Today’s post is a guest post for my 1 year Anniversary post by a wonderful woman named Ruby Irihal. She has been reading my blog for a while and when she saw my anniversary post, she wanted to participate. And when I saw what she has written…I had no words……read on to find out yourselves……over to Ruby Irihal and her tribute to infallible human spirit…..
This post is to celebrate my Aunt, a woman who gave up her own life for children that were not born to her. We called her Duldi. I have no idea why we called her that. I wish I had a picture that would do justice to her. Only now I realize that she was possibly too busy raising children that were not her own, to have her own pictures taken. Or preserve them. The ones that are there are faded, decayed and lined. There is one that gives an obscure glimpse of her standing with her girl-friends, boldly sporting a calf length skirt, a shapely ankle clad in stockings and a white dainty pump stuck out in a suggestive pose. She was known for spreading her wings, for looking up, for breaking boundaries, for wanting to soar high.
The story begins in the early 50s, when India was young and our society was old and regressive. My Father fell ill and died of an unknown fever one night. Just like that, no warning, no preparation. He was only 28 years old. My mother was a child bride, and nothing prepared her to care for five children born in twelve short years of marriage. She was beautiful, but very young, from a poor family that had all but perished in the cruel partition that brutally divided the country. She could read and write, but barely so. My Father had been smitten with her at a wedding, and those days, it was somehow OK to have a sixteen year old boy marry a thirteen year old girl, as long as the families agreed.
I was about five years old when our world came to a stand- still. I don’t remember much of that time, but I have heard from my siblings that days rolled into nights, and all one could hear at home was moans and wails of grief. I do remember missing my father, his image of lying on the floor covered with a sheet and orange and white flowers forever etched in my memory. My grandmother had taken to bed. My father was her youngest son, second of the two who had survived out of five sons she had given birth to. Her other surviving son was raising a family of seven in another part of the country. Her two older daughters were married to faraway lands, with their own troubles to worry about.
My Aunt was very different from everyone around her. At 18, Duldi belonged to that new breed of Indian women who had started to break out of the shackles of male dominance and believed in self-reliance and education. Being youngest in the family also meant that she was given a lot more freedom – the energy to hold her back had possibly dissipated from the elderly couple who were her parents. My grandfather had made the final exit about six years ago. He was tradition bound to a point where he had married off all his girls before they had hit the age sixteen. His death might have meant freedom for my Aunt to keep pursuing her dream.
It also could have meant sealing her fate for a destiny she did not design, and could not have wanted. Her brother adored her, and as she was almost 10 years his junior, he treated her more like a daughter than his sister. He had tried getting his young wife to go to school, but my mother was possibly too busy and too tired from being pregnant and giving birth the entire time of her marriage to think of anything else. My Aunt on the other hand grabbed the opportunity to educate herself with both hands and then some. She wanted to be a doctor. She had been accepted into a medical school and would have started college that fall – a profession that had only a handful of women in her times. It was an honour bestowed to very few and the very brilliant.
Instead, she stayed back at home because there was no money for college. With the sole breadwinner gone from the family, it was starting to get difficult to even feed the mouths. The older siblings sent some help, and though, for a while it tided over the initial struggle, it was never enough for a family of eight. I am sure my father struggled to make ends meet too, but he had a steady income. Now, with no income, the family was on the verge of taking to streets. My grandma eventually wiped her tears and started taking care of the kids while my mother started taking lessons to learn stitching. Overnight, all of us had grown up – yes, all of six, I knew I had to be more responsible, less demanding.
In short, a typical Hindi film drama, but way before these sad stories had actually started playing out on the big screen. Then, one day, my gritty Aunt decided we had enough of mopping around. My grandmother had a talent in making powdered masalas for food – something that was not very well known in those days as people preferred to make their food from scratch. Duldi decided to tour the market to see if she could possibly sell those – a bold, innovative entrepreneurship idea from someone so young, and totally unversed in business know-how, that too in a market that was not ready for this product yet.
