When my dad Arvind shortlisted my mom Kusum from matrimonial ads in Hindustan Times, his primary consideration was her BA-LT degree. Which could get her a job as a teacher. Arvind being the sole breadwinner in a family of six, one more earning member would make all the difference.
And it did. The family’s circumstances improved considerably after my mom took up a teaching job in a government secondary school. A loan taken to buy land and build a house in Model Town was soon paid off, and my grandmother would go around proclaiming: I have one more son now!
And this is how it all began. My mom and my dad. At that time, Arvind could not even imagine the monumental and memorable role Kusum would go on to play in his life!
The biggest quality in my mom is her ability to view life with a “सब ठीक होगा” (everything will work out just fine) attitude. When I am worried, when I am in turmoil, a feeling of calm practicality pervades me because, thanks to my mom, I truly believe that things will be fine in the end.
Her immense sense of contentment is unheard of. Whatever be the circumstances, I have never heard her lamenting on ‘what could have been,’ never seen her demanding anything, never found her dissatisfied with life.
She is content within herself… never afraid to take on work, putting in her best, for whatever it takes, till whenever it takes.
Of her various roles, I think my mom Kusum’s role as a wife has been the most commendable. Walking with my dad, side by side, matching step by step. With unconditional support. And utmost commitment.
By the 1970s, Madhuri, the Hindi film magazine my dad Arvind launched for the Times’ group, had become a household name. Yet, he was haunted by a gnawing restlessness to do something more meaningful in life… And in a moment of epiphany one night in December 1973, he clearly saw his goal: To create a thesaurus in Hindi. A feat not attempted by anyone else in the world!
The next morning, during their walk in the Hanging Gardens, Arvind shared the thought of making a Hindi thesaurus with Kusum. For which he would have to give up his job and they would need to move back to the family home in Delhi, living on meager savings till the thesaurus could be published.
And Kusum agreed. Immediately. How many women would do this? How many women would agree to leaving behind a comfortable lifestyle in South Bombay and renounce a social life hobnobbing with film industry people? And trade it all for an existence of uncertainty, obscurity, and adjustment in a large joint family?
Kusum did. Readily. Willingly. Happily. Arvind’s ace ally.
From that very morning, Kusum cut down on household expenses saving every penny for the future; Arvind began work on the thesaurus along with his Madhuri job. And Kusum worked by his side. Over the next twenty years, Kusum would help Arvind build up the mammoth Samantar Kosh data, and then, single-handedly supervise its computerization over several months ~ every day, she would organize rows of cards scrawled with handwritten words to be fed into the computer, proof-read the computerized data, pick out errors, and then check the corrected data. Arvind’s perfect partner.
In a journey fraught with difficulties. Kusum faced every challenge, bore every calamity, rode every crisis, with unheard-of resoluteness.
When an unexpected devastating flood in Model Town swept away all their material belongings, Kusum did not grieve for all that was lost; both she and Arvind celebrated the fact that their future – their thesaurus cards – had been saved from the flood waters because they were safe on the mezzanine floor!
Fearing future floods, Arvind’s father sold off their house – the very house on the basis of which Arvind and Kusum had moved to Delhi! Refusing to let this major setback deter them, they used all their savings to purchase land in Chandra Nagar on Delhi-Ghaziabad border. Perforce, Arvind returned to journalism ~ to launch the Hindi edition of Reader’s Digest, Sarvottam. With hardly any money left, the new house was built using unorganized labor on a daily wage basis with Kusum supervising single-handedly, procuring materials, seeking permissions, making innumerable trips to Ghaziabad to procure the meager quota of 25 bags of cement and riding back in the truck alone… uncomplainingly. With zest and zeal. Arvind’s valiant warrior.
And my mom did all this while managing the house and bringing us up. Resources were limited but she never let us feel deprived. She took special care of my dad’s health after he suffered a massive heart attack in 1988. After his bypass surgery, keeping Arvind in good health became her mission. Arvind’s perennial protector.
And this is how it was. For 62 long years till the second wave of corona swept Arvind away from this world. Always. With him. Beside him.
A woman who made her husband’s dream her own, and became his endless source of energy, enthusiasm, and encouragement. His wife. His companion. His collaborator. His champion. Undoubtedly, a togetherness ordained by nature.
Kusum ~ Arvind’s soulmate.