Today is JANMASHTAMI and as the Hindus all over the world celebrate Bhagawan Krishna’s birthday, my thoughts wander to the ageless, timeless and immortal stories of Bhagawan Krishna and his life. His biological parents were Vasudeva and Devaki but he was brought up in the house of Nanda and Yashoda. Thus they were his non-biological parents. I always wondered, why Yashoda Mata got preference over Devaki Mata? Why a non-biological mother was more revered than the biological mother? I had no clue to this conundrum during my childhood. But as I am getting older, I am gradually finding answers to many of my childhood queries. And today, when the world celebrates JANMASHTAMI, I think I know the answer. Now I realize why Yashoda Mata is more revered than Devaki Mata. Today, as I am fasting and celebrating JANMASHTAMI, I suddenly remember my own non-biological mother. I was only 6 years old when she died, but I vividly remember her selfless love, which she showered on me and my two brothers. ( My two sisters were born after her death ) Till today I remember her meticulous care, with which she brought us up. I remember all the troubles which she took happily and voluntarily for the upbringing of me and my two brothers. For us she did everything which was needed and required, though we were not her biological sons. I used to call her Maa and she nicknamed me babu.
Her name was Raj Kishori Devi and she was born and brought up in Shahpur Patori, Patna, Bihar in the early years of 1900. Her father Shri Dwarka Nath Tiwari was immensely rich and was a very influential landlord of Shahpur Patori. This place, now a railway station, still exists in between two districts, Hajipur and Patna in Bihar. During my childhood I have heard several stories about the wealth and fame of her father. When my father’s barat ( marriage procession ) reached Patori, dozens of sacks of sugar were emptied in the family well of Tiwaris to sweeten it’s water. It was a well contemplated gesture on their part. They thought that no barati should ask for sherbet in the scorching heat of Bihar. It should be made available to them as per their need and desire. The stories of her father’s affluence are many. A palang, which was given to her by her parents, is there in my Deoria house till today. Even after years of neglect, It still exists as a silent testimony of the opulence and luxury of the Tiwaris of Shahpur Patori. The photo I am posting here, shows her father ( extreme right )along with his friends in hunters attire. It clearly depicts the kind of life he was leading and was accustomed to. Along with Maa, I went to Shahpur Patori once. I still have faint memory of that visit. Sepia toned memories of her huge house lingers in my memory till today. If I ever visit her house, I can recognize the interiors easily.
After her marriage, she adjusted very well in her new home, though in those days our family was poorer than her own family. From her huge, pucca house of Patori, she came to our Sonbarsa house made of tiles and mud. It must have been very difficult for her, but she never complained. She had a class of her own, while we had none. She was well read and was deeply influenced by Bengali culture and language. Occasionally she used to dress like Bengalis. Her photo, which I have posted above, shows her in a Bengali style Sari. Apart from Bhojpuri and Hindi, she was fluent in Bengali language. In those days of early 1900, when educating a girl child was not a priority, in fact a taboo, it speaks volumes that her father took care to educate her properly. She used to subscribe many magazines and newspapers, which she used to read during the windy winter and scorching summer afternoons.
When she came to our family after marriage, my father scaled new heights of success and glory. He constructed palatial houses at Gorakhpur and Deoria and as an advocate reached to dizzying heights. Only sad note in this fairy tale was that she had no issue. When she got to know that she cannot conceive, she willingly and gracefully allowed her husband to remarry. Thus my father got married to my biological mother and we were born. The photo of our Deoria house ( Krishna Kunj ), which I am posting here, shows her standing in the veranda on the first floor. She was matriarch of the family in true sense of the term. As I have stated above, she took charge of me and my two brothers willingly. She had great influence on me. Love for books and fetish for pens are her influence, which I still have. Love of Bengali food, language and culture, which I have, is only because of her. I remember my first day in the school. I was admitted to City Montessory School, which in those days, was being run in Kanhaiya Kutir. This is a house of one of my uncles, which still exists on Katchery Road, Deoria. When I returned from the school, Maa was waiting for me anxiously with all the delicacies, which she herself prepared. Day after day same routine, same pattern followed. She was always there to cuddle me without fail and that too before my biological mother. Here I am posting a photo of me and my two brothers along with her and my biological mother. Maa is standing just behind me. You have to see her body language and her eyes to understand her feelings and love for us.
