For my third series today, I want to open it with a quote from Jodi Picoult ~ “My mother… she is beautiful, softened at the edges and tempered with a spine of steel. I want to grow old and be like her.”
Oh, how beautifully Jodi describes the strength of a mother, a spine of steel! And to complement that, I have just the perfect tale that explores the ultimate love of a mother. Neither a bedtime story nor one that is timeworn, this is from the late 80’s, a story that I know will leave you inspired.
In one of the bustling village of Ukhrul District, there lived a big happy family, a happy couple with their 6 children and one that was almost on the way. This was one of the early days where only elite few could afford a television, and if you did, you’d need to master the art of tweaking the antennas on the roof.
It was the dream of these two modest cultivators to educate and shape the future of their kids. They worked day and night, in the rain and the scorching sun. Surely enough, their hard work was finally paying off as their eldest daughter was soon to graduate high school. But, oh! Before they could even celebrate, death claimed the father so suddenly and left the heavily pregnant wife with 6 children.
She was only 39, still beautiful and desirable.
The village womenfolk would often sigh and tell her to find another husband. But how could she leave her own kids? She stood firm. She wasn’t about to abandon them too. Now, she wasn’t from around the village. So, when her husband died, she was all that was left with to fend for herself and the kids. Her in-laws were of not much help either.
There was little saving that only lasted two months after the childbirth of her youngest daughter. So, when it was time to pay the school fees, she was left with nothing! Determined to keep the kids in school, she decided to take up manual labor.
For the cost of 600 rs, she agreed to ferry a truckload of firewood from the field to home. This meant that she would be able to pay off the school fees of five of her children, which at that time was 65-75 rs.
So before sunrise, she would kneel beside their dusty fireplace and pray to God, thanking and seeking strength. Then, she would carry her infant on her back while her 8-year-old son (fifth child) ran alongside her dragging the big wicket basket with a headband (sop-kai) for carrying fire woods. The place for collecting the firewood was a good 2-3 km away!
Once they reached the place, the mother would fill the basket with fire woods and carry it while the son kept up with the infant sister on his back. Whenever the baby cried, her little brother would make a chuckling sound to ease her till the mother finds a place to rest the basket and breastfeed her baby. This way, they stopped every 15 minutes.
Upon reaching home, the mother would then prepare food for the kids and send them to school. While the kids were in school, she would quickly engage in other manual labors such as ploughing the kitchen garden. Then after her kids came back from school, she would make them a good tea and make them help her in carrying the fire woods, narrating stories along the way.
This way, the mother ferried a truckload of fire woods on foot in 10 days and paid the school fees. She was still weak from childbirth yet she never let it show.
Another time, when they ran out of rice for a number of days, she roughly grounded dry corns and boiled them with salt, then made red hot chilly chutney to complement it. Other days, when she knew that the rice would not last for long, she would pretend to come home late from her friend’s place and tell her kids that she was already full. Her other kids were too young to understand it, but she couldn’t fool her eldest daughter (15 yrs of age), and would tell her in tears that she needn’t lie.
Even though she had to go to bed empty stomach, she slept in peace for she knew all her children’s needs were met. Yes, she struggled but she survived.
Surely enough, twenty-seven years later, the mother is being spoiled like a queen, made sure that every need is being looked into. Each of her children graduated and is living a decent life. She had taught her children well that no situation can ever be too bad to lose hope.
By only writing about widows, I do not mean to imply that women with husbands are less strong or that their struggles are lesser. I choose this story only because I want us to remember that no matter what the situation, we can always come out of it.
Your storyteller from Ukhrul-Manipur. Hello from the cold mountains 🙂