In a couple of years, her labour started bearing fruit. The idea took off. My grandmother created recipes and crafted the masala mix and put them in newspaper pouches, and my Aunt would contact the local shops and even go from door to door to market and sell the homemade powders. She was a brilliant analyst, and she soon figured out that urban, affluent people preferred readymade masalas (spice mix) so that they could save time in the kitchen. Soon, she had opened a small ‘masala’ shop in a market, and expanded to selling ketchup, and other food products that gave the customers a homemade feel. She was innovative. There was no TV, hardly any radio and no telephones, but she skillfully used the local papers to market her products, and even offered to custom make them if anyone so wanted.
She hired a few people who were wholly engaged in making the spice-mixes. Luckily we lived in a house that had a big porch at the back which had been converted into a small masala making factory. The income was not very big, but it sustained the family. She also labored to put us through school. My mother pitched in by stitching clothes for neighbours. But the family was growing, and we still fell short.
When I was about 8 years old, my Mother was proposed marriage. This was unheard of. Indian women, once widowed, were seldom given a chance at second marriage. If they had children, then it was totally out of question. But I guess my mother was extremely beautiful, and caught the eye of someone who wanted her despite her widowed state and children. The catch? He would only allow her to take two of her 5 children with her.
It was a bitter choice, one that my Mother reluctantly made. She was vociferously encouraged by my Aunt and grandmother (who had come a long way for someone who had lived such a conservative life), who advised her that with her marriage, the family would be in a better position to provide for all the children. The rest of the extended family rebelled, and even ‘disowned’ us for supporting our Mother’s remarriage. Today, I have this wretched feeling that they were simply looking for ways to wash their hands off us.
My mother re-married, and took her two youngest children – my sisters – with her. The older ones – my two older brothers and I, were left behind. I remember missing my the six year old sister for a long time, as she was my playmate and I had helped in taking care of her after my father died. I remember the feeling of terror, of being abandoned, and crying for my parents at night. My Aunt came in, took me in her arms, and soothed me to sleep. My mother had moved to a different State after marriage, so that meant we did not see her anymore, though she frequently wrote to us and told us what she could about our siblings.
Next five years are all a blur of sometimes lonely, sometimes happy times. Duldi ‘s small shop did quite well for now smaller family. My grandmother was still up and about, and took care of everything at home.My brothers went through some very difficult and turbulent teenage years. My grandma was a pillar of strength in those times, but it was my Aunt who was the anchor, and kept all of us moored.
Then Duldi got a proposal for marriage. He was a doctor, and knew my Aunt from school. He had gone away to study medicine, quite sure that she too was studying to be a doctor, unaware of all the tragedies that had changed the course of her life forever. Still, he wanted to marry her.
She refused. At that time, I could not understand what made her so adamant at her refusal; only that I was happy our Aunt was going to be with us forever. Years later I learned that my younger sisters had been mistreated by our Step father, but my mother could no longer return as she had two new babies to take care of. Duldi would not take any chance with our future. So she sacrificed her own. She had already given up her coveted career few got a chance at, and now she gave up on chance of having a life partner, of having her own kids.
Her shop did well, but never expanded beyond that small 10X10 space. She had diverted most of her energy in bringing us up. With the passing away of our grandmother, she had become a single parent to teenagers she had not given birth to, but were a part of her in every sense of the phrase.
She was more than a mother. She was a father, a mother, a sister, a mentor, a friend all rolled into one. I remember her running to the neighbors to show my eldest brother’s Merit Certificate from School of medicine, literally screaming and telling them – mera beta doctor ban gaya – my son is a Doctor now. She had broken down and cried with happiness when my other brother made it to Indian Air Force.
But she was the happiest when I completed my PHD and got a scholarship from a University abroad. She was terrified of letting me go alone, but would not let anyone stop me either – she had worked too hard to see us through to this point. And she had taught me to be independent, and chase my dreams.
