A Different Mother’s Day
A Different Mother’s Day8 mins 532 8 mins 532
No. She had not heard of women’s day.
Nor did she care, from the look on her face.
However, it was ironical that I travelled all the way to meet the old woman to give the worst possible message, when the whole World was celebrating the mother’s day!
She was about 70 but looked older; her skin was pale, wrinkled and both the ears, because of the heavy earrings she wore, were dangling piece of skin. Earrings made sound every time she shook her head.
She had not combed her shocking white hair for quite some time, from the look of it.
Her dress, a typical Punjabi village woman’s dress was old, worn out and off colour.
It was the dress of a very hard working woman; it had tell tale marks of food that she cooked for half the village without expecting anything in return.
She looked at me; I was holding the tea cup without drinking it. For the first time in my life, I was struggling to find the words to speak.
Her small eyes studied my face and with a toothless grin, she consoled me.
“Beta, whatever you wanted to say, please say it without any hesitation. But first, drink the tea. It must be already cold. Do you want me to prepare fresh?”
I looked up and met her small eyes which were searching my face and nodded my head that the tea is fine and drank it.
It all started ten days ago in the military camp.
I was busy preparing the food for night's supper, when I got the information about Surjit being injured and in hospital.
Surjit, a commando in the unit where I served as the cook became friend on the very first day we met, some six years ago.
He was a very friendly, brave and a gentlemen to his nicely polished boot.
We shared lots of our personal things and Surjit often mentioned about his old mother whom he had left alone in the village. His father died along with his younger brother in an accident. Mother, who was nearly 70 years old, refused to leave the village and told Surjit, it seems, that she will die in the village where she was born.
Surjit was very fond of his mother and since she couldn’t read or write, he used to send his letters regularly to the village head who used to read it to her and write her reply.
Surjit was planning to apply for the leave and was about to get sanction.
The news of him admitted with wounds in the hospital was, shocking to say the least.
I handed over the remaining work to two of my colleagues who understood that I need to visit Surjit before it is was too late.
Surjit was lying on the bed and I thought he was un conscious. But, when he heard my foot steps, his eyes slowly opened and even in that pain, he tried to smile.
There were tubes running from his nose and bandage all over the body; I was told he took more than 10 bullets on various parts of his body and it was a miracle he survived enough to get admitted to the hospital.
The doctor, whom I met before going inside the room to meet Surjit, told me that there was very little chance of survival as many of his internal organs were falling one-by-one.
I controlled the bile raising in my throat and tears rolling from my eyes and sat very close to Surjit and gently held the few fingers which were visible from the bandage.
He was desperate to talk. But his lips moved and no sound came out.
I looked at his eyes which were pleading for me to listen, understand and do something for him.
I knew instantly, he was worried about his old mother and wanted something from me.
Controlling my fears and steading my trembling hands, I spoke to Surjit.
“Yaar, tell me. I know you want to say something to me. What’s it? Is it about your mother?”
I could sense that his eyes became large, at the mention of his mother and he managed to nod his head ever so slightly.
Then with great difficulty, he managed to say just couple of words; the words, though not very clear, came out with a slur.
I tried to catch the words he was trying to say and spoke. “Are you asking me to check your bag in camp and find something?”
He again nodded his head with great difficulty.
“What’s there in the bag Surjit? Is it money or something?”
Surjit’s eyes were riveted on me and his lips read, ‘letter’
“Letter? To your mother?” I said and he again nodded his head and I could see droplets of water coming out of his blood shot eyes.
I just couldn’t stand there any more and watch my friend die.
I gently pressed his hands, stood up and wiped tears and spoke; for the last time to Surjit
“Don’t worry my friend. I will find your letter and do whatever the letter says. This is a promise from a friend.”
Even as I turned to leave, I could hear a gasp of air coming from Surjit’s mouth; he was dead.
I looked at the weather beaten face of Sujit’s mother and recollected the instructions written by hand by Surjit. Being a commando unit member, the death was not just expected but imminent.
So, Surjit knew that a day will come when he may not be able to see his mother again and had written a letter addressed to me and here I am to complete his last wish. Surjit knew that I was relatively safe and likely to carry out his wish as I was managing the kitchen away from the battlefield.
I came to present and looked around at the dilapidated house which was once upon a time was well painted and had happy movements of a family living together.
The condition of the house was very bad and it looked as if, it might collapse any time.
The old woman, was still looking at me with her small eyes and waiting patiently for me to speak.
When I joined the forces as a cook, I never expected that one day, I would be sent as a messenger to convey death of a brave soldier to his mother.
But, I had no option but to speak and get over with it.
Clearing my throat, I looked at Surjit’s mother and spoke.
“Maji, I also work in the same battalion as your son Surjit. We both are very good friends and as per his…” I searched for the right word, “wish, I have come to meet you.”
There was no point in going round and round, I thought I will directly come to the purpose of my visit.
“Maji, Surjit was hit by enemy bullets and……..” I just couldn’t control my tears. I stopped speaking and wept like a small child.
The old lady got up from where she was sitting on the floor in front of the house, came near me, and caressing my head spoke in a clear and study voice.
“Beta, Mera Surjit shahid hogaya? Hain na?”
I had hundred things to tell Surjit’s mother as per the letter. And take her away to my place and leave her in the company of my mother who lived just about 100 kilometers away.
But, I could hardly speak all those things as Surjit mother, though not educated in the formal sense of the word, was much more intelligent than the so called learned city woman.
“Beta, I know what Surjit must have told you. He want you to take care of me. Right? Poor Surjit, there was not a day that he was not bothered about my future if something were to happen to him. My son, Surjit would always write in every letter he sent, about his fears. He was not scared to die, my Surjit.
He was scared what would happen to me if something were to happen to him.
Is this what you are struggling to say?”
She spoke with so much of simplicity, I was at once, relived and worried.
Relieved because the old woman spoke exactly what I was struggling to say. Worried because, what to say and do next?
Surjit’s mother – I never asked for her name; mothers don’t need a name - was very clear that she will not leave the village.
Her remaining days, she said will be spent in serving the hungry in the village like she has been doing for years now.
She took my hands in her frail hands and spoke.
“Beta, you should not worry. You have carried out the last wishes of my son Surjit by coming here personally and meeting me. I thank you for this. Don’t worry about this old woman, I don’t have many needs and not many years to live.
The money Surjit used to send me regularly was used for buying essential items for me to cook for the poor in the village.
Now that you have told me that I will continue to get money from the Government, I don’t have any worries.
I have only one regret, though." Surjit's mother stopped and looked at me.
I looked at the old woman eager to listen to her and when she spoke, stood still with awe.
This is what she said.
“Beta, my only regret is that I could send only one son to serve the country. My younger son died before he became eligible to join.”
I stood up to leave and even as I started to walk away, I just couldn’t decide who is much superior person in our country.
The sons and daughters who go out and give up their life for the country?
Or, the mother’s who are brave enough to send their sons to the force, knowing that they may not come back?
I looked back at Surjit’s mother who was standing; a frail small woman against the back droop of an old house in a remote village near Gurdaspur.
I stopped, held my head high and Saluted the brave mother!