By Su Niye, New Age Islam
11 May 2016
Shom is just short of three. He was born in a village in Orissa. I don’t know why but his parents chose not to keep him and gave him away. Shom’s adopted father, Sahil, has been working as a cook-cum-cleaner in my mother’s house for many years, while his adopted mother, Mandira takes care of my 102 year-old Nani, my maternal grandmother, who lives nearby. Sahil and Mandira don’t have any children of their own. Foe years they tried everything they could to get a child but they didn’t manage to. Finally, God intervened and arranged for Shom to come into their lives. Shom’s biological parents are related to Mandira, and when they learned that Mandira and Sahil were looking for a child, they agreed to let them take him.
Shom is a bubbly little kid. He’s got an endearing smile and is full of energy. I’m not used to being with young children, and giving him a hug, jumping around a bit with him and doing a little baby-talk is all that I can get myself to enjoy doing when I meet him when I drop in at Nani’s place. I like his being around, though I definitely can’t say that I’m enthusiastic about the amount of attention he demands from me when I’m there. Sometimes, I wish he’d talk less and sit quietly!
Mandira is a good mother. From the way she looks after Shom—the love and warmth she exudes—you wouldn’t have any idea whatsoever that he isn’t her biological child. It isn’t at all easy, I’m sure, for her to manage two children—2 year-old Shom and 102 year-old Nani, and it’s amazing the way Mandira does it.
While Shom has already started going to playschool (if you ask me, this really shouldn’t be done till children are at least five years old, if at all—but who’s going to ask me?), Mandira makes it a point to teach him things that he may not learn at school. For instance, she’s teaching him to be prayerful. When Mandira says her prayers, Shom joins her. Maybe she’s taught him to memorise and recite some prayers and has told things about God (I must ask her this). Isn’t that wonderful? If you are taught to cultivate a close personal relationship with God in childhood, it’s really all you need to go through life later on, in this world and in the one that follows.
Mandira is also teaching Shom how to be respectful of others. That’s another thing that should form the core of parenting—nurturing your child in positive values. Mandira makes it a point to tell Shom every now and then to touch Nani’s feet —to “do maino”, as it is called in her mother-tongue. It isn’t because Nani is her employer but because Nani is so much older than Shom—almost exactly an entire century so. In Mandira’s culture, respect for elders is a very important value, and touching your elders’ feet is one way to express this. It’s a delight to see Shom doing maino to Nani, so excitedly, as if it’s some sort of game!
Doing maino to Nani—that’s something that Mandira taught little Shom, and that he, in turn, has taught me! Till I saw Shom doing maino to Nani, I had never once touched Nani’s feet—not in almost half a century! There were two reasons for this. Firstly, as children we weren’t taught to touch anyone’s feet, no matter who they were. Maybe we were trained to think it was something that only “very orthodox”, “old-fashioned”, “rural”, “uneducated” people did. It certainly wasn’t a Western practice. For us, who were hooked onto the beguiling myth that “The West is best”, almost anything that seemed ‘traditional’ was looked down upon. That’s what we learnt at home, in the ‘elite’ schools we went to and from the media we were exposed to and that we hungrily consumed. We couldn’t change the colour of our brown skins, but that didn’t dampen our desperate urge to feel, think and act as we thought white people did! That probably explains why we weren’t taught to touch anyone’s feet, no matter how elderly or worthy of respect they might have been. “Hi!”, “Hello!”, “Good evening!” were what we said when we greeted most people, even people much older than us, like our parents’ friends.
But that wasn’t the only reason why I had never touched Nani’s feet out of respect. There was a second reason—and that was that I didn’t respect Nani at all. As a child, I had been told things about her that had led me to dislike her intensely. To add to that, in her younger days Nani would treat her home-help very cruelly, which added to my hatred of her. This wasn’t something I had heard about from someone else—I had witnessed it myself. I remember once getting very upset about it, maybe even telling her off for her being so mean.
Nani was definitely no angel. She had her obnoxious side, and that really put me off. So, for years, I didn’t care at all about her. Years went by without my ever meeting her or speaking or writing to her. Maybe, if I remember correctly, I didn’t even go to meet her when my grandfather died—I so wanted to hate her (That didn’t stop me, though, from making use of her, when I was a student in Delhi and stayed a year or so in her house because I didn’t want to be in the hostel. As you can see, I was—although I didn’t want to realise it then—as mean as Nani was!)
With God’s grace, though I’m beginning to mend fences with Nani now. I drop in to meet her every now and then, and you should see the way her face lights up when she sees me! “I love it when you come here!” she says excitedly. “Do you love it, too?” And I answer, “Yes, Nani, I love coming here!” I’m beginning to see a different side of my grandmother. She has, of course, a past and has done some terrible things in life and there are some things about her that I still find irritating, but, then, I have a past of my own, I’ve done many awful things myself and I guess others find things about me irritating too.
It’s a major relief, casting away the burden of hate for Nani that I had carried around with me for so many years. I’ve grown to love meeting Nani occasionally, even if it’s for a quick half an hour. Sometimes, when I do that, I bend down to touch her feet. Guess where I learnt that from? From little Shom! He, that 2 year-old adopted son of a ‘domestic servant’ taught me how to respect my 102 year-old grandmother!
Thank you Shom! Thank you Mandira! May God bless you both, and Nani, too!