Hey, I am Pamela Dhonde and over here, I would want to take this opportunity by Pink Innings to share my mother’s story – a story of grief, strength, courage and perseverance; which I feel needs to be shared as she has had a great impact on me and I know, for sure, that her story can be an inspiration for countless other women.
Being born and brought up in Sion, my Mumma – Elizabeth (that’s what I call my mother and would be referring to her as that throughout the story), studied in Our Lady of Good Counsel High School and SIES College. Though coming from the suburban part of Bombay, she lived in a common gallery system, with nearly 7 members of the family living in a 1 RK flat. This made Mumma and her siblings lead a very simple way of life. Like any other girl would dream of, Mumma also wanted to study, have a good career, marry and settle down with her family.
Mumma completed her graduation and started working immediately. Finally, in December 1992, she met a gentleman who would later become her soul mate – Mathew Pereira – a tall handsome young man working for the Indian Air Force. Like most relationships, theirs too started by being friends which over time blossomed into love. My cousin, Regina Vaity, says that though she herself was quite young at the time, she was witness to and remembers their love blossoming – from writing letters to each other, exchanging music cassettes and travelling stations to make a single STD call. Finally after one and a half years of courtship, they decided to take their relationship to the next level by getting married in May 1994 and within two months of Mumma’s marriage to Mathew Uncle (that is how I would be referring to Mathew Pereira from here on), she learnt that she was expecting a bundle of joy! The entire family was so happy!
Doesn’t this seem like a fairy tale ending? Just like I mentioned above of my mother’s dream! Yes, it does. Right?
But fate had other plans for her. She was about to enter into the most difficult phase that indeed changed the course of her life completely.
Immediately after her marriage to Mathew Uncle, she shifted to Guwhati (Assam) with him (as Uncle was posted there at the time). The next few months were not easy for her. Her loneliness (as Uncle had to keeping shuttling between Guwhati and Shillong for work) and certain pregnancy complications made her life difficult over there. Just like that, time passed and the Christmas season of 1994 arrived. For the usual Christmas celebrations, Mumma and Mathew Uncle came down to Bombay to spend time with their families. However, little did everyone know, that this Christmas celebration would be Uncle’s last with Mumma and the entire family.
Fast forwarding to February 1995. Mumma had come back to Bombay as her delivery date was fast approaching. Mathew Uncle stayed back in Guwhati and promised Mumma that he would be in time for her delivery after completing all his duties.
It was the morning of 28th February 1995, Mathew Uncle’s last day at work. His bags were all packed, ready to come back to Bombay for Mumma’s delivery. He reported to work at 6 am and was posted at a nearby Dhabha/ Chai ki tapri for patrolling (he worked in the Police Department of the IAF) as a senior official was supposed to pass through the route. Strict security measures were bring taken at the time as Assam was reeling under the militancy of the Untied Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA) militants. And ironically, it was this phenomenon that came knocking on the fate of Mathew Uncle, Mumma and their families back home.
That morning as Uncle was patrolling, a militant in disguise came from the front and asked Mathew Uncle to surrender his revolver along with a few other things. Uncle of course didn’t and held the militant firmly by his neck (that’s because Uncle was a boxing champion too). However, feeling threatened and overpowered, another militant, in defence, came from the back and shot Uncle on the back of his head. At POINT BLANK RANGE. It was this one bullet that changed Mumma’s life and decided her destiny.
This was then followed by a series of endless and strenuous procedures to bring Uncle’s body back home as the IAF authorities wanted the entire family to fly down to Guwhati to claim the body and perform the last rites. But Mumma being 8 months pregnant at the time was not fit to travel. That’s when Bina Vaity (my aunt and Mumma’s younger sister) came to the fore. At the time when she was only 26 years old, she sought help from the EL AL authorities (as she was working with Israel’s national air carrier then) who in turn sought help from the Israel Government to help her fly down to Guwhati and complete all the strenuous formalities to bring Mathew Uncle back home. And she succeeded!
Mathew Uncle returned home on the night of 2nd March 1995 in a special designated aircraft and his coffin wrapped with the Indian Tricolour. The next day, he was buried with full state honours and gun salutations.
However, Mumma’s misery did not end here. Suffering from the shock and trauma of losing her husband, Mumma went into labour and gave birth to a beautiful baby girl. But since she was still in her 8th month of pregnancy when she delivered, the baby’s respiratory system was not fully developed and hence she had a problem in breathing. The doctors advised Bina Aunty and Robert uncle (Mumma’s eldest brother) to take the baby to Sion hospital for a better treatment. But sadly, the baby breathed her last in the ambulance itself; while they were on their way to Sion from Naigaon.
In a week’s time, Mumma lost her husband and her baby too. This indeed came as a bolt from the blue for her. However, instead of going deeper into her grievances, she decided to stay strong and reconstruct her life. She joined a school in Bhayander as a teacher for the primary section. Mingling around with children and immersing herself in school work, indeed made her forget her grievances, at least for some time.
In this time, Mumma got a huge amount of support from her family and also my Dada – Prashant Dhonde (my father and also Mathew Uncle’s best friend). Caring and supporting her for almost two years by now, Dada realised that he wanted to spend the rest of his life with Mumma and hence towards the end of 1996 asked for her hand in marriage. Initially hesitating to agree, Dada decided to give Mumma some more time to ponder upon the proposal and give her consent. Finally, she agreed and with the support of both their families, they got married on 12th January 1997.
Thereafter, Mumma moved in with Dada to Guwhati (as he also worked for the IAF and was posted in Guwhati at the time). In one year time, that is January 1998, Mumma got the news that she was again expecting a bundle of joy! And this was none other than me of courseJ. This news indeed brought joy and happiness to everyone in the family! And just like that I was born on 23rd September 1998, in Borivali, Mumbai – now what I call as my birthplace.
Today, I am all of 21 years, and Mumma and Dada have completed 22 years of married life. In these two decades, they have had their own problems. With Dada being a Maharashtrian and Mumma being a Catholic, they were bound to have clashes in terms of their lifestyle and culture. However, they both remained strong and I must say their love and respect for one another has what made their marriage work. Today, they lead a happy life and with their retirement nearing, they have already started making post retirement plans.
This is the story I look up to when I feel weak and helpless. Mumma has always told me, ‘No matter what the circumstances, always be strong and fight against it by not letting the problem overpower you.’ Adding to this, she also tells me to have faith in God, as sometimes, if he takes something away from you, there is a reason behind it and he may have other plans for you. For me, my Mumma is the source of my strength and is indeed the source of advice not only for me, but for all my family members in dealing with our problems. Though we have our dose of fights and arguments, just like any mother and a growing up daughter would have, she is the best mother I could ever have.
This story is a tribute not only to Mumma and all the women in my family, who indeed have had a great impact on my life, but also to countless other women who have lost their husbands, sons, fathers and brothers in the line of duty while defending the country. The incredible courage and strength that many of them show in raising up their children and families after that is really commendable!