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Living At Constance Lodge—-Part 5

She used to be in the kitchen and the aroma of preparations for the breakfast wafting through the air aroused my hunger. She had a lot of work to do in the morning as four of her children and a short-tempered husband had to be served the breakfast and all of them had to be given their lunch packs on time. The breakfast invariably was Paranthas with egg preparation of choice. It wasn’t easy as such but that wasn’t all. The children were young, some very young too. They needed help for dressing up, even assistance for finding the things they needed, because the house was a two-room tenement. It had no shelves or cupboards for keeping things. She didn’t have any maid to help her with her chores. The clothes were washed regularly by her, though not on all days but perhaps on alternated days.

The water had to be fetched from a community tap in buckets. It wasn’t very far from our apartment but it wasn’t inside it. The weather in Shimla round the year is not work friendly and the water that runs out of the taps is cold, often too cold to touch and so cold in winters that it sometimes freezes in the supply lines. Moreover, water in Shimla has always been a luxury. Few can see it come out of the tap when they open it. It might have been a shade better then what it is now but even in the 1960s, the timings of its supply were severely restricted. When I was a child, I think it used to come for only for a few hours in the morning.

We were lucky to have a baoli of Shiv Mandir to fall back upon in case of extreme emergency, but that was a hundred meters away from our cottage and the road leading to it was unpaved, rocky and inclined as most footpaths cut on the hills are. Moreover, I don’t remember if I ever fetched the water from there to help my mother.

There was no luxury of washing machines and geysers available at least none had it in the Constance Lodge. Some people we had heard had coal fired Hamams, but we didn’t have any such arrangement for heating up water or the rooms at home. Our mother could heat water on coal stove in pots if she found it too cold to touch. We don’t know if she did that because, we would go to school in the morning and come back late in the afternoon. From the vestigial fragments of her speech still stored in my memory, I now know that she used hot water for washing “gilaf” (Quilt covers) or bed sheets and towels. But she washed all clothes big and small herself, put them out for drying out in the sun and then collected and kept them away.

Constance Lodge had a sunny side and fortunately we lived in one of those quarters where the sun shone all day. So, she could put the clothes she washed for drying out in sun on the grassy slopes and uneven stretches around the house. She never asked us to help her and we never thought that it was necessary, but the laundry wasn’t folded and segregated. It was dumped in a pile on a bamboo chair kept in the back room for the purpose. One had to look for the things one needed and in the course of his mission he/she had to be careful to give due respect to the belongings of other people he shared the small space with or a serious fight could erupt without notice. As such the issues were always there and cold war over the unsettled issues of the previous days needed a spark for blowing up in to full-fledged fist-fight and the arguments could get serious quickly, because use of the tongue was permitted but employing other weapons like hands, nails, legs and teeth was strictly prohibited.

There could be threats about disclosing about the misadventures and even the seriousness of execution of threats was at times demonstrated by calling the mother out loud. Initiating the process of telling about all but halting just at the point where maximum advantage could be extracted was a time tested tool used for extortion. The demands could vary from being fair enough like mutual agreement to secrecy to outrageous as asking for returning the sum borrowed from the pocket money by the sibling who never had any use of it in the first place. Every coin she got would end up in her bugnee, everyone knew but if she was the aggrieved party at a particular moment, it was hard to strike a compromise.

Mom was always there to take care of that and intervene before things could get out of control.  She didn’t have many hands like they are depicted on the idols of Goddess Mother, but the work she used to do was not possible with just a set of two that she had. Those multiple hands on the idols are symbolic but she was real, tangible, living creature like any of us, made of flesh and blood, one who breathed and feel like us, but to us she was a real Goddess incarnate.

All goddess mothers in Hindu mythology are depicted as delicate featured but she as one or many in all her swaroopas is believed to be omnipotent, omnipresent and omniscient. Hundreds of adjectives that are used to describe her are considered not enough. Our mother was a puny woman, delicate in health, slight in physique and mild of temperament, but she must be having some hidden inner strength, the blessing of Durga, that helped her do the tough task of bringing us up with remarkable sangfroid. She had the blessings of Goddess Saraswati too. She had a calligraphic handwriting and together in the bed with three of us (except the eldest sister), she would teach different subjects to us simultaneously, while reading a novel of “Gulshan Nanda” or some other Hindi writers of those times. I used to get her those books on rent from a shop in Kaithu Bazaar.

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Navneet Bakshi

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Ushasurya
1 month ago

yes..Mothers wre multitasking those days without a murmur and today we have maids to knead the roti aatta and cut vegetables..Still modern girls – many of them – complain of having heaps of domestic work..Now, late in life I keep wishing I HAD HELPED HER A LITTLE AT LEAST !!!

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