I have earlier referred to a poem Mum wrote that I said was more like a manifesto, and here I present another–very short–piece from the same source. It does seem that Mum wrote it herself, though it doesn’t have the signature and the date that she usually put at the end of her compositions in this notebook. Even if it happens to be something she noted down from something she liked, the fact of liking it enough to note it down would still reveal something important about her life and personality. She titled it ‘Speech’.
The words just seem to fade away
But the picture still remains
The toil and soil of the day
Are there [for] to stay
The bawling, the shouting and the howling that day
Seem to register in my mind and stay
There was a gap of a blank line between the quartet and the couplet. The couplet, then, might have been added as an afterthought. Pursuing that conjecture further, it could refer to a particularly strong argument between her parents, but do remember that this is only conjecture, since this notebook didn’t surface often enough for me to ask her about the pertinent contexts to everything written in it.
But let’s focus on that quartet, shall we?
There it is again, a bit of commentary on the nature of life that focuses on toil as the single essential theme of life. Even though the first twenty-one years of her life were better than the last thirty-eight, it’s not like she was in a state of constant bliss. Not only did she have to witness all the arguments arising from her parents’ unhappy marriage, she had to make up for the work that one of those parents could not put in. She always learnt the best from the cultures she was exposed to on her travels with her father, and diligence is one quality she picked up in droves.
Please excuse me now, reader, for putting in this narrowly personal sentimental comment here, but let me tell you that reading this gives me a sort of solace. It is as if my mother, in tandem with the Platonic ideal of her that I hold in my mind as an exemplar of ceaseless and unconditional expedience, speaks to me from across the chasm of time, reaching back further than the extent of all the painful years that consumed her in the end. It is a verification in ink and on paper–vehicles of those monuments of Eternity that Horace spoke of–of what I saw when I saw my mother go about her work all her life.
For her, ceaseless work, and the belief that it is a lasting state of existence rather than some arbitrary collection of actions carried out necessarily in exchange for ephemeral rewards, was connected to a larger perspective. This is exemplified in an article she wrote for Yuva Pragati once. I must withhold some details regarding the installment and issue, as well as the entire article she wrote, because she did not want to share or discuss that article in public, having made in that article what she saw as an ideological error that she had no intention of defending. (This, as it happens, is a pity in some ways, because the article is in Hindi. She always used to make it seem like her Hindi skills were wanting, but the article clearly displays great facility with the language at both the lexical and semantic levels.) I will, however, take the liberty of quoting some lines from said article:
सरकारी कामों में दोष ढूंढ़ने के बजाय, जैसे कि पहले होता आ रहा है, युवकों को सक्रिय रूप से ऐसी भूमिका निभानी चाहिए जिससे कार्यक्रमों की क्रियान्विति युक्तिसंगत हो और यह युवकों के परिश्रम और एकजुटता पर निर्भर है। वे सारा काम नौकरशाहों और पुराणी पीढ़ी पर छोड़कर नहीं बैठ सकते। यदि वे अपने चारों ओर की घटनाओं में रुचि नहीं लेंगे तो पिछड़े और अज्ञानी ही बने रहेंगे।
For readers unfamiliar with Hindi, I translate this (somewhat roughly) as:
Instead of finding fault with governmental activities, as has been happening thus far, the youth should play an active role so that the implementation of programmes can be carried out skillfully and this depends on their hard work and unity. They cannot leave all of this work to the bureaucracy and the older generation. If they do not take interest in what is happening all around them, they will remain backward and ignorant.
This portion shows an advocacy of the pervasive ideal of action operative at the level of the individual married to the targeted ideals of social awareness and sumum bonum at the level of the society. What an insight this provides into her active assumption of the ideals of socialism! This also explains her vociferous arguments with paperboys who were lax about accounting for every page of the newspapers they delivered to us. To the very end, she kept up an interest in current affairs, and not just around the days that she had to read the news at AIR. She wouldn’t let a day go by without reading the day’s paper. I see her in my mind’s eye with her spectacles perched on her freckled nose, reading the newspaper intently. Moments such as these–her going through Indian Express or Hindustan Times editorials while I read my course-books–provide pristine recollections, oases of order with a semblance of equanimity, with Mum looking for all the world as if she’d burst into a detailed denunciation of the state of society any minute (she didn’t. She wasn’t preachy).
But of course, this was about all the sitting she did. The newspaper folded up again, she would spring back into action, preparing to leave for work, make a dish, or to hit the sack (which she sometimes only did for about four hours, sadly). I find that one shloka from the Ishavasya Upanishad that has survived the many years of mechanical learning in school always comes to mind when I think of her thus:
कुर्वन्नेवेह कर्माणि जिजीविषेच्छतं समाः ।
एवं त्वयि नान्यथेतोऽस्ति न कर्म लिप्यते नरे ॥
which the Western Sanskritic scholar Valerie Roebuck translates as:
You must seek to live a hundred years
Just doing work here.
There is no other way for you but this:
This way, work does not stick to a man.