Friday, September 2, 2016

Being there

Yesterday was Pithori Amavasya also celebrated as "Matrudin" or Mother's Day in the Hindu calendar. Found out it was that day yesterday while browsing something online. I typically am unable to differentiate most "special" days in the Hindu calendar from each other, mainly as there are so many. The treasured (by many Maharashtrians) "Kaalanirnay" almanac is treasured the most by my dear mother-in-law. But I am sure she has her very own in-built Kaalanirnay app embedded in her system. I know this because even when she is without her Kaalnirnay copy...such as this time when she forgot it in India during the last trip there (so now our house in India has two copies and no one in the house to be reminded of all those days), she still knows most of the many "special days" we have that can be potentially observed as festivals / auspicious days. I think it's her wonderful tracking mechanism that just lets her know how many days are past the full moon or no moon. And then the days get automatically tracked somewhere in her super system. And all this even though the exact date of the Roman calendar may not always be known to her. I never cease to be amazed at it. So for instance, I had heard from her a couple days ago that Thursday was "Pola" a special day marked in Maharashtra's villages when bulls have been traditionally worshipped for their immense contribution to farming. But I hadn't heard from her about Pithori Amavasya so when I found out it was, a lot of memories came flooding in. 
Pithori Amavasya brought to mind vivid pictures of childhood when in our family, it was celebrated as "Matrudin" or Mothers Day. On this day, Aai (as we called my mum) would have a fixed menu she would make - "ukdiche modak" (sweet steamed dumplings made with a rice flour cover and coconut and jaggery filling), a sautéed green peas and coconut vegetable dish, rice kheer and varan-bhaat (varan, a simple dal made with toor dal, served with rice and a dollop of homemade ghee on top). She made this every year, irrespective of whether it was a week day or not. She'd get back from work and make all these dishes hot and steaming, serve the food on a banana leaf on a plate - for my brother and me.
And then my mother would sit down on a flat wooden seat in front of the "devgarh" (the place of worship in the house) and place the plate on her head with both her hands. My brother would stand behind her, also holding the plate, both his hands resting on hers. And then she would ask him:
"Jali asta haath dey
Vani asta saath dey
Majhya paathi maage kon aahe?"
And he answered with:
"Mee aahe!"
Roughly translated, it will read as follows (though the translation really does take the poetic warmth and charm out of it)
"If I'm in water, and in need of a hand
If I'm in the forest, and in need of company
Who is behind me?"
And answer was: "I am!"
And she would ask this thrice totally and he would answer thrice. And then she would pass the plate to my brother. 
And then she would take the second plate, and I would stand behind her in the same manner and the verse would be repeated with me. And then both my brother and I would proceed to enjoy the steaming hot delicacies made by her. 
This simple gesture was done every year on Pithori Amavasya day and we always observed this as Matrudin or Mothers Day. I always thought this was the sweetest thing we did and said to our mother. When we said what we did...all saying it three times and felt like we were making a solemn promise to ourselves. That whatever happens, we will be there for her. That when in need, we are there to take care of her. 
If we had a visiting cousin (since my uncles and aunts lived closeby) or a friend who happened to be there that evening or was staying with us, banana leaf plates would be prepared for them too. And they too would get to say the "Mee ahe!" if they wanted to. 
As we had always done this in our home and some of my other aunts also observed it in a similar manner in their homes, I came to believe it was passed down from my father's mother to her daughters-in-law. I hadn't seen this practice observed at my in-laws and after I had children, somehow with the demands on time, I never got around to observe Mother's Day in this special and beautiful way at my own home. Do you know if Mother's Day was traditionally observed like this or any other way anywhere else too in India? Would love to hear from you. 
And on this Mother's Day, I'd like to wish a Happy Mother's Day to all the wonderful people here who end up playing motherly roles for various people in their lives. Coz the more I pay attention to that verse we recited as children, wasn't it about "being there" as parents for our parents in their time of need...whatever that need would come up mean. And I've come to understand that "mother" or "child" does not just come from who you're born to...or who you've given birth to...or from whether you're a man or woman. 
It's so much more than that. Coz who we are mother to or child to comes as much from "being there" for someone in their time of need. I've come to understand that that someone could be anyone..our parents, our spouse's parents, a friend, a relative, a stranger...Also our parents may become not only children to us at some time, but as they are adult children and our erstwhile parents too, they can be quite stubborn children to us. 
I've come to understand that "being there" for someone in their time of need is a privilege as well as an opportunity we all get at some or the other time in our lives. And we need to remember that when someone is in need, they don't always like it that they're in need. They'd much rather be able to fend for themselves and take care of themselves. So the grace with which we are there for someone matters as much as being there for someone. How we deal with it, with them and most importantly with it all in our minds...THAT makes the difference. That's not to say being there for someone with grace means it will all make it easy...that we won't get frustrated or tired sometimes. That our routine will not be disturbed. That our little cocoon of life we've built for ourselves with such pain and effort will not be disrupted to some or more degree. But if we can just bring in the perspective that their time of need will in the long term come to pass, and our routine and cocoon of life will fall back in place, we can bring in grace to our being there and to our care giving. 
Having recently myself been in a position to be there for someone, but in my act of giving also needing to be a child to someone, I can only feel immense gratitude for both - the opportunity to be there for someone, and for the friend who mothered me in my time of need. 
"If I'm in water, and in need of a hand
If I'm in the forest, and in need of company
Who is behind me?"
And the answer for me and for that mother-friend of mine was: "I am!"

With my love to all,

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