Sijoul/Madhubani (Sourav Shekhar Srivastava) : Akin to the English proverb, ‘It is better to wear out than to rust out’ is ‘Bais Nai Mari, Lari Mari’, the motivating Maithili wise saying which I often heard from the mouth of my mother during my formative years in the riverine village Sijoul where a Ram temple besides Lord Mahadev exists. The Bhagavad Gita, the epic originating from the Hindu scriptures preaches the same with its worth imbibing the 47th verse of the second chapter —Karmanye Vadhikaraste Ma Phaleshu Kadachana, meaning – an act of our duty is within ourselves whereas a result is not. Hence, let’s concentrate on our work rather than the fruits of our efforts.
My mom Jaipura Jha was adoringly and popularly known as Maunsi, a motherly figure to one and all in the village, irrespective of their caste, creed or religion. On 25th September 1938, she was born to Phul Devi and Sahdev Jha in the village of Raiyam falling in the Jhanjharpur constituency of the Mithila belt where Goddess Sita was incarnated in the treta epoch well mentioned in yet another Hindu epic, the Ramayana.
In an utter violation of the Child Marriage Restraint Act, 1929, she, the year when an atom bomb was dropped at Hiroshima in Japan, was made to enter the matrimonial state of life at the very tender age of seven. Thus, the prosperity of her budding life was bombarded. I was told that at her in-laws’ house she was received into lap when she got off the Mahfa, a wooden cart carried by four men known as Kahar in the Mithila belt. However, such a cart is out of sight now. That was the age when she was expected to be frisking and gambolling about and going to a school for formal education. On the sharp contrary, she had to take charge of the kitchen, doing the dishes following the social dictates of those days. What followed was the worst.
She was widowed in her early thirties. Consequently, she had no option but to heroically inch up her veil and come out of the confines of the thatched dwelling where she was subjected to. Unexpectedly, she began to work on the farm, mow the grass, raise and graze a calf to eke out a living, burning the candle at both ends and setting aside the then social mores that women were meant for household chores only.
With her leonine courage, the strength of mind, self-respect and resolve, she set an example for other widows and womenfolk in the area to come forward and stand on their own feet, calling work as worship. Known as an epitome of guts and social service, she commanded high respects and reverence in society regardless of the social strata of the community people. Be it a social ritual or celebration of a varied nature, her benign presence was always marked with awe and wow.
She was a masterpiece of culinary science, more particularly Mithila cuisines where varieties of dishes are the spices of life. A selection of 56 dishes is found to be seen all over the northern Gangetic region where the rivers like Kamla, Balan and Koshi flow and they irrigate agrarian land and water flora and fauna in their vicinity.
Once I asked her how she cooked such delicious dishes without onions and garlic, and also without applying too much of spices in cookery. Citing an eye-opening point, she said, “what matters most while cooking or doing something else is precise time, adequate flame and appropriate seasoning. Moreover, your tendency to excel in whatever you do holds much water”. This has been a guiding force for me in my life since then.
With my father Dayanand Jha, known as ‘Gandhi Jee’ accidentally and prematurely leaving this world for the heavenly abode in his early forties, her inexplicable ordeal of life refused to cease. She jumped onto the burning pyre to be a sati but for me, she was rescued from the flame. She was often consoled with a question, “what would happen to this child Birbal?” whereas I was hardly a year old tot then. Thanks God, she was saved to stay alive and bring me up.
The cupboard was bare. Backup was from nowhere. Life was too dark. The silver lining was too small to see. Nonetheless, over time, she set an example of how to live a life in the harsh conditions of the paucity of money and other resources required for the functioning of life.
Until I attained the age of 16 and left the house for Patna in search of a job and in pursuit of possible higher education, she continued to spin a charkha to make balls of thread out of cotton for which she had an account with the Khadigramodyog at Rajnagar, nearest railway station still under single gauge. She always commuted barefooted around 10 kilometres to deposit the handmade ready products to the concerned authority.
Good was that she was able to earn redeemable points for around Rs 50 a month against which she used to buy the essentials as Khadi products available in those days. Cash was a rare provision to buy something of one’s choice in the open market. Hats off to Mahatma Gandhi, father of the nation for his initiative of Khadigramodyog that gave a fresh lease of life to many around!
