Wednesday, 2 April 2008

She Lived Her Living Doctrine

She Lived Her Living Doctrine
 Remigius de Souza

My Grandma

Mai, my grandma, was a peasant. She worked round the year like millions of peasant women across India. Round the 365 days a year her daily chores also involved writing on the earth – preparing for the monsoon, the season for paddy and vegetable farming that depended on rain. (Of course, Mai’s literacy and education has no official recognition in India of Democratic Socialism.)

And like all other peasant women, Mai would carry her daily household work, which extended beyond the family members. It involved keeping, rearing, caring a couple of cows, a dog, chickens, a cat, plants – coconut, mango, chikoo, jackfruit, banana… and the helpers, women and men, who worked on paddy farm during the season – all of them a vital part of the household, of economy; they were active participants in balancing the environment, ecology and energy (the much hyped terms today), thereby sustenance. Indeed a larger family. (That keeps with universal definition of Sant Jnaneshwar.)

Her family was better-off economically than most. However they had no servants. Helpers were called in during the monsoon, and for occasional errands. For example, the south wall of the house needed protection from rains, so also the eaves also were extended prior to monsoon. For this they used they used wooden bullies (in stock) and bamboo that grew in the compound hedge. For the cladding they used mats made from coconut leaves. Grandpa himself used to weave the half-coconut-leaf mats. I took opportunity to participate in many of the actions, whenever possible.

Mai was no workaholic. During the afternoons, while others were taking siesta, Mai also had her break. She would squat on the cow dung washed mud floor in the shaded veranda facing the east. She would silently say her Rosary – all fifteen mysteries. Her rosary was made of blue glass beads for all the fifteen mysteries, homemade.

She had short prayers while getting up in the mornings and going to bed at nights, and angelus in the evening with the family. She would go only once in a year to the village chapel. That was on the feast day of the patron saint – St. Joseph. Others – the young and the old – would go to the chapel on Sundays to say Rosary in the community, and on Good Friday to join Way of the Cross.

A priest used to visit the village three or four times in a year. Meanwhile the faithful would conduct the rituals to Baptize the newborn or to burry the dead. During his visits the priest used to celebrate the Mass in Latin. Later Latin was replaced by Konkani, our mother tongue.

Mai occasionally used to smoke bidis taken from grandpa’s stock. Grandpa made his own bidis and would not buy from the market. Mai stitched he own long-sleeved blouses by hand. Only at latter age she got them made by a local tailor. Her bed was a homemade quilt from recycled sarees, spread over a bamboo mat, on the mud floor.

I never saw Mai wearing gold ornaments, except, perhaps, earrings, not that she had no gold. She used a couple of pairs of glass bangles, a traditional symbol of a married woman whose husband is living. Silver ornaments were meant for Catholic widows, who could afford.

Mai used to tell me true stories of real people and real places, not about kings-queens-princes-princesses-fairies, without malice and taboos; she did not subscribe to Victorian values like the elite. Her stories had been as real s her work…

WORK! Her work wan not an occupation or a profession that is marked by a bottom line. Whatever she did was her vocation – her living doctrine higher than one prescribed by Church. Her work had contemplative value, and never was mechanical. She must have surely enjoyed it: Work became Leisure, Education and Health simultaneously (hence no bottom-line). Her work had arrested entropy, simply put.

Mai, also, was never, never affected by boredom, the malady that so common among the so-called advanced-elite-urbanite – rich or poor – who look for excitement 27x7. I never heard any complain from her about whatever work she did. Each day, each action had been new, though seemingly same. Work and Reward were no different from each other. Means and goal were same – one was not separate or different from the other.

Work, now, is a much abused word, much abused action. As I type this, a word on a sheet or screen, I call it my work (duly attached with copyright, as if the whole world depends on my writing)! We tend to ignore that ‘word’ (spoken, written, or in print) and a ‘picture’ (drawn, painted, or moving) are ‘virtual reality’ that takes us away from reality, which depends on depth and breath of our perception. Does it nourish any one, even me, other than my inflated ego? It constantly dissipate enormous amount of energy.

I never saw her sick or lying down by illness or fatigue. She was small, thin, frail looking, with wrinkles and dark complexion. She seemed to have arisen from the earth. Mai was daughter of the soil like millions of them across India, and elsewhere too. Whenever I travelled the countryside, over decades, I witnessed her silent presence everywhere. She reminds me of Sita Mai of epic Ramayana, whom the peasant women revere and have composed many poems (in Marathi) in her honour.

The establishment – Agency – does not recognise their education, intelligence, wisdom, skills, labour…, not even their presence, except in electoral rolls. No economist, no statesman, no self-ordained leader – in social, political, religious or any other fields – would ever be able to comprehend the universal – primal phenomena of Mai.

They – egocentric hypocrites with their blinkered view of the world, in the frenzy of development and desire for coveted rewards – have failed to discover any political, economic, scientific, social formula (theory) to understand them, or to discover any tool (technology) to elevate them. Their creative potency has hit the lowest. In the development-mad world the drudgery of this universal – primal Mai has rocketed down to the bottom of the pit.

Ironically, the legend of Sita Mai is now taken over by Nano–Maruti (Maruti is one of the names of Hanuman in epic Ramayana. Tiger and Tiger-god of the tribal have vanished with the vanishing forests and now taken over by the modern legend of Jaguar-the-sick. Such is the economic (money) power of India. Of course, we don’t deny the social responsibility of the ruling minority that is the Fist World India and the Corporate: Neither the farm land nor the forest nor the tiger is society!

Now tiger only will be seen in memorials in the Natural History Museums and in the idols of Kali Mai!!
Remigius de Souza

© Remigius de Souza, all rights reserved.

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