Approximately between 1957 and 1958, she lost her mental balance and was often quarantined in her room. Incidentally, now I occupy her room. Even in that condition, she never became violent. She used to sit calmly and silently in her room, lost in her thoughts. She was always very reticent, very calm but now I know that her silence of those days was different. For almost a year she never talked to anyone. Never ever she demanded anything from anybody. I often used to peep into her room but she could not recognize me. I was used to her cuddle, so I sneaked into her room again and again and looked at her face but there was no trace of recognition in her eyes. She never responded to my smiles, never hold me in her arms. Little did I realize that very soon a chapter of my life is going to be closed for ever. A vaidya ( Ayurvedic Doctor ) was appointed to look after her but her condition never got improved. It worsened. Later on she lost sense of everything. Sometimes she used to sit in her room without even clothes. But never ever she got violent.
It was summer of 1958. I was sleeping on the first floor terrace of my house. I woke up in the morning and saw my Maa lying on the ground in a corner of the terrace. She was calm and silent as usual. My father was reciting shlokas of Geeta and there were so many people standing there with concerned and anxious looks. I had severe pain in my ears since so many days and suddenly that morning everything was okay. There was no pain. I left my cot and started looking at her with bewilderment. Why is she lying on the ground? She was revered, she was matriarch of the family, everyone called her Dulhin Ji, even my father addressed her with that pet name. Several rituals were performed and Maa was lifted by all the assembled men and they started taking her out of the house. I realized something was wrong but since I was only 6 years old, I didn’t understand that she was dead and was being taken out of the house for cremation. Little did I realize that she won’t be back again. Little did I realize that there won’t be a Maa again in my life. It was the first death in my life and I still remember her calm face and closed eyes. Yes, she died young. Yes, she died without having her own sons. But she died, when my father was at the pinnacle of his career. She died, when everyone was alive and our Deoria house ( Krishna Kunj )was full of people. It was full of their boisterous laughter. And her Patori house was yet to be sold and it still belonged to her brother ( Goni Mama ). Fortunately she died without knowing the fate of her mayaka. They fell to bad days after her death. The huge mansion, which her father built, was sold. Acres and acres of orchards of Mango and Leechi were wagered and later on sold by Goni Mama. Finally he died in the early years of 1970 in abject poverty. Fortunately Maa did not see this. She died without any regrets. She passed away when everything was good. But she passed away when I was too young and my brothers were tiny tots. She loved us but we could not do anything in return. We could not even say, Maa, we love you too.
I have heard so many stories about stepmothers and the relations they have with their stepsons. Here as I am sitting and writing this blog on JANMASHTAMI day, I submit that I was lucky to have a mother, who was not my biological mother but she was never a stepmother either. In fact she was more than a mother.
It is July 13, 2009. It is 12.00 in the night. Outside, people are celebrating Krishna’s birth with firecrackers and chanting of hymns. I am glad this JANMASHTAMI I found the answer of one question, which always alluded me. Why Yashoda Mata got more respect than Devaki Mata? It is for selflessly loving someone, who is not your own. It is about not expecting anything in return. It is about not demanding any payback. Maa was exactly that. My brothers definitely do not remember her. They were too young to remember anything. One was 4 years old and the other only 2 years. But I know that they got unflinching love from Maa, which they didn’t experience ever.
On July 19, 2009, when I was writing my blog about my grandfather on the occasion of his 50th death anniversary, I suddenly realized that I forgot Maa’s 50th death anniversary. She died in 1958 and in the summer of 2008, it was her 50th death anniversary. I forgot it completely. She loved me from the bottom of her heart and I failed to remember her death anniversary. In fact, I forgot to remember a part of my life. She was my stepmother, but she never ever behaved like a stepmother. I am her stepson, and I truly and definitely behaved like a stepson. I am an ungrateful stepson and I shall always be ashamed of my behaviour. This shame is not going to erode and corrode as long as I am alive.
I know if I could ever meet her and express my regret, she will smile and say in Bhojpuri, “ kauno baat naahi babu. Socha mat. ” ( No problem babu. Don’t think too much ) This was her pet sentence for every folly of mine. She was always a forgiving mother for me and I am a shameless, ungrateful stepson.
[ I wrote this blog yesterday. But today I added few more things, which I remembered last night after completing the blog. Hence I am posting it today. ]
Filed under: Memoirs