When life throws diapers at you, be happy as long as it’s dry. That’s a new age parenting consolation. My mother had to go way beyond diapers; and cleaning up the mess went much beyond my kindergarten years, as I used to wet my bed till the age of ten. Not once did she ever grimace or scold me, let alone use the cane. Such inate kindness and unlimited patience were not reserved just for me but for generations of students at Don Bosco School, Egmore, where she was a teacher for 33 years. Fairness too. Decades before I could join Law School, my mother had taught me a legal maxim ‘you cannot be a judge in your own cause’ by example, and had me shifted from her class to another section.
No wonder when she was in the CCU of Kauvery Hospital for 17 days, following a massive heart attack, students she had taught even 40 years ago – from politicians to doctors to business leaders, made a dash to check on her, exchange notes with the medical team and pray. No wonder I am still being flooded with messages from around the world with her old students recalling her kind and gentle ways.
Tragedy struck, rather unexpectedly, just a couple of days after her shift from the CCU to a room and a few days before the planned discharge from the hospital. What was poignant – her end came the day after being her most cheerful self, on the eve of my dear dad Vincy’s birthday and less than 3 months before what would have been their Golden Jubilee. As a son, it was beyond painful to see the goddess who brought me to the world, leaving this world, taking her last few gasps as I held on to her feet, begging God for a miracle. It is said in the Bible, “if you have faith even the size of a mustard seed, you can move mountains.” I wasn’t trying to move anything. I was just pleading for my mother’s heart to not stop beating. I would have pulled every string in the world to save my mother. There was one string I couldn’t pull – with God. Maybe my faith wasn’t strong enough. Maybe He had a tatkal vacancy for the sweetest angel in heaven.
Although I wasn’t a ‘Mama’s Boy’ in the conventional sense, I was deeply attached to my mother. I lived under the same roof in our modest villa in Little Mount for 32 years. I was her travel companion to school for 13 years. I was her lunchmate till I was in the 8th Std. I was her first resort. Till I got married, she was my only confidant.
The gentle look on my mama’s beautiful face in the freezer box seemed like she was having one of those rare naps. Never a Queen Bee, always the Worker Ant, she had gone grocery shopping the day she suffered her first heart attack.
As I gazed at her lifeless body draped in her favourite maroon sari, the images that flashed across my mind, triggered a burst of tears at regular intervals. Of her walking home from the end of the street carrying two bags – one with our daily evening goodies from Vijay Bakery, not for herself, but only for us. Of her slogging after school hours taking tuitions to earn a little extra money to buy that new North Star shoe or Witco bag for my sister Juliana and me. Of her treating me to Rose Milk and Kesari at the Railway VLR Stall in the Egmore Station, usually on salary days. Of her annointing us with Holy Oil every single day before we left the house. Of her bidding goodbye at the Airport to all her siblings and mother who migrated to the US decades ago and her decision to fall in line and stay put here. Of those fluffy cheese omelettes and sandwiches oozing with butter, she would whip up, even as early as 3 or 4 am whenever I had to catch an early morning flight for one of my NDTV shoots. Till date, no 7 star hotel chef has been able to replicate those items from ‘Judy’s Kitchen’. Of the time she walked up to a stranger at a mall in the US to say:” Excuse me. My son is of your build. May I know your collar size, please, as I want to buy his favourite red shirt.” Of her so lovingly nursing my dad back to health after his return from Mangalore. Of those straight from the heart ‘Thank You’ Notes or Poems, almost in calligraphy, for every little duty we performed, even for something as simple as doing an online payment of her electricity bill. If she had recovered, every doctor and nurse in Kauvery Hospital would have got such ‘Thank You’ poems. Of her watching every story or show or debate of mine on TV, reading every article of mine in the papers. Of her ringing the doorbell sharp at 8 am on Sundays and greeting my children Sanvi & Vidan in her trademark affectionate voice: “hello my babies.” Of her tearful prayer when my little son was unwell: “God, take away my grandson’s pain and give it to me instead.” Of her sad comment “sorry I’m troubling you. I’m feeling giddy, can you give me something to drink”, an hour before her hospital admission. Of her showing us the needle marks on her arms in the CCU. Of my wife Vidya trying to feed her special home cooked items in the hospital and her plea “I can’t eat”, owing to an apparent loss of appetite and difficulty in swallowing solid food.
Throughout her over three decade stint at Don Bosco, my mother has never ever been late to school. As I said in the funeral eulogy, it’s only in her death that she will be called ‘Late Mrs. Pinto’.
A mother is a mother, whether she is 74 or 104. So as the cortege left home, when the funeral mass was over and when the coffin was about to be closed and lowered into the pit, my world came tumbling down. I sobbed inconsolably. Come to think of it, which son or daughter wouldn’t? If teachers and mothers got Report Cards, mine would get an A Plus + Three weeks ago, I vividly remember my beloved mother chatting with us in the balcony. Today, she is a picture on the wall.
Mother, you gave me everything. Much more than words can say. I miss you with every heartbeat.
(Sanjay Pinto’s biggest badge of honour is being called ‘Judy Pinto’s son. He is also a Lawyer at the Madras High Court, Columnist, Author, TV Political Commentator, Public Speaking Mentor & Former Resident Editor of NDTV 24×7)