She is strength herself
But vulnerable at times
The wrath of mankind
But she has stood the test of time
Again and again she has risen to shine
She is the creator of life
Though ignored by manmade strife
She is hard but soft inside
She holds within her, side by side
Fiery storms and bright sunshine
No one knows whats in her mind
Vices, intolerance and darkness of hearts
Try their best to break her apart
Conflicts are made, ignorance cascades
Voices of sanity are feeble and they fade
But there is nothing that can bring her down
Her hope is alive, her spirit is so sound
Her generosity knows no bounds
She still loves, and life flourishes around
She has several names, and many faces
Known and unknown, at different places
She is my mother, she gave me birth
She isnt just a woman, she is the earth
— by Poet Mamma (06-March-2011)
I dedicate this poem to the two amazing women in my life. Women who have made me what I am, have influenced me through my formative years and taught me to be worthy of the life I am living. One of them is my mother.
What follows is a tribute to the other one – on occasion of the upcoming 100th International Woman’s Day on March 8.
She was four when her mother died. She did not have any memory of her. Her father raised her same as her brother. Moving from place to place, from train stations to other stations. He was a Station Master. At eight, she was still going to school when the rest of the 8 year olds were getting married. There were no other girls in her class. It was a boys school. Her father had it tough. He tried to shield her from the verbal offenses hurled at them by other brahmins in the community, for his daughter at the age of 13 and 14 was still going to school instead of becoming a daughter-in-law in a good konkanastha bramhin family. She went nevertheless, with a determination unparalleled, unknown for a teenager. She joined Maharshi Dhondo Keshav Karve’s School at Hingne (Hingne Stree Shikshan Samstha) and completed her matriculation.
She met a young man when she was 19, her room mate’s activitst brother. They got married. He got her only one saree made from homespun khadi. She wore that on her wedding day. This marked the beginning of a hard and unsettling life under the unwanted British rule. Amidst the freedom struggle, organizing satyagrahas, burning campfires of foreign cloth, inspiring and awakening people, giving shelter to undercover freedom fighters and rebels hiding from the police, she single handedly raised 7 talented children.
She never knew where her husband was, when he will return, whether he would return or not. He was not the provider – because he had taken up the cause of freedom. But she did not have that luxury. She had mouths to feed and children to raise. But she too was a visionary herself. A true leader, people looked up to her to show them the way. She started a school and a ‘mahila mandal’ in Latur, with an aim to educate women and empower them. The school which started in a small dinky makeshift room with 4 to 5 students, has grown now to be a full fledged school from First to 12th standard. Amongst her other stints, she started and ran a factory which made brass utensils.
The age was very different than today. Women did not have the freedom to express, get an education, or work outside the house. They were confined to their homes and were at the mercy of their families and the menfolk.
Post independence, she continued to work as a teacher. With her husband, they continued to struggle for a free Hyderabad state. Free from the rule of the Nizam and free from the Razakars. Their contribution to the struggle is remarkable and widely recognized in the Marathwada region. After the Police Action they settled in Latur and she continued to work for many social causes and finally moved to Aurangabad to live with their son, my father after I was a born.
Mai Ajji. Thats what we called her. My amazing grandmother. A person so talented and multi-faceted. She was fearless. There are stories of her killing snakes with bare hands to protect her children, and when bitten by a rabid dog, she caught it by the jaw with her bleeding hands and dragged it out of the compound so that it does not attack other family members. Our childhood was rich because of her presence, her stories and anecdotes. She gave her children the gift of music and art. Even after a hard life, her sense of humor was sound, although a bit whimsical, her attitude and spirit was never down.
I can still picture her weathered and wrinkled face of 85 plus years reading the english newspapers and circling the words to find meanings in the dictionary, or typing away on an archaic typewriter to keep in touch with her typing skills, or playing the tabla and harmonium endlessly in her room. Or her fascinating freehand sketches and portraits of people and places. I can still envision her peeping over my shoulder into the computer and nagging me to teach her how to use it.
Her contributions to the society are many. Her work was recognized by the state of Maharashtra, and she received a memento from the Chief Minister MR. Manohar Joshi in the year 2001. She passed away in June 2004, at the age of 91. A life lived to the fullest. This is a tribute to Smt. Sushilabai Diwan (1913-2004). What an inspiring poem she was!