Devraj Singh Kalsi pays a poignant tribute to his late mother
There was no glint of pride, but a sparkle of joy lit up her eyes whenever she uttered the sentence: ‘My son stays with me’. Although many of her friends poked her to know why an overgrown kid was still living with his widowed mother instead of venturing out in the big, bad world in search of a lucrative future like their ambitious sons did, it gives me deep satisfaction that in the last thirty years we stayed away from each other for not more than thirty days. She surely deserved this privilege for nurturing a son with creative tendencies – even if the scale of his personal achievements was small.
Some of her friends wondered why I chose to remain a frog in the well. Some of her friends concluded it was my lack of potential to make it big in life. They expressed concern that the hopeless son should wake up and join the mainstream. Some of her close friends tried to find out whether the son was earning his bread and butter or not. The job profile as a copywriter working from home was something they could not understand a decade ago. Sometimes my mother mentioned advertising and writing but their clever minds read this as a mother’s cover-up attempt in defence of her incompetent son as all loving mothers try their best to hide the flaws of their children.
The pursuit of creative work to earn livelihood secured my mother’s approval and appreciation. She was glad I did not have to enter into compromises or indulge in unethical practices for career development. She was happy I did not need to degenerate into an opportunist or flatter people to realise my goals. She believed every single sentence or idea was a divine blessing meant to take care of the material needs. She loved the purity of this earning and always encouraged me to write with purity – never lower the quality of the output to earn more. My homage to her would remain insincere if the charming world of advertising blinds me with greed and I deviate from the path I have followed as long as she was alive. Was it my choice or her blessing? Something within makes me feel nervous.
Writing does not require relocation to a distant city. The dream of a writer is realised inside a room located anywhere – even if the writing space is found in a jungle. Driven by this conviction, I began to write and deliver good work so that there is no dearth of clients. Yes, the writing job made it possible to spend more time with mother. Besides, I did not have to undergo the hassles of commuting to work every day.
My mother was happy with this working model and quite surprised to find it real. She called it a royal business. Yes, with royalty indeed! However, when my first attempt at full-fledged creative writing did not fetch commercial success, my mother was disappointed. Perhaps she felt I was less qualified to aim so big. In hindsight, I wish I had written something better. This failure haunts me after her death. That she left this world with the feeling of failure. No success is going to reverse this reality. Even if I manage to write better now, my mother is not going to see it. When you realise the most important person in your life is not around, your urge to prove your worth dies young. But it does not mean I should quit creative writing. Whatever I write now will be a tribute to her – so keep writing with honesty and purity.
Her separation led to another separation. My mother wanted me to strengthen my attachment with God and religion and she often reminded me of the shortcoming. Since she was a very pious lady, I thought her prayers would take care of me for life. Moreover, since God had taken away one parent in my childhood, I always thought God was not going to deprive me of her presence. I always felt there was time for learning the Gurmukhi script from her. I regret not finding time to learn reading the Punjabi language. The Holy Granth Sahib had to be donated to the Gurudwara (Sikh temple) as I could not read the Gurmukhi script and daily readings are a must. The holy book could have remained at home had I been fluent. I hope to be fluent someday, and get it back home and conduct daily readings. My tribute to her includes this exercise in self-improvement.
Her humorous streak is something I have loved — her ability to laugh breathes into my work. I wish to acquire the strength to laugh during tough times, during health challenges. Few years ago, when a senior doctor referred her to a specific medical college, she made him break into a hearty laugh with her straight-faced query: ‘But why do you want college students to operate me? They will do experiments.’
Just before the pandemic began last year, she consulted an ophthalmologist who suggested cataract surgery would yield negligible improvement in her low vision (high myopia all her life). When he asked her to read the board, she said she could not read it. Then the doctor made some signs and she read those correctly. The doctor was confused and she could not suppress her laughter. The doctor admired her joviality despite her low vision.
After returning home, I asked her if she could read something on the board. She said she could read with some strain. Since her mood was bad after the doctor said the surgery would not lead to proper restoration of her vision, she was not interested in getting herself examined again. So, she preferred to end the exercise by saying she could not read at all.
A couple of years ago, she had hearing problems. When I took her to the ENT, she was asked to undergo audiometry tests. The result suggested she should get a hearing aid. When I told her to get one for the right ear, she said she does not need the device. It would obstruct the beauty of her earrings. She was always unwilling to wear the signs of old age. She disliked using a walking stick. She asked me to talk softly and she would hear distinctly. She lowered the volume of the TV and repeated the dialogues in the serial — to suggest her hearing was fairly good. One day she claimed to have overheard the gossip of the housemaids in the kitchen — she gave hints of revision in wages. A week later, they demanded a raise. She was surely hearing things right.
Over the years, gulab jamun was her favourite sweet but her diabetic status prevented her from having it. Everytime her sugar level was normal in a medical test report, she celebrated it by having one gulab jamun. It was her inimitable style.
When she fell down and hurt her head, she refused to call it a fall. Relatives called up to find out her condition. She called it a jump and broke into a laugh, making the other person feel lighter and less worried. This choice of words indicated her spirits were always high. When I am sick and dying, I hope I am able to keep my suffering to myself, to remain cheerful and positive and say that I am going to be fine with the change of seasons even if there is no spring in my life.
My mother always said Nanak Dukhiya Subh Sansar — other people should not be made sad — do not offload your grief on others. She urged me to bear it all alone. She had tremendous strength to bear her sorrows all her life. I am not sure whether I was also a source of adding sadness to her life. Maybe, I was also a big contributor because I chose a difficult life and deprived her of what her friends and relatives got so easily in life. People say she deserved a better life, a better home to live, a better son, a better future, a better old age. My tribute includes this regret and confession that she truly deserved a successful son.
Devraj Singh Kalsi works as a senior copywriter in Kolkata. His short stories and essays have been published in Deccan Herald, Tehelka, Kitaab, Earthen Lamp Journal, Assam Tribune, and The Statesman. Pal Motors is his first novel.
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