Another flickering light went out.This time it was my husband’s mother, my mother in law. She passed away last week at the age of – well, over a hundred years. At first people said she was hundred an four / five. It turned out that even that was not correct. And my brother in law had all the facts to support his claim because she had talked to him about an incident that had happened in 1908 and at that time she said she was 8 or 10 years old. But however long she lived, she was tired of living now and wanted to go home.
When her bones became wary of 0stioprosis, walking became difficult. She was provided a walker, but she didn’t like it. Same with a hearing aid. Lost all her teeth. The dentist took care of her dentures but she didn’t like them either. So now she was helped to the rest room, spoon fed the soups and had her daughter to be her ears when her son called from across the Atlantic. Then one morning she asked why was it so dark. Was it raining or just overcast. A new pair of glasses didn’t work. Slowly and gradually the time was taking its toll but one thing it could not touch. That was her mind, her thinking mind. She was alert, she was sharp, sharp as a needle.
She had always been an avid reader of newspapers. She had to know what was going on around the world. She was also interested in the local politics. You could easily talk to her about the issues the country was facing. She never got a formal education but she could read Urdu – her mother tongue – and Arabic. She was excellent with numbers. I used to say that Indira Gandhi didn’t have a chance if my mother in law was given a proper education. The first time I told her that she looked at me quizzically. Was I trying to be smart? she probably thought. But then that sharp, probing look from behind the thick glasses softened and she laughed.
” ghar chalana bhi to gormint chalana he ” ( homemaking is like running a government) was what she said. She had a point there.
She was a good mother, full of love and affection for her children. Very authoritative to the point where you would think that she owned her sons and daughters. She knew her motherly rights and no one, but no one could go against her wishes. In a way the credit goes to her that she raised her kids with such care and devotion that they would always listen to her, no matter what. They were angles, she believed and could never be wrong.
And daughters in law? well who cares? They were brought in the family to keep the family name alive. But that does not mean that she was not polite or sociable with them.
Once we were talking about something. At one point I asked her, Ok, ammi (mother) you have three sons and two daughters. So two sons are your eyes and one is your heart. Daughters? ummmm. They could be your kidneys. So what about your daughters in law?
“They make my sons happy.” ” And you?” I persisted. ” Now what else you want to know? Didn’t I say, if they are happy with their wives, I am happy too.”
Even though, she was not vocal about that, but her oldest son was not as close to her as she would have wished him to be. At the age of sixteen and just out of tenth grade, he was sent to Pakistan to his chacha (uncle) to get his college education there. There were probably some other reasons too but that is a family matter. He was not happy with this arrangement and has always resented the fact that he was separated from the family at such a young age. He was always very reserved and cynical with her But she never let it affect her love for him.
Now how old was she? I will relate an incident that she told my younger brother in law and then you decide how old was she when she passed away.
After World War 1- that is early 20th century – in the subcontinent of India, a wide spread movement was started,. It all began because Turkey was defeated in the war and some parts of Ottoman Empire were given to Greece and some other non Muslim country. The Sultan of Turkey was considered the Caliph of the entire Muslim World and the disintegration of the Empire was unacceptable for the world wide Muslim community. In India, two brothers, Moulana Mohammad Ali and Moulana Shauket Ali started the historical Khilafat Movement. I will not go into the details of the Movement.
My brother in law talking to me on the phone said, ” sometimes back ammi had told me that when; during the Movement things got serious and the British Raj, put the brothers in jail, their mother, endearingly called by everyone, Bi Amma, came out of purdah and went around towns and cities and villages giving speeches, spreading her sons message, collecting funds for the Movement. At one point, Bi Amman came to her village to give a speech at a local, girls school. Ammi went to that ‘jalsa’ with her mother to listen to the speech. ‘I was eight or ten years old’ she said. ‘I remember everything’ ”
According to the history books it happened in 1908. Now figure it out !!