‘When was the last time you got up before your mother and served her a cup of (filter) coffee?”
“When did you cook your mother’s favorite dish and serve her”
When did you last express your love for your mother?”
I was hearing this in an FM Channel when going to office. It was an unexpected emotional attack at a very vulnerable moment (I will come to it soon). I was moved.
The next sentence brought me to the ground.
“Come to ——- Jewelry” and buy ornaments worth Rs. …00000 and get one – free for your mother.”
This happened yesterday. I had performed mother’s Shradhha Ceremony (religious ceremonies performed on death anniversary) and was going to office due to a meeting which I could not absent myself. I was thinking of Amma and the rather brief period of she was with me (19 years). The ad seemed to know my mental state and seemed to be well timed, though its end purpose could not be fulfilled.
The fond belief is that the parent would visit their progeny on the Shraddha day and bless them and return happily (to wherever they came from). We leave some rice for the crow to come peck at it. The seconds within which the crow flies in after we put it at the spot is a sentimental moment. It could mean that our mother or father (for whom the ceremony is performed) is delighted and is eager to partake the food and/or we have performed the ceremonies with the required vigor and sincerity.
It could also mean that crow is hungry and its eyesight is strong and can see any food item from a distance. Further, we leave food for crow every day (though at a much earlier time) and it could be a daily ritual having nothing to do with any of the above abstruse ideas.
During my teen years, I had deep skepticism of these religious rituals. They are time elaborate, time consuming and requires lot of effort by all – especially the womenfolk in the family. The meaning or purpose of the chants were unclear. But with passage of time and vicissitudes of life, mental attitude changed. More of that later.
When Anna (my elder brother) and I were in school, mother used to give us small change to get snacks from the nearby hotel. We loved masala dosa (since we never used onion in our cooking) and this was the day to have it. It used to cost 35 paise. Later on, we were asked to have our morning food in a separate corner where it was kept so as not to sully what was being cooked for the ceremony.
The cooking for this ceremony is elaborate and is equivalent of a five course meal. Typically, all concerned ( except children who are next generation) would have at best a coffee or two ( I do not take even that) and then spent roughly six hours to cook the entire meal- starting at around 4 a.m. Each family would have its own set of traditions and would follow it religiously. The ceremony usually takes over 2 hours. It starts around 11 a.m and ends after 1.00 p.m. It is supposed to take a longer time. I have a lingering suspicion that the priest has referred to the equivalent of Navneet’s shortcut guide to Shradha ceremony rather than the original Sanskrit text.
You should remember that the last morsel went in more than 14 hours earlier and by know the stomach is growling,. The priests would have left. I then have my first and only coffee of the day. It is more out of the pleasure of drinking a strong filter coffee rather than its need or being the right thing to do on an empty stomach.
The six course meal is served on a large plantain leaf (two sets of leaves for the Brahmins) carefully selected by whosever goes to buy it. Each leaf is scrutinized and then selected. The food contains only black pepper and no red chilly, thus restricting the choice of items. All of us sit together after the first serving is complete and enjoy the lunch together. An overloaded stomach leaves us with little ability to do anything else thereafter.
These ceremonies have stood the test of time and find reference even in our epics. The difference between then and now perhaps is that there was better understanding of the meaning and the intent of the sentences uttered in Sanskrit. Today it is chanted by the priest at the speed of a car driven by Salman Khan ( in or out of screen) and repeated by us with little or no understanding. I have also found variation in the steps or process adopted by different priests each year.
I recall Swami Udit Chaitinya- who gives discourses on various religious topics – pointing out that our soul exits the body on demise and goes on another journey which does not contain a two way ticket. So the concept of three generations of souls ( from our father’s side and mother’s side whose name we repeat during the monthly Amavaysa tarpan) relaxing in an unknown place and coming to meet us on shradha day has inherent contradictions. His view was it is a “good to do” kind of deed, spreads economic benefit across different segments of the society ( vegetable vendors, milk vendor, priests) with corresponding ripple effect.
Another view that I have come across is of “pithru kopam “ (anger of ancestors) being pointed by astrologers as the cause for some intractable family issues. Based on the view espoused in the previous paragraph, the soul of ancestors have gone into another body and obviously would have little time to be angry with or about deeds of individuals associated in previous avatar.
I have no idea or view on the above views. All I know is that in every part of the world each community observes some ritual or custom in memory of those loved one who have left them. None of them can be justified from a logical perspective. The only logic I understand is that we loved, respected and revered our parents greatly. Their love, appreciation, opinion and traits mattered a lot to us- sometimes with little logic or reason and purely on sentiments. My mother did not know the name of the company where I had joined for my first job. But what mattered (and still matters) was that father told me to give the first salary ( Rs. 175) in our mother’s hands.
Do our ancestors visit us on the days we give them offerings? I do not know. Most probably they do not come. But if there is a one in a crore possibility that Appa and Amma come on these days ( along with their predecessors who would have tagged along for a trip to mortal world) to see how Anna and I along with our family are faring I would do anything for their visit on such a day. I will take Appa and Amma to see the new toys I have ( I Pad Air 2, new motor car, grand kids photos and so on), tell them about how I fare in my job,,, and so on.
One other aspect that I have found is that we recall our parents more when we grow older. We probably have a better understanding of what they went through at different milestones of their lives as we have passed through similar point by now. We forgive and forget their rather difficult traits.
Lastly the jewelry ad. Had I made coffee for Amma? Yes. She wanted it boiling hot and strong. She never shared it with us or gave us few drops reluctantly. Appa would give Anna and me few sips. Had I prepared her favourite dish? I had made dishes for her at times, but not sure whether they were of her calibre. She never complained even when we made very inedible dishes. When did I last express my love for her? On the last day I saw her.