Mithun’s Mother
by Nidhi Mahesh


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I was not used to traveling in local trains…. did not have much need for it either… but I had to travel by one that day as it was the only affordable option… My pocket money was modest and though I had taken up a job, my first salary was yet to arrive….]

My friend Puspita was not coming to college for some days and I was anxious to find out what was wrong… She stayed in the suburb and thus the journey to the railway station…

I carefully made my way past the sea of people pouring out of a huffing local… whoever told me the morning hour would be better to travel!! I skipped the last two classes of my morning college to be here before office time began, but obviously I had no idea that people started so early to reach their respective offices…

My destination was not far… Belur was just two stations from Howrah where I was boarding… It would take barely 15 minutes someone had told me… I tried locating the ladies compartment to avoid rush… I would not get into the squabble for a seat… I can stand by the gate for the short journey, I decided…

The ladies coupe’ was not crowded though all seats were full… That was fine by me… I leaned back on the side walls and closed my eyes for a moment, trying to relax after my struggle to get on to the train…

“Aare Hema Malini klanto hoye gele ki …?” (o Hema Malini, got tired?) a sing song female voice startled me…

I looked around to find the source of such unwarranted comment and my eyes locked with bright, smiling eyes of a young woman sitting at the far end of the compartment… I was fuming. How dare she make a comment like that!!

But before I could let loose my fury I had more coming my way… “aare baba bodo lokeder dandiye thakte nei… eso bose poro…” (rich people should not be standing come have a seat…) she said vacating her seat…

This was too much to take…. Anger written large over my face I opened my mouth to reprimand the lady but she was quicker than me… “rege jete nei… Hema di… raag koro na… esho boso... train ekhuni chede debe… aami aamar kaaje jai...” (You should not get angry Hema di… don’t get angry… the train will start now…. Let me get on with my work...”)

She had by now moved next to me… pulling me by hand, a bright smile on her face she said “Hema Malini bol_lam bole raag korle didibhai… aare aami o to Mithun er maa...” (You got annoyed because I called you Hema Malini, don’t you know, I am Mithun’s mother!”) her voice was playful and friendly. Despite the anger I felt for her out of turn remarks I could not just form words of admonishment for her… her personality was electric… her persona magnetic…

To avoid any further comment from her I moved on to take the seat she vacated… As the train left platform more women got in… some men also tried to enter the compartment but this lady standing at the gate firmly kept them away… who was she? A railway staff? A daily commuter? She seemed to know everyone and was gleefully chatting with all and sundry… her outspoken remarks were taken in stride… no one seemed to take any offense on them…

As the speeding local made past its way through the car shed and started wheezing through green paddy fields, the sing song voice resounded again… the pitch high… tone loud.. it rang clear above the din of rushing train…

“aami Mithun er maa…. (I am Mithun’s mother)… there was pride in the voice and also a naughty undertone… that made you sit up and take notice…

“aami Mithun er maa…tobe… bhool koro na… aami Disco Dancer Mithun_er maa na... ta ki kore hobo bolo... aami bodo jor tar choto bon hote pari… ta bole, Mithun dada_r bon hole ekhane ei bhabe dandiye thaktam ki? Na re bhai, ammar Mithun se Mithun na… se matro teen bocharer chotto chele…” (I am Mithun’s mother, but don’t misunderstand… I am not the mother of Disco Dancer Mithun… how can I be…. I could have been his younger sister at the most… but if that had been the case would I have been here in this state? No my dear, my Mithun is a three year old lovely boy”)

Standing in the middle of the compartment, she took out a large packet of logenz from the cloth bag hanging from her shoulder… “aamar Mithun ei logenz khub pachchondo kore… tobu o or mukh theke kede ei guno niye eschi tomader kache… tomra… tomra jara Mithun_er maasi… pisi… didi…dida…” (“My Mithun loves these logenz… but I have snatched these from him to bring to you… you who are his aunts and sisters and grandmothers.”.)

“Kaeno niye eschi ei logenz tar mukh theke kede? Proshno korte e paro… thik proshno… tobe aami boli… aare bhai logenz khele ki pet bhorbe? Na to… ei logenz jodi aamar mithun khaye taar pet bhorbe na… kintu tomra khele… hain ekhanei to mozza… tomra khele ei logenz… aamar Mithun er pet bhorbe… aamar khabar jootbe…”
(Why have I snatched these toffees from his mouth and brought to you…you may ask… but my dear can you fight hunger with toffees? Of course not… if My Mithun has these toffees he will go hungry but if you do, his hunger will be satisfied... I will get food too...”)

