JULY 17, 2020
ASHALATA. That was my mother’s name. I learnt more from her than anyone else in this whole wide world. Her home was her shrine. She bid goodbye to this physical world on October 18, 2013. Today is her birthday. In an ideal COVID-19 free world, I would have offered prayers for her at the Golden Temple, Amritsar. Like the way I did last year. But, this year, I am sitting at my home in Ahmedabad writing this blog. Writing about her is also prayer.
Home (for those of us who are privileged to have the luxury of having one) has now become the centre of our universe. To deal with the cruelty of COVID-19 pandemic. Home is not just a place, home is all about safety, security, peace, love and nurturing. If you have one, nurture it, respect it and share it with people in myriad ways.
In this note, I am sharing some of the lessons I have learnt from the way my mother managed her home with love, care and wisdom. The beauty was that she never let any of us feel deprived even though she managed home with limited resources (I grew up in a single income household). I sincerely hope (the literal meaning of my mother’s name is HOPE) that her lessons will strike a chord with some of you. Here’s to Maa, the essence of my home.
MAINTAIN A ROUTINE: For my mother, maintaining a routine was sacred. Even when she was battling cancer, she followed her routine — waking up early in the morning, having a shower and doing her morning puja (prayers). She was disciplined and it reflected in the way she managed a large family. She took her responsibility of managing a home seriously and did it with total commitment.
(FROM MEMORY: My mother sitting at her home in Bhubaneswar)
BE WELL-DRESSED AT HOME: Work From Home (WFH) was her forte even before it became a COVID-19 induced necessity for many of us across the world. She was always well-dressed at home (Now that I am into WFH mode, I really need to embrace this). She always wore ironed saris at home and her blouses were perfectly matched with her saris. Her hair was properly combed. Her logic was, “You must dress well for yourself. Just because you are at home, you need not be badly dressed.” Everything in her wardrobe was kept in their place, the silk saris were kept on the middle shelf of the wardrobe, the cotton ones were put on the other two shelves, The shawls were on the top shelf of the wardrobe. As she wore saris even at home, she only wore cotton ones (at home). And the saris were always rotated so that all her saris stayed well-circulated and each one of them got a pick.
BE INVOLVED: We always had part-time domestic staff (sometimes full time too) at home to manage household chores. But my mother was the conductor of this orchestra. She was totally involved in all household matters. Nothing ever missed her sharp eye. She was always a hands on homemaker or rather home-manager. Every Sunday, she changed all the bedcovers. A small diary was always maintained to keep track of groceries bought, clothes given for ironing and the like. Everything was well-documented even though she had no idea of an Excel sheet.
BE KIND TO YOUR DOMESTIC STAFF: My mother always looked after the needs of people who worked with us at home. She helped them with groceries, vegetables and money as per their need. She always maintained that one must look after a hungry stomach. Dhira bhai was the one who worked with her at home for many years and later on he went back to his village. When my mother passed away, he came to our house to mourn with us. He tonsured his head (a ritual in India… a son does so after he loses his parents) because he considered her as his mother.
STOCK YOUR KITCHEN WELL: Her kitchen was all about everything that tasted delicious. She could whip up a delicious meal without making any noise about it. She believed that one must have potato, onion, tomato and eggs in the kitchen to sail through any emergency. This lesson really helped me a lot when Ahmedabad was in a complete shutdown mode for little more than a week during the pandemic. She always kept homemade snacks so that a guest was treated well.
ALWAYS KEEP NEW CLOTHES AT HOME: At any given time, you must have new clothes at home so that if you have an unexpected guest, you can gift him/her a gift. You might not get a chance to rush to the market to get a gift or there are chances that the market is closed. So, it’s better to have new stuff at home.
KEEP EXTRA CASH FOR EMERGENCY: Well, I know we all live in an age of net-banking, and plastic money. I don’t use a credit card but I am quite a net-banking person. At the same time, I have her genes. So, I always keep cash with me. In fact, like my mother, I keep cash in different wallets and handbags of mine. This habit of mine helped me a lot during demonetisation. It also came to my rescue during the lockdown. I could pay my domestic staff regularly without going to an ATM. I could also help some people during the pandemic because they needed cash and I had it to share with them.
KNOW YOUR HOUSEHOLD INVENTORY: My mother could have given stiff competition to any efficient housekeeping chief of a five star hotel when it comes to inventory management. Every time she took out the last toothpaste/soap/shampoo bottle from her kitty for use, she would buy the new lot so that the inventory stayed well-oiled and well-stocked. No need to run like a crazy soul when something gets over. You just need to take it out from the cupboard. So, keep an eye on your inventory.
TREAT INANIMATE OBJECTS WITH RESPECT: There was one fundamental principle my mother followed and encouraged all of us to follow. She believed that one should be able to locate things even in darkness. She truly believed that every non-living thing too has a soul. If you take a scissor from the table, keep it back there only (after using it) so that you won’t waste time looking for it when you need it again. Treat everything with respect and care. I grew up seeing her looking after LP records (Yes, there was a time when we used to listen to music that way only) with great love and care. She had a suitcase which was home to all her precious LP records. I never saw a LP record lying sans a cover. At regular interval, the records were wiped gently with a cloth. To keep them dust free.
WASTE IS JUST NOT A COOL WORD: Long before slow living, sustainability, up-cycling and re-cycling became cool new-age words, my mother practised all this at her home in Odisha. So, a Horlicks bottle (after its use) was cleaned in the most efficient way and was reused as a spice bottle. Large orange cream biscuit tins were reused to store lentils and rice. Everything was put to good use. Same went for vegetables too. My mother used to cook an amazing dish with the stems of cauliflower (which many people just throw it away).
LOVE IS HOW YOU SPEND TIME: Time is precious. So, respect time and make the best use of time so that you make your life more textured and rich. My mother did not have a fancy university degree. But she was very aware of what’s happening in the world. Every day, she spent time in reading three vernacular newspapers. She was the one who introduced me to the rich, vibrant world of Odia literature. She was a wonderful storyteller and whenever she read a good poem or short-story, she shared with us. She listened to music regularly. She made sure that her world became much larger than the one she was living in. One of her bedroom cupboards was full of Odia books and magazines. I still turn to that cupboard when I visit home. So, love is what we do with our time.
P S: (My younger sister Subhrasima Jesthi (who lives in Atlanta) helped me in writing this blog on our mother. Happy Reading)