The Voyage Alone
Syed Maqsud Jamil
Mothers are equivalent to an emotional home. A baby that sees the light of the world associates life with the comfort and safety of its mother's bosom. Yet, it seizes the opportunity of venturing out of it. Every creature in this world is mothered and then cut loose to undertake the voyage alone. We are alike in our need to be mothered and in our desire to be free. Freedom that comes with it develops into self-love. It seeks a spreading world that it can call its own. The inner drive that remains in perpetual quest of self-extension is challenged in the realities of living. We remain vulnerable as long as we live.
Our need for mothering is never wholly fulfilled. The loss of a mother is therefore one of the most poignant experiences we encounter in life. I comfort myself by acknowledging that my mother has returned home in death. She was buried in her family graveyard near the place where she was born. Life is all about returning home for we perceive that the everlasting lies in life after death. My mother was mumbling about returning home to her birthplace all through her battle with death. And she has returned there in the company of her mother and sisters.
When our mothers are among us, we look on them as though they will always be around. I therefore found it irreverent to associate death with her. Yet, I had to lower her into the grave, consigning her to the lowliest state of human fate. A soft breeze was fluttering the canopy held over the grave when she was being lowered into its earthly oblivion. Was it that her soul set free from the frailties of her body was fluttering into the lofty reaches of heaven? That was the last I saw of her and I shall see her no more.
I have returned to the business of living. The demands of life cannot wait for the grieving heart. My grief stricken mind wandered over a pensive landscape and settled on a few fond lines from 'David Copperfield' over which my young heart melted when I first read it. Young David leaves his loving frail mother for school and that is the last he will see of her. Dickens' David was sorry about leavning her but was not sorry to go away. He could see that the parting was there, everyday. 'I was in the carrier's cart when I heard her calling to me. I looked out, at the garden-gate alone, holding her baby up in her arms for me to see. It was cold still weather; and not a hair of her head, nor a fold of her dress, was stirred, as she looked intently at me, holding up her child. So, I lost her. I saw her afterwards, in my sleep at school...'.
The lines touch me to the core and transport my mind to an event that we hold so dear to our heart. I am reminded of the tragic circumstances in which our Prophet (pbuh) lost his mother in the unforgiving expanse of a desert. He was only a little boy, only 6, who had returned to his mother after being raised at the house of Halima. The three of them, the Prophet (pbuh), his mother and their maid were returning from Medina after visiting the grave of his father Abdullah. They were halfway through to home, Mecca, in a pitiless desert and the Prophet's (pbuh) mother suddenly fell mortally ill. She was in her death throes and died there. The fatherless infant, the Prophet (pbuh), had to help the maid to dig a grave and bury his mother there.
He saw very little of his mother yet never relented in reminding us that the highest of all place in our life belongs to our mother. The tears he used to shed over his mother's grave touchingly highlights the place of mother in our Prophet's (pbuh) life.
Our mothers perish in death but they live in us as long as we live. It is through them we discover human bonding. They leave a deep imprint on our mind in interacting and absorbing many experiences as we explore the world around. The bonding greatly determines how the mind is shaped. Very few of us therefore grow out of the need of mothering.
We, to a great degree, are how we know our mother. My mother was a daughter of Dhaka who grew up among the few comforts of a provincial town, like electricity and movies. She was married to a comfortably placed landowner of remotely rural Faridpur. It was a village close to the river Padma and cut off in the west by the river Arial Khan. Urban comforts were far beyond the reach. My little boy's eyes could see that my mother felt like a castaway, particularly when the monsoon water made our homestead an island. She wept in the corner, waited, and waited for letters from Dhaka. When the letters arrived, I saw her reading and re-reading it. And my infant's mind found an interest in struggling through the letter over and over again.
Monsoon was indeed hellish when jute plants were cut. Red worms crawled into the house and the floor was wet. The harvesting of the monsoon crop brought a little bit of consolation. Our homestead was redolent with the aroma of new rice. My mother saw through it with gritty silence. Autumn was another hurdle to cross with the monsoon water reaching the highest mark. The heat was steamy and I could see that the eerie quiet of the mid afternoon made the ordeal of my mother even more oppressive. Except for the abundance and the festivity of the winter, there was not much for my town-bred mother to celebrate.
Her ordeal ended when my father's youngest brother married and started raising a large brood. We shifted to Dhaka.
I was fortunate our house was near the school and I could come back home during the lunch period. Most boys in our time pursued their studies without the attention of their mother. Generally, we carried on well. My mother was however very watchful that I ate well and was healthy. I could not do without a glass of milk before I rushed on to the field for a game of hockey or cricket. This was the routine till I outgrew it, when I was in the higher classes. My mother however never relented in personally seeing to it that I had taken my food.
Life never looks back. It moves on brushing aside the losses we suffer and glossing over the glitter of our successes. So the pain in the loss of our mother is forgotten. The outpourings end. Time dulls our grieving heart and our mourning tires out. We return to routine. Our self-seeking nature gradually regains its hold. We become what we are, seeking, seizing and slavishly fond of our pursuits.
It is amazing how quickly a grieving human gets over the loss. Frailty is the fate of both men and women. Yet, it is not the whole truth. For when the outpourings end, the memories lodge deeper in our mind. It is the ever-vigilant keeper of our thoughts. We return home to our fond memories to laze away our woes and the strains of living.
It is ironical that life is not a just provider. The many allurements and comforts drive us on while we wither away bit by bit till our end comes. Humans seek freedom but they are never free. Not in life, and not in death, for it is an undiscovered country. Our memories are stars twinkling from a fathomless space. It is where our mother lives as long as we live. Serenely supreme in our remembrance of her mothering without which we cannot do, when she is with us and when she is gone. The voyage alone is a testament of how best we use the gifts she leaves for us.
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