With this a packet of logenz was thrust into every hand… yes… forcefully, with a smile and a persuasive story… there was no way one could push them back to her…

A girl, probably a college student, tried to ignore the packet she offered… the response had everyone in the compartment looking at the girl and listening to this ridiculously intrusive but ironically compelling lady… “aeto seje guje boy friend er saathe dekha korte jachcho? Ta jao… ei toffee guno niye jaao… aare baba… ek din aami o tomar moton chilam… ma baba ke tekka diye…. Seje guje… palatam tar piche… badi chadlam biye korlam… ek din Mithun ke aamar kole diye se e hawa… tar piche chute aar ki laabh bolo bhai… se to gaelo… kintu aamar Mithun… ta ke to bachate hobe… taai… ei logenz rakho… ek taka… matro ek taka…” (Dressed so well you must be going to see your boy friend…. sure you will see him… but do carry these toffees… there was a day when I used to dress up the way you have… used to fool my parents to run after him… I left my home, got married and one day leaving Mithun in my lap he simply vanished… what was the use to run after him then? He was gone, bit I had Mithun to take care of. So… keep these toffees… one rupee… only one rupee”)

How could one say no to her … her appeal was hypnotic… her manner though outrageous had a distinct personal touch… her eyes danced and laughed… her face glowed with self-assurance… her persona towered over all others around her…

Her pain, her anger, her despair… came out from the stories she recounted of her life… but there was no appeal for charity… she did not beg… she persuaded you to buy her offering… making you feel you should contribute to her livelihood… the means of survival for her child…

Was she telling the truth? Was she making up these stories to sell toffees? Possible. But if it was all made up… it was more powerful than hundreds of advertisements and jingles put together… if it was marketing, then perhaps the business grads needed training from her in merchandising…

But that is beside the point…

I was moved and touched by her performance…. the art of turning her grief into a livelihood… of finding hope where despair rang loud… of surviving amidst all odds… Would not she have been scorned off…laughed at…ridiculed…looked down upon… But she put her pride as a shield, her self respect and the indomitable self confidence created an aura around her…

This cotton saree clad, bindi sporting, churi dangling, smiling young woman must have been robbed off her security, her comfort, her pleasures and joys… the sparkling vermilion in the parting of her hair was not a sign of subjugation by chauvinism of men folk… through her it beamed like a reminder to all, of a man who shed his responsibility and fled… shaking you off the myth that man is the provider… it underlined the picture of a mother’s struggle to rear her child…

My annoyance was long replaced by a sort of admiration… I was captive to her movements… I almost regretted that my journey was short and that she had a long way to go…

I could not wipe that smiling face that hid so much of pain from my thoughts for a long time… finally I poured her out in a story to get her out of my system… it got published in the Sunday supplement of a Hindi daily…

Next time I traveled in the same route was to attend my friends’ marriage about two years later…

In some corner of my mind there was anticipation of meeting her again… a part of me wished she would have moved to a better livelihood…

…But just as the train left the station the sing song voice rang “ aami mithuner maa…” (“I am Mithun’s mother”)….

My eyes searched for her… she was as I remembered her… same smile, same appeal… same cotton saree, same bindi and sparkling vermilion… nothing had changed in her… and perhaps there was no change in the manner of her struggle as well…. She was still moving with the train…. forcing her toffees on unsuspecting commuters… cracking jokes … selling her woes wrapped in humour…

Her next words though, left me flabbergasted… “aamar golpo khoborer kagaze chaape…” (“My story has made it to news papers!”)… and with that the paper clipping folded in transparent plastic was pushed under the nose of the commuters while the other hand pushed the packet of toffees….

The clipping was thrust under my nose and I too was forced to buy the packet of toffees, after all I had given her this new marketing tool…

Sometimes I wonder would the Howrah local still be resounding with her war cry… “Aami Mithuner Maa”… or would Mithun have grown up to take off the cloth bag full of toffees, hanging from her shoulders…



Nidhi Mahesh





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Stories by this Author :
* A Sentational Story
* Lost and Found
* Ajmera
* Gobindo
* Mirage
* Mithun's Mother
* Resilience
* Defending the Indefensible…



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