Elegy to my mum




My mother would be bemused by some of the “Feminists” of today. She just took for granted the equality of all creatures, great and small. In a male dominated environment, she was at home among educators, parish groups and community at large, ignoring the gender differences that may have existed. She mixed it with the best at Bridge, badminton, academic discussions and social action. She had a large heart and she gave from it unreservedly, always with a smile and genuine concern. It earned her the nick name of “Crackers”. And, she wore it proudly as though a badge.

A simple girl from a remote place in the Indian Himalayas, she graduated with a bachelors’ degree in education when few women ever went beyond matriculation. As a young graduate she was appointed Assistant Principal at a girl’s middle school. She gave up the job to marry, have children and play housewife to a district official. After ten years, with the family situation and the need to be self-sufficient she re-entered the world of teaching. Gifted and flexible, she responded to the needs of the school, teaching classes, when necessary, from the primary level to final year secondary students. Out of the classroom, she coached in sports like rounders and and net ball. She directed plays for the annual concerts. She helped introducing debating and elocutions to the school.
The school authorities, with a missionary bias, relied on her to fill many technical and skills gaps in its administration. She would prepare things like the school timetable. She coached and mentored many young people, preparing them for teaching careers of their own. When the headmistress of the kindergarten left, the authorities turned to her to fill a big void. She threw herself into it just as she did in all things; imbibing emerging methods of teaching the “Three Rs”. She then disseminated the skills among other members of the staff. Vacations and off times were dedicated to the institution she loved. She went out of her way to help in the establishment of sister schools in Meerut and New Delhi.
The parish priest and the nuns at the local convent knew they could call on her assistance when necessary. They knew mum could approach district and education authorities through her contacts. But, her circle of friends went beyond the Parish and school. Her friendships went across religious groups, communities and social status; people who could rely on her as much as she relied on them.
As an activist she started early. While a school girl, she earned a reprimand from the Father of the Nation, Mahatma Gandhi, for arranging civic action against grog shops in her town. In a post card he admonished her to give up the protest and return instead to her books. Later, as a young woman she was an organiser of a strike by the Agra city cleaners. She lamented the action because it caused a stink around the city. She continued to help the marginalised through her life. At one stage she was being wooed for support by two rival political parties as a potential voter winner.
For all this she was rewarded by a large crowd that materialised at her funeral to pay their final respects.