My Mother: Dashami Borah
By Hiranya Borah
Copyright 2016 Hiranya Borah
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Whatever I am today, it is because of my mother. She was my idol and she was my inspiration. She encouraged me in my studies emotionally and supported me financially all along during my student days. She never asked me why I took statistics as my honours subject nor objected to my decision to study in Delhi University despite of lot of financial constraints. Even when after my matriculation, I wanted to study in Guwahati, my father offered me a scooter to study at Biswanath Charaiali College, 11 KM from our residence, my mother supported my wish to study in Cotton College, the premier institute of Assam. So far my career, good or bad, is concerned; it was mother who stood by me in all my decisions in shaping it in the present form.
I am not trying to demean the contribution of my father in shaping my career, but truth remains, it was my mother, whose contribution was overwhelming compared to my father. My other two siblings may however, have different opinions.
Some comments made by my grandpa are not correct in today’s world; even might not be true at all at that time also. Those comments might be originated because of lack of exposure to the modern world of my grandpa. I am reiterating those comments only to showcase his feeling for his successful daughter.
The book is dedicated to all the girls who fought with parents and society for going to school, irrespective of whether they are successful in their endeavour or they failed in their attempts.
I am thankful to all the readers for their constant support and Shakespir for giving their platform to publish the book.
Chapter I: Birth of a Daughter
My Great Grandfather, Rangai Borah, popularly known as Rangai Mahajan (Land Lord), was a strict disciplinarian residing in a village under Behali Police Station of Darrang District of Assam. His journey of life started in the second part of nineteenth century which continued up to sixth decade of twentieth century. He was a rich man of the locality comprising of many adjoining villages and famous for his benevolence, particularly for guests. He was known in a vast locality for constructing a large bungalow for exclusively for guests, both known and unknown. But he was equally infamous for strict economic discipline (others used to say him a miser). He used to give donation for school library, but used to scold his children for loss of a single grain in the field, at the cooking place or on the used plate. He was so infamous (miserly nature) for that, as my mother used to tell us, many of the families did not want to have matrimonial alliances with his family. Why he was so economic (being a great grandson, I cannot use the other word which was attributed by his adversaries!!!) despite of his huge landholdings? The reason, I was told by mother is that, he was an orphan who made his fortune by his hard works and indomitable spirit.
My mother used to recall about his indomitable spirit in planting a coconut orchard at two acres of land going against the existing social norms. A person from a particular caste advised him not to plant coconut tree as not being from his caste, the planting of coconut tree would invite curse on his family. My great grandfather asked him exactly what would happen if he would plant one coconut tree. The fellow, the self proclaimed learned man of religious script told, he (my great grandfather) would lose his eldest son if he would plant even a single coconut tree. So my great grandpa planted two hundred saplings. The eldest son of my great grandpa actually died, but not before marrying two wives, having blessed with eleven children and after seeing more than thirty grand children including me. Actually he died when I was a student of the most reputed college of Assam, Cotton College. Good thing is that, whole village followed my great grandfather in planting coconut trees in a big way after a gap of eight years, when my great grandfather was able make a huge profit by selling those coconuts. It was a kind of silent economic revolution for the village and its adjoining areas.
My Grandfather, Kushram Borah was the eldest son of my Great Grandfather. There were some major differences in personality between the father and son. The Great Grandfather was aggressive in pushing his thoughts into action. He was ruthless in executing his actions and he was an angry young man till his death. On the other hand, my Grandfather was a totally pious man. He always followed his father religiously, loved his younger brothers more than himself, not a tough master in executing his thoughts into action. He did not mind to be beaten up by his father in front of his wife and children (my mother witnessed many such thrashing). He was brilliant in his studies, but he was not allowed to study beyond class VI ( no local school had facility beyond class six) by his father to look after his mammoth agriculture works. The Great Grandfather was wrong in selection of his sons for higher studies: in fact he allowed only one son out of four sons to study beyond class VI who turned out to be the dumbest among them.
At the age of around twenty, a girl named Padmini who just attained puberty was married to my Grandfather. My Grandfather was about six feet and my grandma was just few notches shorter than five feet. In today’s standard, it was a complete physical mismatch.
