When I was small, I called my mother Seema Vaidya ‘Aath Aai’. 'Aai' in Marathi means mother and 'aath' means eight. The reason was simple. I always saw her leaving the house at eight o’clock for office.
From the first floor of our British era building I could see the lean and short frame of my mother walking hastily so that she reached her office Larsen and Toubro in Mumbai’s eastern suburb of Powai on time. She would catch a crowded train from Dadar to Kurla and then hop onto the company bus which would take her all the way till her destination.
She worked in the company in its administration section for 25 long years before taking a voluntary retirement when I started earning. My father was a cancer researcher who moved to working in pharmaceutical companies in the later stages of his life. I respect him for his struggle, hard work and his academic prowess. However, my mother’s struggle was of a different kind.
She is the youngest daughter of her father. She was the first graduate among her siblings. However, even before she completed her education her father had to retire from his government railway job. This left her to take up the ownership of the family along with her brothers. She managed to get a job as a telephone operator in Mumbai’s international airport. The job used to be in the night. Groggy eyed she used to make it to the college in the morning. She continued her Masters and law studies even after her marriage. However, post my birth she abruptly discontinued it. I wonder what could have I done if it was possible for me to persuade her to study further.
It was the time of the mid-eighties when it took 3-4 years to get a telephone line. I remember the generous third floor Gujarati neighbours who would call me when my mother would call on their land line. The calls were brief and aimed at asking my wellbeing.
I remember our family getting a blue dialler MTNL phone after a long wait. This gave me an opportunity to stay in touch with my mother for longer hours. Her lady colleagues at L and T, all fellow board line telephone operators were mostly from Goa and a fun bunch to talk and chit chat.
Office gatherings were basically christening parties or marriages accompanied with fun and frolic. Her office was a ‘Taarak Mehta’ type society at play with Sindhi, Gujarati, Anglo-Indians, Muslims and a variety of office colleagues. My first multi ethnic immersion was when I accompanied my mom to her vibrant office functions.
Till I was almost ten years old I grew up in a crèche. The crèche belonged to an uncle who was supervisor in a textile mill, however had to stay at home due to the long mill strikes that was the order of the day.
Later on, my mother urged that I stay alone at home as I believe she wanted to inculcate the same values of independent living that she cherished all her life. Her father’s place was a stone’s throw away from our house in Dadar.
I remember an anecdote when I was 12 and doing my Maths homework on 12th March 1993. There was a bomb blast that happened near Sena Bhavan which was just 5 buildings away from our house. The sound of the RDX blast was deafening and the sound was so strong that the glass of the French style windows of our old house shattered and broke away. I rushed to the balcony and I could see people running in all directions. My maternal aunt came to my house and took me to her place.
Meanwhile, my mother was trying to trace my whereabouts. This was not the age of mobile phones and our recently acquired land line phone was the only way to trace me. However, the landlines were the first casualty of the chaos that ensued after the bomb blasts. Somehow she got in touch with the lone family in my maternal uncle’s building who had a phone and I was officially marked ‘safe’.
When she arrived in the evening to fetch me back I could see tears rolling down both her cheeks. She hugged me and confirmed that I was fit and fine after the incident. Her spirit ebbed a bit after that and she even stopped my music class as it required me to walk alone to an area that had just witnessed violence.
I will admit that in the old time parenting style I have the scars to prove that my mom has not spared the rod in order to not spoil the child. She had taken personal loans from friends to ensure that my post graduate fees in a high ranking communication institute could be paid off.
The article is a meagre attempt at expressing gratitude and no amount of wordsmith polishing can outshine what I owe my eight o’clock mother. I have learnt my grit, gumption, tenacity and never say die attitude from her which I can just hope will last me for a lifetime.