Written By: Shruti Vishwanath and Deepa Soman
Covid turned our lives upside down. Loss and the inability to meet, grieve and mourn for our departed. Talking, telling stories of our loved ones, celebrating their lives, is what we need. When Dr. Sushama Ramchandani spoke of her mother’s passing, she had stories waiting to be told, Torchbearer mother, ahead of her generation, conventional, playing her domestic roles and doing what she felt she need to do – social work. Vasudha Mahabal, calm, patient, gentle, creative and supportive, touched the lives of her family and the larger community. Unaware of many facets of her mother’s life, she learned even more about her through the telling of those that Vasudha Mahabal imapacted. “To me she was simply Aai”.
Vasudha Mahabal was Usha Chitale before marriage. Born on 29th December 1937, into an illustrious family of her lawyer father and a mother who had studied in the prestigious Hingne School, . Third among five children, she grew up in the family home in Chalisgaon near Jalgaon. She and her siblings were sent to Pune for higher education. Confident and ready to take on a challenge, Vasudha was asked to speak on the national radio, Aakashvani. Vasudha wanted to be an engineer, and took Mathematics was one of the subjects in her BA. Later she completed her B.Ed, making her highly qualified by the time she got married to an engineer husband. Raised in principled family values of simple living and high thinking, Vasudha tai believed in family harmony and giving people the space to grow and blossom.
The Wife, the Mother and the Secret Superhero
Bhalchandra and Vasudha Mahabal had three children. All children were loved equally for their unique personality and strengths. Through their professional and personal success, they and their children have done her proud. Vasudha tai did her social work through Rashtra Sevika Samiti when her children were in school/ college. Sushama says she was unaware of her mother’s work outside the home. “She used to organise camps for women and children while we were away at school and college. She was always the doting mother when I got back home. She used to tuck-in her superhero cape when she was at home”. Sushama was much older when she discovered these facets of her Mum.
Vasudha tai was actively involved in the activities of the Rashtra Sevika Samiti in Mulund East, a suburb in north-east Mumbai. She organised many camps and classes. She was involved via the sanskar kendra for kids and their well-being and established many mandals (local groups) for women. She encouraged women who were housewives to realise their potential and encourage them to step up for community service as and when time permitted them. She understood the importance of the value creation and value addition that those at home – who have been otherwise written off to not be a part of our contributing economy (housewives, children and senior citizens). She believed that women could be mobilized to contribute the social fabric of civil society, and worked for their empowerment.
Retired, Not Yet
In 1997, after the age of 60, and only after being absolutely sure that her husband will be taken care of by the family, she adopted what can be called an unorthodox route. She moved to Goa, to take up the post of honorary superintendent at Matruchhaya, an orphanage for young girls. She worked there for two years. In her time there, she faced many challenges including one where over 25 girls had been infected with the chicken-pox virus. She sailed through them, according to her daughter, without much ado about it. At the end of the two years however, she refused an extension of the posting and came back to Mumbai. She could feel herself slowing down; something that was eventually diagnosed to be Parkinson’s disease. Age is just a number was not just a catchphrase for her – it was a way of life.
The Memories that Remain
Vasudha tai’s multifarious interests, social work, teaching, writing poetry, music and art. Sushama remembers how she and her brother would always pass their drawing books to their mother mainly because she was creative and perceptive. When they were little, Sushma’s brother wanted his mother to draw a rabbit. “What kind of rabbit?”, she asked her son, and presented him with numerous activity option. She drew him a rabbit on a card for his 50th birthday, but it was not as pretty. Perhaps it was so as the Parkinson’s had already struck. Vasudha passed months after her birthday. The family celebrated by making videos of their memories of her. Bhalchandra Mahabal has written two essays on his wife. Completely different in their take on life and literature, one a creative humorist and the other a nationalistic realist.
A Fragrant Life
Savarkar was her hero, inspiring a steely determination and a passion to give back to society at the core. Never a self-promoter, Vasudha tai worked in her quiet, self-effacing way. But in her passing, we have learnt about her inspiring work and a life led from the front. An inspiration and a hero to family, friends and the community Vasudha Mahabal, Torchbearer paves the way for being a role model human being in the home and a socially aware and committed citizen.
“My mother imbibed these verses by Samarth Ramdas the great saint’s teachings in the Manache Shloke.
देहे त्यागिता कीर्ति मागे उरावी|
मना सज्जना हेचि क्रीया धरावी||
मना चंदनाचे परी त्वा झिजावे|
परी अंतरी सज्जना नीववावे..
May the body perish, yet the reverence remain)
Let this be the purpose of your works, O mind
May your living be the fragrant rubbing of the chandan bark
May only goodness of the mind prevailSamarth Ramdas, Manache Shloke (Shlokas addressed to the Mind)
Loved, respected and inspiring, she lives on in our hearts.
मरावे परी कीर्ती रूपे उरावे | (To die in the physical body, yet stay revered in the heart)
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