Next few years, grandma’s life was not that rosy. She could not conceive for next three years to the discomfort of everyone of the family. I am told by my mom that, finally my grandma conceived my mom after offering a prayer by the whole family led by my Great Grandfather followed by a feast for all the villagers from five adjoining villages. My grandma was able to deliver another eleven children after birth of my mother. I sometimes jokingly told my mother that, had my Great grandfather given the feast to another 100 villages, my grandma could have competed with Gandhari, the mother of Kauravas of Mahabharata.
At the birth of my mother, both Great Grandparents were so happy that they seldom allowed her to stay with her mother. They gave her name, Dashami as she was born on tenth day of lunar cycle. However, fondly they call her as Maakan (Little mom). But this young girl grew to become an inspiration for many young girls of that area and of that era as ‘Dangar Baidew’ (Big sister).
Chapter II: The Dog-bite
If a person is bitten by a stray dog, how his or her family will react /think? Bad, worse or worst? Will you thank the dog? No? But I always thank that dog!
I did not see the dog or the victim. I do not know about the dog, but I know the victim though she died when I was only 21 days old infant. She was my Great Grandma!
When my mother was about four year old, her grandma was bitten by a stray dog. It was a bolt from the blue for the family. In those days (1938) one had to take 14 injections at the lower abdomen on every alternate day. The injections were available at district Head Quarters only. From my mother’s village the district HQs was about 100 KM. Now distance of 100 KM can be covered within two hours, even if roads are not up to the mark. But in those days there was only one bus running on weekly basis connecting their village and the district HQs. The other alternative fastest road transport for a rich and single male was a bicycle. In this particular case, the only option was to go to district HQs by the weekly bus and stay for one month as a guest of a known person or stay in some dingy guest house.
The Great Grandfather, Great Grandma and their youngest daughter, Golapi (in English her name would have been Pinki or Rosy) went to Tezpur, the district HQs of Darrang District along with eatables for one full month. Now, just for information, this district has been divided into four districts. Having no alternative they had to stay with a known, but unrelated family for a month for taking anti-rabies injections.
Then, a turning point towards the betterment of the life had come for the family. I am told that Golapi, my mother’s youngest aunt was extremely beautiful. Everyone visiting the family at Tezpur asked my Great Grandfather in which class she (Golapi) was reading. The answer was an embarrassing, ‘She is not going to school.’
In those days the girls of the towns of Assam were attending schools and a few were already in the college also. In fact, Cotton College of Guawhati was a pioneer institution of India where coeducation was introduced and encouraged since its establishment in 1901.
After returning from Tezpur, my mother’s aunt was sent to school. She was already eleven! How she could go to school alone, so my mother was sent as an escort child with her aunt. Somehow her aunt was not interested to go to school and not interested to study. On the other hand, my mother picked up the alphabets and simple mathematics without formal induction to the class. However, to the relief of her aunt, she attained puberty after one year and Great Grandma stopped her from going to school. Naturally, my mother’s schooling was also abruptly halted. She was strictly told by her mother that she should not go to school and do all the household chores.
But my mother was made of different materials. Even without permission of my grandma she started going to school. For going to school she was often beaten mercilessly by my grandma. But beating did not deter her from going to school. Finally my grandma thought of a different punishment!
On that fateful day, the moment my mother entered to her home she was caught by grandma and tied to a bamboo pole. On that day she was not beaten, but her eyes were sprinkled with red chilli powder. The young girl was crying with pain and fear for her life. Next few days, my mom could not muster the courage to go to school.
In the whole world, probably only one person wanted my mom to go to school, that was her teacher, Gosai Pandit (his name must be different, but whole village used to refer by that name). He did not like that his most promising student was not coming to school. So he decided to take on the bull by its horns. He met Rangai Mahajan after his school and asked him why his granddaughter was not allowed to attend school.
Rangai Mahajan was taken aback. He did not know even his granddaughter was attending school long after his youngest daughter had left the school. He called my mom and my grandma. Both appeared before my Great Grandfather like goats lined up before their executions. The questions and answers were limited.
‘Do you want to go to school?’He with his heavy voice asked my mom. She nodded.
‘I like school. I want to be a teacher in a school like Gosai Pandit.’ She murmured. My Great Grandfather called the young girl to near to his chair and lifted her to his laps and announced his historic (for the family) verdict, ‘She will go to school. She will study as much as she can. None will interfere in her studies. Anyone dares to disturb her studies he/ she will not be spared.’ Then turning to my grandma he said, ‘You have to take special care for her. I want good result from her. I want; she should be the first Government servant from our family. Do you understand?’
