Uma Hosangdi is a true-blue ‘60s mom, having had both her daughters in the same decade. She grew up in Mumbai and Ajmer, and is now living the retirement dream with her husband. She recounts her childhood, how she became motherless at the age of 3, and how different her daughters’ childhood was from her own.
I was born in 1942, in a family whose home was always filled with love and laughter. At the time, there were four of us siblings; my older sister, who was five years older than me, my older brother, about seven years older, and my younger sister, who was just a year younger than me.
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My father used to suffer from frequent backaches during my childhood, and the only remedy that the doctors prescribed was geothermal heat generated from hot springs. Once, when I was three, we visited the Vajreshwari Hot Springs, situated near Mumbai. As we were boarding the horse carriage to return home, I heard my mother shriek in pain.
She had been bitten by a venomous snake; one that had burrowed itself inside the hay on the carriage floor. My mother didn’t survive the snake bite, and my siblings and I were left motherless. I was about three years old.
I don’t have warm memories of my childhood immediately after my mother’s death. My sisters, brother and I were left to be brought up by a maid, because my father would be away at work during the week. My younger sister needed more attention because she was still a toddler, and when I returned home from school, the maid would signal to me from the bedroom that I should eat what was on the dining table.
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Usually, the food that would be waiting would be cold and tasteless, and I went hungry most days. I was also especially scared to use the toilet. Whenever I would try to relieve myself, I would hear pigeons tussling amongst themselves on the outer sill of the window, and I would flee, petrified. Thus, I developed bowel problems and had perpetual stomach aches. Sundays would be reserved for visits by the doctor.
My mother’s absence affected my other siblings, and I think it pained my older siblings more than it did, me and my younger sister. One day, my brother didn’t come back from school. After scouting around the area for hours, my father finally found him, sitting on a stone ledge.
Dada had fallen behind academically; there was nobody to guide him at home and he told my father that he was being caned at school for his poor performance. He was miserable and requested my father to send him to a boarding school. My father immediately agreed and dada was sent to Bhonsala Military School, Nashik. He found his feet there and blossomed.
When I was about five years old, my father remarried. He realised that my sisters and I needed a mother figure at home. We had been struggling to cope without a mother. Some relatives had sought out a lovely match for my father and a quiet registered marriage soon followed. When our new mother moved in with us, it was like a ray of sunshine in our lives.
She was a teacher in a school nearby, and over time, she became a maternal figure to us. We each developed a bond with her that we desperately needed, and became more settled and anchored. I recount now, that some aunts would coax my sisters and me to call our new mother ‘Mummy’, but somehow, it didn’t come naturally to us.
My older sister found it odd since memories of our mother were still raw and fresh in her mind. Instead, we resorted to addressing our new mother as pachi, a Konkani word meaning ‘Aunty’. A few years later, we welcomed two new siblings to our family, and I became a doting older sister once again.
I got married at 17 and had daughters of my own a few years later. I poured myself into my role as a mother and gave them all my time, attention and affection. I accompanied them to classes, performances and school. As a child, I would walk to school on my own. There were little or no cars in those days, so it was considered safe, but I still pined for the company. I ensured that my children were always escorted. I made sure that they never fell short of anything.
When my older daughter got married, I was inconsolable during the kanyadaan. My tears flowed continually, and I felt like a part of my body was being ripped out. My younger daughter married into the same family as my older daughter, albeit a few years later. The second time around, I was much more composed. I knew that my older one would be there to take care of her sister while she settled in. Nevertheless, I’ll never forget the feeling of giving my daughters away in marriage.
I can’t be sure if my early childhood would have been happier and brighter if I hadn’t lost my mother so early on. I’ll never know, because I don’t know any other way. When it became my turn to be a mother, I know that I gave my daughters everything that I didn’t have in my early days. Love can heal anything. I know; I’ve been there.