Je phul jhorey, shei to jhorey
Phul to thaakey phutitey,
Bataash taarey uriye ney jay, mati meshay matitey.
A flower that falls, it is the only one that falls
Flowers they keep on blooming
The wind carries it afar, and the earth turns it into earth.
This Bangla song by Rabindranath Tagore was my mother’s favorite while I was growing up. She had a beautiful soaring voice, and always sang without any accompanying instrument, often while cooking dinner or giving me a bath. Her effortless voice floated beyond our cramped apartment, and lingered in my ears even after the time my father returned home and she would stop singing.
My Ma's music was certainly beyond any limitation the world had placed upon her. Just like she herself was.
Malabika. My mother. My rock, my inspiration, my best friend, my hero. Whose spine and spirit has stayed straight and strong even after a life dealing with a difficult marriage, the backbreaking work of a banker, and the immense responsibility of almost singlehandedly bringing me and my brother up in a conservative society. My Ma, who saw Som for the first time, long before we even started dating, and said to me that his clear eyes spoke of his character. It wasn't long before he became her son, long before we were married, and till date, he is able to understand and get through to her in a way even my brother and I cannot.
My Ma took voluntary retirement from her job when she turned fifty, sat in a classroom full of kids ten years younger than her younger son, attended lectures and appeared for exams, for an undergraduate degree in Bangla Literature when she was 58. Then she went on to attend a postgraduate program and attained her Master's degree in Bangla when she was 62. Against the discomfort and sometimes even ridicule of being a "grandma" in a class full of teenagers. she attained what she had set out to do in a culture which is still largely not open to adult learning. All the while taking care of an ailing mother, an aging husband, a busy son, a not-for-profit for destitute women and children, and a house. All for the love of the language and its literature, more than forty years after her undergraduate degree in science. And yes, her grades were higher than mine in both my own BA and MA!
My Ma is my creator, in every nuanced, textured, layered and causal sense of the term. I am passionate because of her, I feel what, why and how I do because of her, I think out of the box and very deep because of her, I care for the world because of her, and I certainly speak and write my mind because of her. She is the purest and noblest soul I know, whose faith in the humaneness of people has been like the saree she wears – it has not acquired a single crease even after being subjected to the rigors of the life and the slurs inflicted upon her by the world. I often say that her teachings run with blood in my veins.
There is absolutely no one else I would think of naming my daughter after, and Raahi Malabika's name was decided seven years before she was born. I have always wanted to have a daughter because of my mother, and I had wished, more than anything else, that I could be the mother to Raahi my mother has been to me.
Ma arrived in Evanston in May 2013, a week after Raahi was born. Raahi was recovering from her surgery from the day after she was born, when my Ma first went to visit her new granddaughter in the NICU. Raahi had an NG tube down her nose for her food, and an IV, and she was sleeping. But as soon as Ma took her in her arms, she wrapped her little finger around Ma's thumb. In that moment, she had her grandma wrapped around her little finger forever.
Despite her steadfast conviction that she would be able to bring Raahi home before she left Evanston in July 2013, my mother was not able to. She bid her Shonadidi (my mother’s term of endearment for Raahi) goodbye in a curtained NICU nursery, and Raahi looked at her with a soul-piercing look that shook me, as I peeked from behind the curtain so as not to distract them. My Ma emerged a few minutes later, saying, "The way she was looking at me, it's like she knows she will not see Dimma for a while. But I will not cry, since I will see her soon." Now we know, Raahi was not bidding her Dimma goodbye until she saw her again. She was looking at her Dimma with such all-knowing eyes, since she was bidding her goodbye forever.
As my mother left, she said to Som and me that she was leaving, really leaving, a part of her back in the US like she had never done before. She would remain in Raahi, in her name. She would remain in the US, and she would remain in the time when she would be gone from earth. You see, Raahi Malabika Dey-Sen contained Malabika Sen, just like her Shonadidi contained her Dimma in her heart. They were bound forever in name and spirit.
Exactly three weeks after my mother left, Raahi left forever, and all wheels turned, exploded into pieces, and our lives came to a screeching halt. As our sense of time, space and everything we ever knew as true collapsed into a dead heap, my mother never returned to the US, and for months afterward, she could not speak with me, collapsing in surging tears every time she heard my voice. She appeared for her MA finals within weeks after Raahi's death, not able to delay them further, as she had once postponed them to come to the US while Raahi was at the hospital. She passed with good grades. She continued forging new paths and taking care of everyone, including me. But she got weaker, aged ten years, and her spine and her spirit, once straight and strong, were now broken beyond repair.
Her daily routine now included talking to her Shonadidi in the stars.
Tomorrow my Ma sets foot on the US soil again. She will come to us for a few weeks, in a new town, in a new house, and we will see her more than three years later. Three years since I have hugged and held my mother. Three years since we have wept on each other's shoulders.
My mother departed from the town where her Shonadidi was born. She arrives tomorrow at the town where her Shonadidi died. Where there is a cemetery with a spot for the fallen flower, where the earth has turned her to earth. Where there is a hotel she breathed her last in, withering and falling into an everlasting sleep, and a hospital where she was taken to that morning and pronounced dead in. Where there is a life we have built after our lives were broken in half.
Ma returns to us. To me, her daughter, who she created and nurtured my entire life. To Som, who is a son to her in spirit. To her Shonadada Aahir, whose Christmas list, the setting up of the tree, and everything important in life is waiting for his Dimma's arrival.
And yes, to her Shonadidi Raahi, whose name, strength, and story are, and will forever remain, in her Dimma. Who is the flower her Dimma sings of, and whose fragrance remains in that music.
Tell us about your mother. How was your relationship with her growing up? What role has she played in your own identity as a parent? How has she, and/or her relationship with you changed since the loss of your child(ren)? How do you trace the legacy from her, through you, to your child(ren)?