A true Love Story
Going back into the recesses of my mind, a voice emerges. Clear and lucid. In the throes of a party. A sea of smiling faces, laughter, mirth, camaraderie, at its best. Suddenly there was silence. An announcement was made, and an expectant hush fell over. The song began. It was resonant with melody, sounded good to the ears. A little girl was watching . She froze. Shyness seemed to take over completely. But nobody noticed nor did they care. What was unfolding was a treat to watch. The lyrics were so romantic:”sau saal pehle, mujhe tumse pyaar tha… aaj bhi hai, aur kal bhi rahega…” (I have loved you for a 100 years, continue to do today and will love you tomorrow and forever).
The little girl ran out of the room. What had come over Papa? Expressing his love for mama for all to see!! She was all of five years , too young to gage the rarity of this display even after 20 years of marriage. She peeped . Mama had joined in. She was singing too. How she longed for it all to be over. She was waiting for the cake. At last they were cutting the cake. Papa and mama together, and a multitude of friends. It was December 11th, their wedding anniversary.
The little girl was me and the original of that song I heard much later.
December 4th 2005.. a year since my father passed away. We all idolize our parents, but mine were truly unique. My sadness and tears multiply tenfold on seeing my mother without the tall, stately figure of my father, by her side. She is just under 5 feet and Papa was a six footer. Mama was almost a child-bride when they were married. Only17 . She had hair that reached a little above her ankles, and beautiful doe shaped eyes. Papa was so enamoured by her that only a day before the wedding did he realize that she was so petite. She wore huge heels all her life, in reaction to Paps constant teasing. The love they shared, which I had grown up being witness to and which I had taken so much for granted, I realize today is rare and precious.
Papa had nicknamed her “Pimy”, her name being Promilla, and called her Pimy rani ji. Mama referred to him as Chand ji, his name being Chander…Dr. Chandar Oberoi.
Every evening , like a ritual at 5.00 p.m Mama waited at the balcony of our bungalow, and would not budge till Papas car came into view. Usually it was party time then. I do not recall my father ever sharing a problem with us or Mama. We had a cocooned,carefree childhood, where each talent was honed, encouraged and allowed to fructify. I learnt, singing, dancing, (kathak) was supported wholeheartedly in my shoots, as a child actor.
Subsequent to that there came a period in my adolescence when studies came last in my list of priorities. I was too enchanted with the romance of ‘Mills and Boon”, Barbara Cartland. I cannot forget the expression on Papas face on seeing my report card in the eighth grade. There was no further need for verbalisation.I was ashamed and I had to make it up to him. I topped my school in the Boards and later the Mumbai university in graduation with subjects such as Constitution Of England and India, Political Science and History of the World.
Aeons later, after the birth of my kids, on a visit , Papa asked me to locate some documents from his cupboard. I found there a huge pack of files, wrapped neatly . On opening it, my jaw dropped in utter astonishment. They were my college notes along with copies of “Eves Weekly” with me on the cover. He could not bear parting with it since I had put in so much work, he explained . I laughed it off then, too embarassed by the tears that had welled up.But recently when my daughter topped the University , I found myself stashing her notes away too. Papa, ofcourse agreed heartily. She was his favourite now since “Mool se byaj pyaara hota hai’ he said .
It is difficult to replicate dinner time as I had seen it. At 8.00p.m. sharp, we gathered in the dining room, under Papas watchful eyes . We were a handful, to say the least, the four of us. I being the youngest, was Papas pet, therefore bullied by the rest of the gang. I remember crying for a whole week after my brothers convinced me that I had been adopted. Had my parents not intervened, perhaps I would have been wholly convinced of their tales.
Post dinner was family bonding and entertainment time. Papa had a repertoire of jokes, Magic (he was a magician par excellence), riddles. He told us of the time that he asked Ashok Kumar and Kishore Kumar a riddle which went”what is it that is yours but is used by others?” They loved the answer so much that they went onto harass all their female friends and received glares and gasps of astonishment. The answer was an innocuous “Name”.
Papa cherished life. After retirement he refused to let life force him to retire from fruitful and productive activity.. He studied Homeopathy and went onto becoming a doctor, and never failed to tell mama that since her children had not take up the profession, he decided to fulfill her desire. Mama missed us, since we had all left Mumbai, gone abroad etc. Papa sensing her ’empty nest’ syndrome, made it a point to inculcate a social life,despite failing health. They were busy and in demand. He was President of Lions Club, and popular beyond imagination.He was the life of the party at all times, and Mama loved to see him so.
Papa, had his first heart attack at age 52.He was subsequently operated in London for 4 bypass surgeries. Being diabetic, his favorite cuisine was forbidden. So Mama refused to eat any of it. No sweets, butter, rice, parathas for Papa. So for almost 30 years she had restricted her diet as well. It pained my father immensely but she refused to relent. Doctors had been anything but encouraging in their prognosis, since his heart was functioning just about 20%.
Mama, however, had her own take on it . She was convinced that Papa would be by her side till her end. The fact that Papa survived 32 years after his first attack was entirely due to mama’s untiring efforts towards his every need. She knew nothing besides the timings of his medication, or supervising his food intake. One noticed that she was constantly watching him as if to fathom and read his every thought. God, for her, was right here, in Papa. She did not have the time nor the inclination to worship any other. Papa, from his side, wrote brilliant poems eulogizing her.
