Annapurna… Ambri … Mother

Annapurna (derived from Sanskrit and split into its composite words, literally translates as “food / grains” and “perfect / complete.”  Annapurna is frequently used as an illustration for a mother-figure, who is considered to be an abounding nourisher and provenance of life and sustenance.

This Mother’s Day I would like to share a poem by Anwar Masood, a Pakistani poet who is famous the world over for his humorous and comical poetry in Urdu and Punjabi.  However, the poem “Ambri” (Mother, in Punjabi) is a complete break from his stock genre.  Mr. Masood confirms that Ambri is based on a real-life situation that occurred sometime in 1950, just as he was starting his career as a teacher in a village school.  Deeply affected by the pain and “mamta” (maternal instincts or emotions) he “could not find the words to describe his feelings” and could not even sleep for a couple of days.  But, he did not give up and adds, “Main namurad is dil ki tasalli ka kya karoon?” (What was I, an unfortunate man to do for this heart’s solace?)  It took me ten years to complete this (poem).”

The protagonists are two village boys, Bashir and Akram, who are friends. The original poem in Punjabi is a dialogue between “Munshi ji” (schoolmaster, Anwar Masood) and the student, Bashir.

Schoolmaster asks Bashir:

“O Bashir, you are so late today

Right here is your village, and right next (to it) is the school

Today, I will break your bones and set you straight

for being so reckless, arriving two school bells late.”

The student, Bashir replies:

“Munshi ji, please hear me out first

The vilest of vile things Akram has done today

He strikes his mother, and he beats her hard

But today the scoundrel exceeded all limits and left her scarred

With the churning stick he struck her till it broke

And fled when the neighbors gathered at the door

He picked up his books and scampered to the school”

“Sir, his mother had come to our house

Bruises on her face and her hand swollen

She had tears in her eyes, and bloodied lips

Said she, “O’ my son Bashir, my sweet Bashir

Do me a favor today son, my precious Bashir

Take this food to the school for my Akram

He has again left today, after getting cross with me

Here are “parathas” (leavened bread) cooked in pure “ghee” (clarified butter) inside

And halwa made from eggs, cooked with love”

“Wrapped in a muslin cloth, she handed me his lunch

Repeatedly pleading only one thing, Sir, again and again

“Go son quickly, swiftly, do not tarry my love

My Akram must be starving by now, his stomach in a knot

He left for the school on an empty stomach this morning.”

“Dear Sir, she gave me the meal, running as fast as I could here I am

The vilest of vile things Akram has done.”

My brother and I were in boarding schools away from home, growing up.  Our mum never cooked our favorite dishes while we were away.  Sitting at the dining table with our father and grandmother she would frequently stop midway through a meal with tears in her eyes, wondering whether her sons had eaten, at school.

Many years later here in Canada, Professor Singh was a father figure and a mother surrogate to me.  In palliative care, enfeebled by the debilitating cancer he called me late one evening.  Barely able to form the words he wished to say, haltingly he managed to whisper in Punjabi, “Puttar (son), I found out that you have twisted your ankle.  You must be in pain.  I am very concerned for you.  I pray that Waheguru bless you and your lovely family.  We will meet soon.”  We never did, but perhaps one day we will, again.

To all the wonderful Mothers (and Fathers), you remain special every single day.

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