She paid for the ship that sailed me seven seas over. And she replied to each and every letter I sent her from there, rebuking me if I was late and painstakingly describing every little thing that happened back here. My older brother wanted to marry a fellow doctor, but only if Duldi agreed. She now loved watching films. She would send me a list of movies that she thought I should watch – it did not occur to her that there was no way I could watch Indian movies abroad. My mother had finally visited and her letters detailed how both my youngest siblings were now married and that she did not approve of it at all. But my mother looked well, and she had brought a lot of gifts for her children. She had held my brothers and cried, and had left with photographs clutched to her heart. Duldi extracted a long distance promise from me that I would visit my mother once I was back in India. My half-brothers had also won over her. She thought they were very handsome and well behaved. My brother in Air Force had lost his leg, but had been now stationed in a ground job, and was married to a beautiful lady who did not speak our language. But she was a dutiful daughter in law it seems, always taking care of Duldi whenever she visited. And she also made our brother very happy – the benchmark of Duldi’s standard for approval of everyone in our lives.
She ran around like a proud hen when I got married to a wonderful man I had met during my research time abroad. My kids could not have enough of “Duldi Nani’ as they called her. With both my brother and sister- in- law working as doctors full time, she had a new set of children to raise and cluck over.
By early forties Duldi was assuaged by a plethora of maladies and soon they all caught up with her. By today’s standards, forties isn’t old. Back in those days, it meant life, especially for unmarried females, was all but over.She sold her shop to a company which was making its mark in the packaging powdered masalas and retired. My Doctor brother and his wife adored her, and took care of her till the end. She was only seven years older to him, and though he was still very attached to our Mother, my brother revered and worshiped Duldi. His kids adored her too. My mother now visited more often, and they had telephones they could now be connected with.
She had a beautiful smile on her face the morning we found her body cold, her face still having the warm glow that had sustained us through the most difficult period of our lives. It seemed to say – her family was settled, her mission complete, she was ready to go. She didn’t give us any warning, just like her brother. Possibly she knew we would not let her go that easily, so she quietly left.
She has stayed on, in the deepest, most precious part of our heart, forever.
Now, that was the story of my Duldi. Thank you Minnie for giving me a chance to share this story with you all.
Let me tell you that I love your blog, and love every aspect of it. Congratulations on your anniversary, and I wish that you celebrate many more of them. I also love the recipes that you post. Most of them are fragrant with spices.
The one that has impressed me the most is your chicken chaap recipe. It is not only gorgeous, but is also innovative, and I am impressed that you put in so much thought into recreating it. Spices, as you saw, have had a big influence in my life.
We grew up poor for a while, but we never lacked for food. But some things were still out of reach. Like we when we were young, we did not have refrigerators. The temperatures scorched during the hot summer days. I remember sleeping under the bed because that seemed to be the coolest place in the house. Me and my older brother would even fight over the space. During those hot summer days, my grandmother would serve us cold milk laced with a rose syrup she used to make. It resembled the modern day Ru-Afza, but not quite. She could make anything taste superlative just by adding spices. My grandmother cooled the milk in ‘matka’ – an earthen pot, let it sit overnight in another pot filled with water ( or ice, if we were lucky enough to buy some). Later, she would add the rose syrup with some spices, and make a delicious drink.
Rose drink with spices:
1 cup chilled milk
1 tbsp any rose syrup
1 pinch of: cardamom powder, nutmeg powder, cinnamon powder
Stir together and enjoy.
Did you guys read that?? What do you think? If you like it, please vote for it. Simply click the ‘like’ button under the linky thumbnail. Do you have anyone who has truly left an indelible mark in your life? Or have influenced you enough that you could write a story around it? If so, do write to me, and participate in my Anniversary Contest. It ends on 30th June. ONLY 3 days left!!!! There will be a little more time given so that you can get votes for your posts. Waiting to see the entries!!!