My grandma nodded.
From that day, going to school had never been a problem for my mom. But my mother’s problem was not over.
Chapter III: Walking Fourteen KMs Daily
She passed her class VI examination with flying colours. But in a sense, that might have been the curtain of her studies as there was no school beyond class VI in their locality. Next High school was about fifty five KMs away from her home; that too for ‘boys only’ high school.
Again the aunt with whom she first went to school came into her rescue. She was married to the place where that Boys’ High school was situated. By the time she was mother of three children and staying with her husband in a tea garden where her husband was working in a clerical post. The tea garden was about five KM away from the school whereas their quarters were about another two KM away from the location of the tea garden. So effectively her school would be seven KMs from her staying place. But that was the only place she could stay. Therefore, it was decided that she would stay there and walk daily 14 KMs, up and down, to attend her school.
When my Grandfather met the Head Master of the school he refused to admit my mother as he thought her admission might vitiate the atmosphere of the school. But when my Grandfather reminded him that my Great Grandfather donated handsomely for the school library long back, he changed his mind.
Admission of my mother into the school was taken by the local people positively and she became an example for many girls of that area some of whom restarted their study once again. My mother went on to become the first female matriculate in1953 passed out from a local school of Pub-Bharali (A remote area of North Eastern Part of Assam during that period) which is about 1000 sq KM.
In due course of time, my mother became a Head Pandit (Head Mistress, the male dominated society thought no lady would head a school and therefore they coined the word Head Pandit in the appointment letter whose literal meaning is head master) at a tender age of nineteen and remained in the same capacity till her retirement at the age of 58 after serving the teaching world almost 39 years.
But unfortunately my grandma could not see my mom becoming a Head Pandit as she expired at a very young age when my mother was in class ten only. She could not see how her daughter could become a household name in an area of 1000 sq km. She could not see how her daughter became a source of inspiration for thousands of girls of that time of that particular locality.
My mother never blamed her mother for sprinkling red chilli powder on her eyes; but she fondly remembered till her death how she (my grandma) used to stand on the road to welcome my mom coming from school or from coming from her aunt’s home in her school holidays. She used tell us how her mother used to give her small savings of one anna (4 Paisa) or two when she used to leave for aunt’s place for a month or two after her holidays.
Chapter IV: Struggle Never Ends
Despite of her unparallel achievements in her own standards, her struggle to stay afloat never ended till her last day. Immediate fall out of her achievements was hurting the sentiments of few males occupying higher pedestal of the society.
My Grandfather told once, ‘These so called learned men advised me to send your mother to become a nurse after her matriculation. In those days, in our society, nursing was not considered as a good profession for girls. They were looked down upon by the societies. (I fully disagree these two comments of my grandpa.) They did not like that your mother should be a teacher, which was the most respectable profession for a young girl. But with my limited knowledge, I knew what was good for my child. Therefore, I sent her for her education to the Senior Teachers’ Training Institute at Nagaon, despite of the fact that during that time there was a little bit of financial problems in our family. Fortunately she was able to complete the course in time and she was appointed as a head teacher of a girls’ ME (Middle English) school. Those respectable people of the society could not digest that, they started boycotting official functions whenever and wherever your mother was invited. They could not tolerate that she could share the dais with those so called respectable persons. But now time has changed, both of your parents are known and respected by the society. I am always proud of your mother and my father. She is true heir of my father. She carries all the traits of my father including the indomitable spirit to swim against the flow of a river. They are blessed with extraordinary power to fight back, which I am lacking.’
There was huge problem for getting a suitable match for a highly (at that time) qualified young lady. Her two younger sisters, who could not study beyond class VI because of their lack of interest in studies, were already married to two uneducated youths of different villages. Both of them became mothers before my mother’s marriage. At the age of twenty, my mother became a very old lady to get a proper match.
My father who was one year junior to my mother in high school, two year older in age, proposed my mother after one/ two years of her service. Though initially she was reluctant to marry my father, on the advice of her colleagues in her school, some of whom were actually taught her in school, she agreed to marry my father. Why my father, two year older was junior to my mother? Was he failed in his classes? My father was academically more intelligent than my mom. Then why it was so?