He wrote Urdu poetry, as one of his hobbies (couplets that I quote are often his) and Jagjit singh too has sung his compositions. Mama loved to hear him recite and would be enthralled with every composition. He insisted that she be his first audience. I consider his verses now as a gift from the divine, especially “tundiye bade mukhalif se na ghabra aye aukaab..yeh to chalti hai tujhe ooncha udane ke liye..”(Let not the ferocious adverse winds deter you oh phoenix…since they blow with the sole purpose of taking you higher).This couplet has and will continue to guide me as have his countless other verses.
Last year, on 4th Dec, at around 10.00 p.m after Mama had ensured that he had taken his medication, she decided to give him an almond oil massage , since he complained of itching on his scalp. Half a minute later, when she returned, he was gone. Without a sigh. Without a moan. Without a warning.
I find it heart wrenching to describe in words the shock, disbelief, agony, despair I saw in Mamas eyes. All she kept saying” he promised me, he blessed me, how can his blessings go wrong?”
It is extremely devastating to see that small, bent, frail, sweet frame of my mother without that tall, statuesque, noble, elegant frame of my father besides her. It seems wrong. Unfair. There was nothing else that mama ever wanted out of life, except to have Papa by her side. How could all her prayers have gone unanswered?? I have to put on a brave face, wear a bright smile, chat lightheartedly with her, while my heart cries mournfully deep within, seeing her so forlorn, so incomplete, so cheated by Destiny.
Please pray for my mother, that she discovers peace and joy within her, is content in the divinity she has forgotten she embodies, but which I see in her and have been experiencing in her , all of my years as her daughter. Please pray for me that I am able to repay in my own small way, the debt of being brought up with so much love for my heart and nourishment for my soul by my dear parents.
December 11th, last year would have marked their 60th anniversary. My mother was alone .She always complained of a weak memory, but it is astounding to hear her quote Papas poems verbatim. She is like an encyclopaedia of his works, all of a sudden. She insists that it is Papa speaking through her..self effacing as usual… She is spirited, though my little mother. She has decided to take Urdu tuitions (at age 77) to enable her to read Papas Poetry journals, which she wishes to get printed. She has to immortalize him she says.
I wish to immortalize their uniquely sublime love story.
Update February 2007: Beyond all my expectations, Mama has almost mastered Urdu. Her tuition teacher, the lovable Irfaani Saheb, cannot stop raving about her quickness in picking up a different language like Urdu. Mama, sits back silently when he and me are marvelling at her abilities.. all she says is ” I have to read his books, translate them and get the printed..How could I not have learnt it fast?”..there is no gleam in her eye, no pride ..just an acute sadness.
The only time that she actually perks up is when she is able to decipher a particulaly difficult couplet he has composed and despite the teachers failing, she has read it out , guiding him on the correct reading.
Her mornings are spent now on the terrace, with his books . She has completed translating one journal. But her eyes are under serious stress. The cataract operation although successful, is now causing pain . The opthalmologist, who has begun to love her as his own mother , is astounded as to her determination. On a visit to his clinic, although he kept reassuring her, she finally broke down and wept saying that if she cannot complete her desire of translating his books, she will be left with nothing.
What is even more amazing is the fact that perhaps Papa knew ..he knew that he would leave earlier than her. he knew she would read..or else how does one explain the letters she finds addressed to her, the ‘shairi’ he has written especially for her on their wedding anniversary, which he never recited.. or the envelopes of token money with small loving notes, sealed and kept inside his journals, which she discovers every now and then.
I am speechless and in awe of the bond..their undying love. Just yesterday, she found a small autobiographical few pages written by Papa, talking of his early life in Lahore, how he won the ‘best dressed’ student of D.A.V. College, his sharing his room for two years with I.K.Gujral, former Prime Minister of India, who was his batchmate, his love for his mother who died when she was only 38, her beauty and personality.. she was 5ft 8 in. and an astounding singer, whose talks at the Arya Samaj were a renowned affair. And then he wrote of his courtship days with Mama. And his life with her..He consideed himself the luckiest man in the universe having found a partner in Mama..he said..and felt as tall as the Himalayas, he said. Someone who was merely 4 ft 10 in had given a man enough to make him feel invincible..
The loss is unbearable, and then the reminders of his love, can be excruciatingly painful. I can sense the bereavemnt, which Mama feels..the love she felt for him and that which she received is o rare that the void it leaves is gnawingly abysmal.
What can one do except to comfort her with thoughts that he is proud of her, her achievements, her strength in carrying on.
She listens and holds on firmly to the small silken pouch she carries at all times.
I had asked her a while ago on its contents, when she had accidentally left it home and refused to move to leave till she had brought it back.
She hesitatingly revealed..”they are you Papas ashes’..
Update 19th July’07: My mother has suddenly taken ill. The translations of Papas works was almost complete. She had laboriously sorted and sifted through the poems, labelling and listing them. While talking of it on camera she suddenly suffered a stroke. We are broken. She must recover. I cannot afford to give up on Hope. That is all I have. Please pray for her. Thank you.
Update 29th July 2007:It is Guru Purnima. I have just received the news that Mama has passed away.She had gone to Johannesburg to visit my sister.I had made plans to ensure that she recovers completely. I was sure she would. There are no tears left..just a deep emptiness.
With her passing away, something has died within me. I dont know what. All I know is I will never feel whole again.
I have just returned from Johannesburg. I had to see her one last time. Touch the soft cheeks. the small feet and tell her she was the best mother in the world. I did that. Returned home with her in a ‘small kalash’. My small sweet Mama now watching from above there with Papa at her side..probably singing ‘ Sau saal pehle mujhe tumse pyar tha aaj bhi hai aur kal bhi rahega’. ..an unending ethereal love story.