She always thanked GOD for our success and for answering her prayers. 

Today I feel a great urge to talk to my mother many a times. Maybe I want to tell her once and to the whole world too that she ’our dear Beeji ‘ was the woman behind not just the success of her daughters but also the values and the strength of character she gave each one of us simply by living her life the way she did. 

May your soul rest in peace, dear Beeji !

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