One has to know the education system prevailing over that time to understand this jugglery. In those days, a student could study in MV (Middle Vernacular) school or in ME (Middle English) school after his/ her primary school. It was a perception that if one wanted to be good in mathematics he should study in MV school or otherwise one should study in ME school, of course, subject to availability of schools. If a student goes to MV school, after passing out from the school he/ she had to join in class V, whereas students passing out of ME school were eligible to join in class VII. My father who passed out from an MV school joined class V of the high school, effectively lost two academic years. On the other hand, my mother was a student of ME school and she did not lose any academic year. But these complicated procedures were not understandable to the uneducated masses of that era and everyone thought my mother was older than my father.
Anyway, the marriage was solemnized; but she was not welcomed wholeheartedly by the family of my father, particularly by my paternal grandma. Initially, for three years she wanted to be a good daughter in law and tolerated all the injustice meted out to her silently. She used to hand over entire salary to her mother in law and used to do all household chores. But she could not satisfy my grandma and other in laws except my grandpa. Only my grandpa used to show her some sympathy.
Chapter V: Tragedy Followed by Happiness
After one year of her marriage she was to deliver a healthy baby. Everything was fine till the last moment. The young couple planned to have their baby at my mother’s work place, Gangmouthan, a place between my father’s home town and mother’s hometown. However, it was nearer to my mother’s home town (village). But due to the terrible mistake on the part of the nurse, my mother had to deliver a still baby boy. Both my parents were devastated.
To increase their agony, she could not conceive for next one year. I am told that they went to the famous temple of Assam, Kamakhya to get blessings of Mother Goddess to have a son. They were lucky to receive the blessings of the Mother Goddess and my mother became pregnant after the visit to the temple.
This time, my father decided that delivery of the baby should be at his place. So he took her to his home one month ahead of her due delivery. But my grandma had a different idea. She called my mother after a week and told her to go to her aunt’s home (from where my mom completed her high school education) to deliver her baby.
Having no alternative, she went to her aunt’s place who welcomed my mom despite of her own problems due to her own large family of six children.
This time, mom was lucky to have a healthy son, my elder brother.
After one year two months, I also arrived without much fanfare with a fragile unhealthy body. Unfortunately, I could not bring much joy to my family as after my birth many unwanted things happened. On the twenty first day of my life, both my great grandma (mother’s side) and I were struggling for lives. Finally I survived the ill health; but she left all of us for good.
After three months’ of my birth, we became a nucleus family as my parents were thrown out of father’s family (as claimed by the sister of my father, my aunt). My parents had to construct a hut to stay for few months in a place which was about five to six KM from the original village of my father.
My arrival to the family was a watershed in the life of my mother’s life. My mother got back her confidence and fighting spirit once again. According to her, my birth brought her solvency up to some extent. Few agricultural plots were bought by our parents after my birth and a decent house was constructed for our accommodation a few years later.
When I was about four year old, the final showdown between my mother and mother of father (from that day onwards my grandma denounced us as her grand children) took place at our home. I clearly remember the showdown even after fifty years of the incident.
She told my mother with clear terms, ‘You leave my son and stay at some rented house with your sons near to your school and do not show your ugly face to me and my son!’
‘Why should I leave my home? You take your son with you, if he agrees to go with you.’ My mother was weeping. I was trying to pull my mom out of the room where my father’s mother was sitting.
‘If you do not go of your own, I shall tell my son to kick you out from this house.’ My father’s mother thundered.
My mother was weeping for a while and then she transformed to a different woman within a minute or two. She stopped weeping and told with a stern voice, ‘I have tolerated enough nonsense from you and your family! In the absence of my own mother I treated you always as my own mother. I was expecting one day you will realize this fact. But now, I think you do not deserve to be my mother. Therefore, I have to remind you that it is my house; it is constructed with my money. All agriculture plots have been purchased with my money as all your son’s salary had been taken by you and your useless sons and daughters for last six years. Now it is time to say you, pack up and go!’ My mother meant that.
After ten minutes, mother of my father left our home with a final salvo, ‘I shall never visit this house again in my life.’
She kept her promise and she did not visit our home till her death in 1979. However, during that period my mother visited her many times. She paid huge amount in all the marriages that took place in my grandpa’s place even after that showdown. Actually she paid the entire expenditure on reception of one of my cousins ten years after my own marriage.