Thanks to Khadigramodyog, she was able to get clothes to wrap herself, bedsheets to lie on and something like those for herself, children including me. One of the garments, I still treasure in my memory is the thick Khadi lungi I was provided with which I carried on to Patna in 1988 on leaving my village. I used to utilize it both as attire and a bed-sheet.
On her awareness of medical science, she always gave me a leaf of basil (Tulsi) to eat and a few of them to keep in my pocket whenever I ventured out of my shanty. However, I came to realize the importance and medicinal value of basil leaves much later, more particularly during the pandemic coronavirus wherein Tulsi Kadha turned out to be a panacea. On a health note, a friend of mine, Vishwanath Jha confirmed me of such curative effects on his recovery from the Covid-19 a few months back this year. Having seasonal herbal drinks was my routine affair as long as I stayed in the village. This, I believe, kept me fit, fine and fresh around the year.
The agricultural land for yields was too little to run even a small family. However, partly with seasonal cultivation of food grains and vegetables, and partly with other work, she managed to make both ends meet. Moreover, being meticulous and sagacious she would dry a portion of vegetables like cauliflower or chenopodium album (bathua) for the days of scarcity or rainy days.
What is more, squirrelling food grains and eatables at a time for a year or so was her outstanding house management for which she had manually made large containers of clay known as Kothi in local parlance. At times she would preserve paddy, rice and wheat for close ones selflessly and altruistically. Such was the social and family bonding.
Suryanamaskar- offering water to the sun god and Tulsi was one of her daily rituals and cultural ethos she had set for herself throughout life. When it came to accompanying the musical band of village women in folklore at various occasions and rites, she volunteered to do so. On the other hand, she was very conscientious and meticulous regarding her hygiene. Until she was subjected to bed, she would always keep her house and surroundings neat and clean.
On her education, she had to give a thumb impression as she never went to any formal schools and held a pen or notebook in her hands but passed the school of hard knocks in her life with the possibly highest degree of marks. She valued education to the extent that I earned a degree of Doctorate from prestigious Patna University. It was her daily routine to shake me awake around 4 O’clock even in bone-chilling winter so that I was able to study my coursebook during my school days. Her biological clock was well-tuned and synchronized enough not to miss even a day. While I sat studying books she did her household work in the wee hours.
Her medical skills vis-à-vis Ayurveda were excellent. Hardly ever was I administered any allopathic medication as long as I was in the village for 16 years on the trot. Instead, she would always give me certain herbs to keep any ailments at bay; following the adage- prevention is better than cure. She always maintained good health and remained fit and fine until she was overpowered by the carcinoma that she succumbed to on 29th September 2020. Half a minute before she breathed her last at 10:40 PM, she burst into laughter. To identify me, she simply said,
“Hamar Beta”, my son when asked who I was. The last English words I had heard from her mouth were “see you again”.
While travelling by Indigo flight from Delhi to Patna for the first time in 2009 she seemed to be a perfectly well-travelled person. She was as adaptable to the situation as she was meant for it. She lived a life of ups and downs but remained rooted in Indian values and ethics. On her last legs, she chose to return and stay in the village. For our well-being, she always prayed to God. Interestingly, she had an appearance in the Maithili movie ‘Sajna Ke Angna Me Solah Singar’ directed by Murlidhar and released in 2012.
Her hardship began to peter out with my venturing out to the town and further establishing a social enterprise -British Lingua in 1993 in Patna. The time was up for more of her happiness but then the irony of fate was something different to tell.
Her praises are sung not only by three children Madan Jha, Meena Jha and me, the youngest Birbal Jha and grandchildren Vandana, Mala, Anshu, Khushboo, Mimansa and Shabdagya, and daughters-in-law Pawan Jha and Gauri Rani but also by villages of admirers who affectionately called her Maunsi.
(Dr Birbal Jha is a noted author and the Managing Director of Lingua Multiservices Pvt Ltd having a popular trademark brand ‘British Lingua’. He is credited with having created a revolution in English training with the slogan ‘English for all’ in India.)