I have seen him, his brothers and sisters do that. I have seen that when I was little and was trifle amused by what I then thought was a kind of acrobatics. Bending and touching at her feet or falling prostrate at her feet whenever they ventured out on a long journey or before engaging in any labour of importance. He, (my father) had asked me and my sister too, to touch her feet (in reverence) before we returned from the summer and mid- term vacations at her place. Which was then a serene, sprawling country side by the sea with copious paddy fields that go beyond the horizon straddling back water canals and meandering rivulets on one side of the hamlet , lush green all over with coconut and areca- nut palms , majestic mango and jack fruit trees standing on the fringes of beautiful fresh water ponds - bearing fruits seldom found even in paradise.
I did not literally imbibe the gesture of obeisance I saw him bear with humility towards his mother. But I have not let a day by , since I have begun using my faculties of thought as an adolescent where I have not gotten off the bed in the morning and began another day without remembering her, my mother, where ever she was- in the same house or elsewhere. Day begins with thought of respect, gratitude and remorse for my many delinquencies as a teenager that have pained her much.
Sometimes I trust that the karmic philosophy is just not a theory but a fact of life. Because perhaps what ails one’s life may be the just requital of what one does to one’s parent – mother in particular. Metaphorical though, makes sound sense to pursue as a matter of good living.
She has been the most cultivated and Spartan of women. Her pictures from the old tell much about her pretty countenance and demeanour, the gracefulness of beauty. This, my sister has not been fortunate to genetically acquire. She was called “mayil peeli chechi” (sister with peacock plumes). Such was the amazing lush, long black hair she had. I remember my elder cousins (father’s nieces) reminisce that they were in awe of her the day she came home to my paternal mother’s as the bride just married. They have told me that they wanted to befriend her as quickly as they could, to touch her. My father’s sisters never had a word of remote resent for her, only admiration and respect ,so were all her relatives in law.
No one had ever spoke ill of her and never have she spoken ill of any. Even the difficulties she encountered in marital life, did not make her succumb to speak ill about my father or reveal even a wee bit about her melancholy. It was not that he was unkind to her .This happened while I was little, may be eight or nine years old. The conversation took place between my maternal grandfather and my mother. Or was it a monologue from him? He was a domineering person as men were more autocratic those days. He did not meet eye to eye with my father and they had mutual dislike. It was some matter that troubled my mother and I saw her weep. She was being admonished by her father (my grandfather) for putting up with my father. He wanted her to separate from him and proclaimed that he had the obligation and the resources to take care of her and her two children. She was not angry with her father for what he wanted her to dare. He in fact understood that of all his six children, it was she who would be with him and not for his wealth. And she was a portrait of decorum even in the most distressful times of her life. We in jest say she is the eponym for tolerance. But she has never forsaken self respect.
She was quite a terror to me sometimes. I now guess that it was more out of her frustrations that she was annoyed with me than my provoking her anger.
The respect that came forth for her from all because of her demenour was conspicuously apparent to me when elder members of the acquaintances, friends and relatives we have one after the other reminded me of not to hurt her by word or deed. This was when they were told that I was to marry a girl from a catholic Christian background. There was this friend and school mate of her who did not mince words in reprimanding me and reminding me about my decision and that in no way must hurt her. And it has not , I’m fortunate!
Genteel as genteel can be,!