“If there was no night, women would not even have a chance to rest” – Smt. Kusum Nigam
Dhamma Darshan Nigam
Our mother once said that “अगर रात नहीं होती तो महिलाओं को आराम करने का मौक़ा भी नहीं मिलता” (If there was no night, women would not even have a chance to rest). One other time about the 1984 massacre of Sikhs she said that “पूरी दिल्ली जल रही थी” (the whole Delhi was burning), which remains stuck in my mind. And since then I have read the same quote in many books. Such was the depth of thinking of our mother. Our mother was a home-maker, not some working woman who could have seen things while going here and here, or while interacting with different people, but she had a critical eye to understand and analyze things clearly, even through her limited periphery. She had the habit of reading newspapers, magazines and books daily. She used to read every part of the newspaper from front page headlines to daily city crimes, from national to international political news, news from sports pages to new national and international researches, from news about new recipes to Bollywood and entertainment news. She was always up-to-date. She was our social scientist, our political analyst, and our encyclopedia.
Our mother was a hard core Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) supporter. Hard core supporter of BSP’s president Mayawati ji. It was the time of the 2020 Delhi assembly election. Every news channel, newspapers, and her three sisters, four daughters she used to talk with, everybody was talking about Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), so she also got a soft corner for AAP. On the eve of the election she told us that for some moments she thought to give her vote to AAP. But then she emphatically said that “वोटिंग मशीन देखते ही, आंखें और उंगली सीधी हाथी पर ही जाती है” (‘as soon as I see the voting machine, my eyes and fingers go straight to the elephant’). She also used to say that this is not about winning or losing, but about registering our vote to our party. She had knowledge about all political parties and what was going on in which political party. She was a proud Bahujan Ambedkarite mother.
Our mother was mentally so strong. (And physically also she still used to work harder than all of us even in her 60s. For example, if we used to start cleaning wheat together, she never got tired before the whole wheat was cleaned, but we had to straighten our back several times during the whole wheat cleaning process). We lost our father on 6th January 2010. He was in the education department in Delhi government. And since then she has handled every matter of the home very smoothly. Three of us were studying at that time. Any one of us could have got a government job on the compassionate appointment basis, and that was the need of the time also.But we wanted to continue our studies further. Therefore she also never forced us to take that job. She encouraged us to continue our studies further and did not let the burden of expenses fall on us. She never let anything be lacking for her children then. She never came under anybody’s pressure about what society and relatives would say. She always took the side of her children. She let them marry according to their choices, whether it was inter-caste or inter-religion or inter-regional. She was a true Ambedkarite and a true Buddhist — not just “religiously” but by principles. Even in the families of her children’s in-laws also she always took the side of her children. Shoulder to shoulder she was always with her children.
Our mother was always open to learn new things. She wanted to learn English. Recently she also regretted not knowing English language and said it is a kind of incomplete feeling, though she could read English a bit. Once we were watching some movie with English subtitles. She was also walking in the same room and was trying to read those subtitles, and then she uttered a few words. Maybe she was making us realize that she can read English and can understand its meaning also.
Our mother never differentiated between a girl and a boy. And she never underestimated herself also against any man. Once a few men from our locality itself were capturing our vacant land in the night. Our father was on his night shift duty that time. So she took a wooden stick in her hand, went to our grandfather’s home by walking around 3 to 4 kilometers in the night around 2 and brought them with her to our home, and she had also called the police by then. When police came she named everybody and all were thrashed so badly that she always used to narrate the same story with the same enthusiasm. After that incidence she told us that those men never got the guts to make eye contact with her.
Our mother had an immense love for Books. During the month long lockdown in 2020 we all used to read a lot. But our mother had left us all behind. She finished Babasaheb’s biography by Vasant Moon in a single day. Once we got up in the morning around six and we found her reading another book of Vasant Moon. She read a lot of books those days. Many times she used to tell us many instances from Babasaheb and Manyavar Kanshiram’s lives which we never read anywhere. She used to tell us about Bahujan culture and practices and the logic behind them, which now nobody knows in our family! It was only due to her love for books that she never stopped me from buying books like a madman, and was always gave me money to buy books from her small savings whenever I wanted. It is just because of her that I have more than one thousand books today. A few times I had invested my full month’s salary in buying books, but she never said anything against this.
If I am able to write all this today and I have become a writer and/or researcher then it is just because of my mother. Otherwise I would have been doing some electrical maintenance work somewhere. She has transformed my life completely. After I completed my certificate courses of electrician and power electrician I got an electrical maintenance job in a German elevator company in 2007. Back then I was going to Guru Teg Bahadur Hospital in Delhi where the installation of an elevator was going on, for my training. For some medical checkup I had to take my mother to the hospital and I made her sit in a room where we used to sit where there large electrical panels were also installed. And this story I got to know quite late that after that hospital visit my mother fought a lot with my father, and told him that your daughters go to their work keeping laptops in their bags, while your son goes to his work keeping a plier and a screwdriver in his bag. I don’t know what happened then, but I left that job and started my graduation from University of Delhi in 2008. Whatever I wanted to do then she never stopped me. If I have become from an electrician to a researcher it is only and only because of my mother.
Now when we were able to give her even more happiness she has gone. Our mother is no more. We have lost her during the second wave of COVID – 19. She died on 15th April 2021. But it feels like the umbilical cord is still connected.
I don’t know whether she was aware or not that my favourite flower is the sunflower. But, she came in my dreams, gave me a sunflower and went away. Next morning I wrote these lines.
मां का सपने में आना
और एक सूरजमुखी का फूल दे जाना
जैसे कह रही हों
बाकी हैं कुछ और सूरज उगने
तुम्हारे साथ हूं अभी ..
For Namdeo Dhasal the ‘sunflower-giving fakir’ was Babasaheb Ambedar. And for us this is our mother.
(I thank Gurinder Azad bhai for persuading me to write this obituary of my mother).
Dhamma Darshan Nigam is an activist and a writer. He can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org