Centre Fresh: Snigdha Agrawal

Snigdha Agrawal
A jumble of thoughts comes to my mind whenever I need to pay homage to a woman I call 'Mother of mine'. Untangling takes a while... so best to start with untying the first knot to the events preceding my birth, as heard.

Episode 1

Hailing from a prosperous Zamindar family of Kashipur, erstwhile East Bengal, at eighteen she was married to my father.  I was told what went in his favour was his long Brahmin lineage of erudite ancestors of West Bengal. Marriage changed her status overnight to 'Boro Boudi' (eldest sister-in-law) to Baba's four younger brothers.  Youngest the same age as hers. 

"Yes...I was mercilessly ragged for being fat, for being naive about urban life" she says with a smile. "I never took the bait nor protested.  Your father, the ever-indulgent elder brother, did not see anything wrong in their behaviour.  Passed it off as rapscallion.   But your grandmother called the shots in the house.  Once she overheard one of them teasing me for serving undercooked rice. Promptly she came to my rescue and severely chastised them. That put an end to all their goofy harassment. Thereafter everything fell into place.  I was accorded the respect commensurate with my position in the joint family.  Your three uncles older than me, never again, were critical of my actions or inactions". 

That was the first glimpse of the woman whose sparks of 'shakti' (embodying patience) showed up, glittering like stardust.

Episode 2

She gave birth to four girls. Nurtured and brought them up with all the care of a loving mother. 

"Didn't you regret not having a son?" I once asked. Unfazed she replied "Without women, there would be no creation and that would be the end of mankind. Your Baba considers us women as his powerhouse of strength." A Māori quote better sums up her thoughts…Without women and without land, humanity is lost.

Not all was hunky dory in her life.  There were phases when she went through loss and hardship. Accepting her circumstances stoically, she moved on uncomplaining. The worst was having to deal with a house break incident, by none other than the trusted family servant, running off with all her gold ornaments.  And to add to her miseries, this period coincided with Baba losing his job. She could have turned to her father for financial support. Nope!  Made of sterner stuff, she found ways to bring food to the table, to feed her family.

The 'Shakti' in her fought with what fate had doled

Episode 3

1979 was a tumultuous year. While I welcomed my firstborn, ironically, she lost her firstborn.  Both parents had a hard time processing the situation.  Shock waves washed over them chipping away the beliefs they held.  Baba announced his desire to leave in search of a spiritual quest. Deeply Brahmanical in their ways, unlike Baba, Ma declined to accompany him on his spiritual journeys.  To her, religion had a different connotation. As she maintained, the path to righteousness could be found in the here and now, amidst her children and grandchildren, whom she adored.  The long-distance relationship between Baba and Ma continued with him visiting us occasionally.  He had his reasons, she had hers and both respected each other's decisions.

Episode 4
Just one month short of her fiftieth wedding anniversary in 1990, Baba passed.  The parting in her hair looked grossly naked without the red thick vermillion.  She turned vegetarian and her wardrobe changed to white as a  consequence of her revised marital status.  Persuasion to revert did not work. Grief and its elongated shadow hovered over her and us for a long time. And by the time she settled down, the next axe fell, with her losing her second-born.  This time she was prepared so, the shock was less impactful.  And throughout these tragedies, she never lost faith in God, going through the rituals of her morning and evening prayers with equal fervour and conviction that 'what was meant to be, will be'.  Exuding happiness, she was like centre fresh peppermint with an inside softness, bursting with freshness. 

A woman whose only mission in life was to serve her family.  A woman whose presence brought peace and a sense of harmony.  A woman who never stopped smiling.  Even death, could not rob her of that beatific smile. 

She epitomises 'Stree Shakti' in every sense of the term. Whoever knew Ma, had this to say "shayang Ma Durga" (depiction of Goddess Durga).  My 'Durga', 'Kali', 'Lakshmi' 'Saraswati' all rolled into one, passed away in 2003 at the age of 84, leaving behind a huge void in our lives. Even in the darkness, she was the candle that glowed.

And now with her gone, her absence is acutely felt whenever festivities start and end.  She played a pivotal role in taking us step by step through the rituals to be performed without fault.

Come Diwali, Lakshmi, and Ganesh idols had to be carefully selected. Sans chips and having well-defined features. And perchance if she noticed any defects, her hands would repair the damage or insist they be replaced.

Bathed and dressed, she made all the arrangements with great attention to detail. God and Goddess lovingly placed on a platform raised, covered with red cloth, gold braided, and swastika embedded.  Back bent over, drew intricate rangoli around it.

As per societal diktats, sat behind us, lips moving silently in prayers while ringing the 'ghanti' with her right hand. Keeping tune to the devotional songs, sung in praise.

As our bodies bend with age, we feel the loss of our pillar of strength. Gone seventeen years, leaving us bereft. A woman of steel didn't allow personal tragedies or sorrow on her face to reflect on joyous occasions. Overly conscious of bottling up emotions, while I am sure memories kept rushing to the surface.

Thus, continued with the business of living. A constant source of mental sustenance. Moving gracefully, adapting to change, without compromising on old age values held. Every festival her image floats before the Temple in the wall recess. To us, Goddess in human form she represented.

You are missed, every day, on every festive occasion...Diwali, Dusshera, Christmas, New Year. A trouper all the way,  participated in all events, holding back her sorrows, I guess. A truly selfless person.

The sound of the 'Ghanti" rings differently today.  No one has the lung power to blow the conch shell like she did, loud and long invocating God's presence. 

'Ghanti' brass prayer bell

Bio: Snigdha Agrawal is a Bengali born and raised in a cosmopolitan environment.  Educated in Loreto Institutions, with an MBA from IGNOU, New Delhi, she has worked in the Corporate sector for over two decades.  This has broadened her outlook on life as reflected in her writings.

She writes in all genres;  poetry, prose, short stories, travelogues, hotel, and restaurant reviews. A published writer of two books of poems, and a book of short stories for children, her fourth book of short stories recently published is for all mindsets... from the conservative to the radical. She is a regular contributor to anthologies/online magazines, published in India and the USA.

A septuagenarian, second to writing is her passion for travel.  Her travel diaries are accessible in the WordPress blog randomramblings52.  A reviewer on Tripadvisor, she posts under the pen name 'puchka'. 

She lives with her husband in Bangalore, India.

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