By Amrish Shah
My mother Pratima, narrated to me that when she was in school she was given only two skirts to wear throughout the year. She stayed in a leased bungalow in Goregaon (Suburban Mumbai) now the hub of film and television studios where most of the filming takes place. The Bhatt bungalow as it was called was surrounded by forest back then and had a water well that would inspire stories of a ghost residing in the dark well and haunting intruders at night. There was a cinema next to her house- Anupam cinema, where she would watch a film every friday, how she managed the money is till a mystery for me and her. Back in the sixties she grew up on Raj Kapoor and Shammi Kapoor, Nargis and Sharmila Tagore and Asha Parekh. However she came from a modest and disciplined family. Her father was a self trained lawyer and would fight for the rights of neighbours and relatives. He would often win the dispute in the favour of his client mostly for no fees- the Munnabhai LLB version in real life. Yet he couldn’t afford more than two skirts for her and that included part of her school uniform. But he insisted on education. Come monsoon, come winter she had to wash her skirt everyday and dry it for the next day, but not miss a day at her school. She was trained to survive in scarcity, in love, in peace, in learning.
I was deeply touched by her recollection of the the days of war (India Pakistan war 1965) when they were asked to live in a blackout at night out of fear of aerial bombings. She hid under the bed and studied with a lamp by her side and passed her exams.
She educated herself and earned the degree of Bachelor of arts from an english medium college in 1972. That single achievement of her’s, that dedication, shadows all my accolades if there are any? Her mother that is my granny whom I met in my growing up days had a smile that could enshrine, sorry shine the entire neighbourhood. She was pristine energy that still lingers in my consciousness.
I remember visiting them over the weekends, having a cup of milk with bread that were soft and yet rationed. This was our typical morning but somehow the sunlight in that house was ethereal. It was a big bungalow but ill kept, cause the mere size of the drawing room was like an airport lobby minus the security check and the decor. The quaint villa was thatched with roof tiles and the seeping drops of rain had us juggle our sleeping spots whenever I stayed for the night. The doors of that house were never locked and every passerby from the neighbourhood would stop to greet my grandparents. They perhaps never went to Kashmir or Kanyakumari yet they lived in a world that I am still envy off. A world I cannot replicate, a world that still exist somewhere in the realm beyond space and time. A dimension which very now and then hangs those two skirts in front of my eyes wherever I am. I learnt ‘story design’ from New York, from Los angeles, from various films and books that were gifted to me or that I read with passion. But the story of two skirts continue to make me more human than I would like to be.
Its not about the scarcity that my mother faced, its not about my love for her, its not about a lesson of modesty, of humanity, but its more than that. Much more. Its about the two skirts that still hang in so many neighbourhoods around the world, that blink at me through social media, news, my travels, and question me “what happen? what did you learn? what did you share with this world- where there are girls that still survive in just two skirts, maybe throughout their life, maybe amidst terror, amongst sociopaths. That the spirit in those two skirts can have the power to bring up children and grandchildren and their great grand children in harmony within, with a single thought- we are not two skirts or two cars or two mansions, or two citizenships, or two spacecrafts.
We are two thoughts- positive or negative. Only one can survive at any given moment. Which one will I choose? Its tough to be resolute but coming back to my mother, she chose the positive and I am going to follow her path with all my shortcoming, with all my handicap, with all my confusions, with all my conflicting mindset, cause I believe thats the only way. I pray those two skirts continue to hang in front of me wherever I am, till my last breath, till my last typed word, till my last story, till my last mission. In times of war and peace, within and without. In times of love and hatred, within and without. In times of despair and belief inside and out.
In the battles of knowledge versus illusion of knowledge-
I choose love.
I choose self- belief.
I choose learning for growth within- like my mother.
My forthcoming novel Champion Charlie is dedicated to my mother and father. Your teachings and nurture will attain fruition. Thank You.