Janaki Devi: My Mother of Substance
Updated: Jun 3, 2021
To my Mati
If I had a flower for everytime I thought of you, I could walk in my garden forever!
Whenever I think of my mother, peace descends over me, like an embrace of her love. I close my eyes and there she is, smiling at me, beckoning me to her. That feeling can only be experienced. It is difficult to put into words.
It has been 27 Years since I last saw her but her strength still stays with me, guiding me at every step of life.
This is a story about my mother. My mother was a woman of substance. Strong built, medium height with beautiful brown eyes; she had an honest face and long silver hair touching her waist. She was also blessed with a melodious voice that evoked emotions, bringing tears to the eyes of the listener. Since I can remember, she always dressed simply, in a cotton or khadi salwar kameez with a dupatta always over head.
Married at the fragile age of 18, she entered the grihasthashram (गृहस्थ आश्रम), considered the greatest of the four ashrams a human being goes through, with a husband and two children from his previous marriage.
As I look back today, I often wonder what thoughts must have gone through her mind when she entered marriage with my Bauji. I remember my mother as a woman who, despite life throwing all possible difficulties at her, stood tall, proud, content and happy till the last day of her life. I learnt the importance of karma yoga from my mother. She selflessly performed her duties (her karma), without expectation of rewards of any kind.
Widowed at an early age of 45 with ten children and no source of income, my Mati devoted herself to the Bhakti of Anandpur Gurus. Times were tough but my Mati was tougher. It is a result of her resilience and good values that all her children studied well, married well and are, till today, deeply connected with each other.
Not only her children, each of her more than a dozen grandchildren had a unique bond with her. She was full of stories, values and immense patience for every child. Although my Mati was educated till 4th Std, she could read and write hindi and urdu quite well. Her aptitude and passion for learning was the foundation of her character. She could even recite and speak almost perfect persian language! Mati wrote poems and bhajans in hindi as well as urdu and often sang them at religious gatherings (also called Community Kirtans). Here I must mention that her fan following was huge.
I have always been amazed at her ability to give, reach out, support and add value to her environment when she had so little to spare. I cannot recall a single time anyone went from our home without a meal served with utmost respect and love. Our kitchen was always filled with her melodious voice singing bhajans while cooking as she strongly believed that food cooked with love was the only way it should be served.
Such was my Mati, my mother of substance.
In May 1993, I got an urgent message from my mother asking me to meet her immediately. I called my mother, ‘Mati’, a fondly given nickname to her by her children. Mati was around 80 years old at that time.
When she called me to meet her, she was staying at the Faridabad branch of the Anandpur trust, referred to as Kuttia(कुटिआ) by devotees. The head quarter of the trust is at Ashok Nagar, near Bina in Madhya Pradesh with branches in India and abroad. Hearing this unusual request from my mother, I took a day off from office and reached Faridabad Kuttia (कुटिआ) in the morning. My Mati was thrilled to see me. I touched her feet and she clasped me to her bosom saying, I knew you will come. I have so much to talk to you. Then she asked me to bolt the door and instructed everyone that no one should disturb us. You know, they say that good and evolved souls always know when their time is near. So was the case with my Mati. Let me tell you why I say this. I sat down next to her on the charpoy holding her hand. I still vividly remember looking into her eyes and giving her a reassuring smile asking her to tell me the matter. Mati became serious and said, I now know son, that my time to go has come. I tried speaking to your sisters and your elder brother but they start crying before I can have my say. Only thing they keep on repeating is ,we know, nothing can happen to you.
Then she said the words that Gita postulates at every step. Listen son, no one is immortal. One who is born, has to die. I looked at my mother with wonder and amazement. She spoke clearly, effortlessly without a hint of fear in her eyes. She said that she was ready for her final rendezvous with her master.
Here I pause and would like to remember a poem on death by Gurudev Rabindra Nath Tagore in his Nobel prize winning masterpiece, Gitanjali. I quote, “On the day when death will knock at thy door, what will thou offer to it. Oh I will set before my guest the full vessel of my life- I will never let him go empty handed.” Death has always intrigued me. A firm believer in Karma Yoga, I look at death not as a destination but a path to spiritual freedom. Gurudev Tagore often played with words beautifully while describing death.
Another poem in Gitanjali equates death with a bridegroom who has come to take his bride with him. I quote, “ oh thou last fulfilment of life, death, my death, come near me and whisper in my ears. Flowers have been weaved and Garland is ready for bridegroom. After the wedding,bride shall leave her home and meet her lord alone in the solitude of night. My Mati was a firm believer in destiny and believed that time and place of your death is determined by fate at the time of our birth and no power can change it. She then said confidently, I know you will listen to me and do exactly as I say, once I am gone.
Mati (mother), I said, your wish is command for me. As you say, so it shall be. There were tears in her eyes. She gave me a long list of her wishes and said now I can depart in peace. I touched her feet and that was the last time my mother blessed me in person. I left kutia with heavy heart. Like my brother and my sisters, or any child on this earth, my heart refused to believe that my Mati was sensing death near her. But in my heart I knew that she was a highly spiritual person with total control over her senses. She never said something unless she was sure about it. And Mata ji was absolutely right. That was last time, I saw her alive. Within a week, I got the message that my Mati was no more. Time had come to fulfil promises made to my Mati. She breathed her last at the residence of my sister, Sudesh in Faridabad. My sister told me two things that happened just before my mother’s death. First that my Mati got up in the morning, had a bath and wore fresh clothes. There is no doubt that Mati had a premonition about her death. Throughout the day, she was listening to religious hymns and bhakti songs. In the evening, she started feeling weak and her pulse started dropping. She looked at the doctor examining her with a smile and spoke a small couplet in punjabi meaning, what are you looking for doctor, time has come, the bird is ready to fly.
The second thing that my sister told me was that while she stood in front of our Mati crying because the doctor said he could not do more, Mati gently chided her saying that she should move because she was blocking the way of ethereal beings who had come to take her. My Mati passed away on 16 May 1993. Her body was kept at Faridabad kutia for all the relatives and devotees to pay their last respects. My Mati was given a Shobha Yatra, reserved for saints and gurus of Anandpur. The yatra was till the cremation ground with relatives and devotees following her body in decorated truck full of flowers, singing holy songs. I made arrangements to take her ashes to Anandpur as per her wishes and immersed them in holy waters there. I thanked God that he gave me the strength to fulfil her biggest wish. Her second wish was that after her Kriya ceremony on the eleventh day, a grand Bhandara, a feast, should be organised at Kutia to feed relatives friends and devotees. Mother, I said, you want a Bhandara like that after you are gone? She smiled and said, I would be happy see people being fed. After her Kriya ceremony on the eleventh day after her demise, we arranged a Bhandara at Faridabad kutia on a large scale. Her assets were divided amongst her children as per her wishes. I felt relieved. I stood there looking at people eating at the Bhandara and felt a wave of relief washing over me. I had done my duty and fulfilled my promise to my mother. Not a day goes by when I don’t remember her. I know one day I will meet her again, and keep my head in her lap while she sings a beautiful bhajan to me.
Till then, I wait and let life go on.