Whatever may be the underlying reasons; my father was deprived of all the movable and immovable properties of our grandfather.
Venomous tongue of my father’s mother did not spare us (the grand children) even! One day, when I was sitting with a common relative (cousin uncle) she was telling to him, ‘I do not know, why God has not been kind to me! I have been blessed with only two grandsons (one each from my two uncles) and on the other hand, he gave me six granddaughters!’
The uncle smiled to me with sparkling eyes. When I told my mother later on about her statement, she laughed and told, ‘Luckily she did not like you as her grandson, and otherwise you would have been like her other useless grand children!’
PS: I am not blaming the mother of my father only, as I was not fully aware of the view points of her. Whatever I have written here is on the basis of viewpoints of my mother and whatever I had witnessed as a very young boy. Sometimes truth may be beyond what we see!
Chapter VI: Her Achievements
Some people are bitten by a bug called social service. One fine morning, my father decided to resign from his regular teaching job and to open one high school of his own. I shall write some day about my father and his social works; here I shall only touch upon how his social works affected our lives and particularly my mother’s life. Immediate repercussion due that decision was that our family income reduced to almost half.
During that period my sister was born and naturally our financial constraints were increased; but by the time our family became a single income family in all practical purposes. Thanks to my mother’s economic far sight, she had already bought sufficient agricultural plots to fetch our bellies without any problem. Rather we could spare a lot of agricultural products. She reared a number of cows also which provided us sufficient milk products to drink and eat.
Incidentally, my mother was my first teacher also. My mother’s school was about two KM from our residence. From my very early age, I had to accompany my mother to her school after one neighbour informed her that milk kept for me was taken by my maid and I was given only water throughout the day. So I was carried to the school on her arms/ shoulder and kept outside the school. I used to play in the large field adjacent to the school. My admission to school was also earlier than most of peers because of that.
In due course of time, all of our siblings had to leave the village for our higher studies at Guwahati and Delhi respectively. My mother had to bear all the education expenditure of my siblings almost single handed as my father did not have any regular wages in most part of our student life. In that process, she had to sacrifice all her personal comfort for us.
As a mother, she had scored three upon three, making all three children as class one Government servants which perhaps even 0.0001 percent Indian mother cannot claim. As a mother, from a village where girls were not allowed to study was able make her daughter as lecturer of a Government college was not a mean achievement!
I, not as a son, but as an outsider also, salute this lady for her achievements as a daughter (she was the first matriculate and head teacher of her entire family) and as a mother (she gave us sufficient education to crack Union Public Service Commission, Assam Public Service Commission and Meghalaya Public Service Commission respectively by three children) and she made number of doctors, engineers, teacher etc. in her career as a teacher spanning over thirty nine years.
I always salute my mother as a champion for girls’ education in rural areas of Assam.
The author is a Government servant and a man of vivid experiences derived from his official postings across the country, travels across India and numerous visits outside India. He is presently placed at New Delhi.
His earlier publications are:
1.Random Thoughts through a Coloured Prism
2. Dilemma of a Young Mind
3. Funny Statistics and Serious Statisticians
4. Melody of Fragrance
6. Few Cities through the Lens of Hiranya Borah
7. Guilt: Gift of Winter Spring
8. Beautiful Ghost
9. Great Fighters: Grace of God
10. All Blurred
11. Putting kids to sleep
12.How to become unpopular
14. My grumpy Face
15. Love and Worries
16. Discussion of own Birth: A Taboo
18. Indecent Love Affairs
19. My Fair Lady
21. Two Stories
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As a mother, she had scored three upon three, making all three children as class one Government servants which perhaps even 0.0001 percent Indian mother cannot claim. As a mother, from a village where girls were not allowed to study was able make her daughter as a lecturer of a Government college was not a mean achievement! I, not as a son, but as an outsider also, salute this lady for her achievements as a daughter (she was the first matriculate and head teacher of her entire family) and as a mother (she gave us sufficient education to crack Union Public Service Commission, Assam Public Service Commission and Meghalaya Public Service Commission respectively by three children) and she made number of doctors, engineers, teacher etc. in her career as a teacher spanning over thirty nine years. I always salute my mother as a champion for girls’ education in rural areas of Assam.