She sacrificed everything for her son – her only child. In this materialistic world of today, one would be hard-pressed to believe that such a person actually lived.
My dadi was born as the eldest daughter with two younger brothers to my great grandfather in Virdel in 1889, the same year in which Pandit Nehru was born. Virdel is a small village in Shindkheda taluka in Dhule district, which is part of the Khandesh region of Maharashtra. Her father - my great-grandfather – was a Marathi scribe who used to write applications and other papers that people had to submit to the Revenue Department; he also used to practice Ayurvedic medicine.
Like most other girls of her age in our community, my grandmother was not schooled. She was married when she was around 15 years old to my grandfather, who lived in the nearby Shirpur taluka.
In 1905-06, when she was barely 17 years old, there was a plague epidemic in and around Mumbai, which led to the death of large numbers of people. In those days, most village houses were made of mud, with wooden battens, covered by earth as roof. These features facilitated the breeding of rats. Plague bacteria would infect and kill the rats, and then plague would spread from the dead rats to human beings. There was no effective treatment for plague those days – even the causes of plague were not well-established.
Her husband died in this epidemic, when she had gone to her parents’ home for the birth of her first and only child – my father. At this time, my father was just one month old. In this epidemic, she also lost her in-laws and two brothers-in-law. As a young widow, without the protective umbrella of her in-laws, she faced an uncertain future.
In our community, there was a rich widower living in Erandole in East Khandesh (now called Jalgaon) district. He had had heard about my dadi becoming a young widow, and her being beautiful, with a fair complexion. He approached my great-grandfather with a proposal to marry my dadi. His only condition was that she should leave her infant son with her parents, and move in alone with him.
In those days, it probably seemed a reasonable proposal. But, not to my grandmother – she loved her son too much. She was furious. She warned her parents that if they would consider the proposal favourably, then she would throw her son in a well and then jump in herself! Her father felt embarrassed that he had even entertained the proposal, and requested her not to feel so offended.
So, she set out to live her life with her son. She returned to live in her in-law’s home in Shirpur, though she visited her parents occasionally. After her parents died, she sold the Virdel property, and took her younger brothers to Shirpur. Here they jointly built a house, which had three parts – one for my grandmother and my father, and other two for each of her brothers. When she moved to Shirpur permanently, she claimed and got from the family’s common land a share for her son (about 1 hectare). This she tilled with her son’s help.
Time passed. The family was not well-off but had a good standing in the community. When my father was 18 years old, he got married to a girl from an established family in our community.
I distinctly remember that when I was five years old, and my dadi was about 40 years old, I accompanied my father and grandmother to our field, where we grew cotton. Here my father used to plough the land, which was difficult manual labour, and my grandmother used to sow the seeds, which was skilled work. When my father felt tired, she would ask him to take some rest and wipe the sweat from his face with her sari. My father also worked as a goldsmith; my grandmother assisted him in this also.
She was uneducated but full of wisdom and caring for not only for her family but also others. She told my father that you should always pray to God to grant boon of well being to others and thereafter to us also.
I was a good student. In Shirpur, there was no English language school beyond Class V. So, for further school education, I had to go to Pratap High School in Amalner in the adjacent Jalgaon district. My grandmother came with me to Amalner to look after me and stayed in a rented room near the school. After obtaining my Matric (Class X) degree, my dadi and I returned to Shirpur. Here, I got a teacher’s job in the school where I had studied, with a salary of Rs. 25/month.
Still, our family’s financial situation was poor, and even though I was a good student, I could not even think of going to Pune for college education. Fortunately, a considerate teacher at the Amalner school helped me to get a scholarship of Rs. 15/month, and I prevailed on my father to send me to Pune. Our family was still poor, and the scholarship barely covered my expenses, so I had no money to buy textbooks – except one, which was Theory of Structures by Arthur Morley.
I got my civil engineering degree in 1949, and the family’s fortunes prospered when I got a job as an engineer on the Bhakra Nangal dam project. In 1956, my grandmother came to live with me in New Delhi, when my first son was just two years old at that time. Being a kind and affectionate lady, she really appreciated and enjoyed the rising graph of my career. She returned to Shirpur after a year or so. In 1964, she was taken ill and died at the ripe age of 75.
Over time, our family has progressed well – my children are well-established, and my grandchildren are enrolled in good educational institutions. No doubt we have all worked hard for our achievements, and one cannot minimize the role of fate and destiny. But, I firmly believe that my dadi’s determination and sacrificial nature has played a critical role in our family’s success – she sowed the seeds that have now borne abundant fruit.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank her dedication towards all of us and pray for her soul’s peace once again.
© M. W. Potdar 2015
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