No Trace of Self Pity ~ Maharashtrian Kayastha Great Granny Pushpa Deshmukh

by on April 5, 2013

What makes Smt Pushpa Deshmukh, 75, remarkable is a clear awareness of her own potential and the courage to speak about life honestly. Without resorting to emotional excess or self-pity, she speaks in her Maharashtrian-Hindi dialect about the things that have gone wrong and family values collapsing in today’s world.

Smt Deshmukh belongs to Chandraseniya Kayastha Prabhu, a small Maharashtrian community located mostly in Mumbai. Her husband Kashinath Deshmukh, who worked at Jenson & Nicolson, passed away in 1976. Even though her community is quite liberal and broad-minded, she grew up in a family that did not believe in educating the girl child. Later, her husband taught her English and encouraged her to pursue her interests. She has three children, three grandchildren, and a great-granddaughter who is eight months old.

She had a strong vision of life from a very young age, yet her life was full of obstacles. While she was studying in the 7th standard, her parents decided to discontinue her studies. The memory is still fresh and with NO self pity, her words move me in a manner that cannot be captured in words.


No self pity - Pushpa Deshmukh

Is it true that your principal came home when your parents refused to send you to school?
Yes, I stood first in the 7th standard, but my parents did not want me to study further. My teachers were upset because they felt I was bright. The principal actually came home to talk to my father. The school offered scholarship for me to study up to 11th. I guess they tried their best but my father was not swayed. I was a girl child; there was no point of my education in his eyes.


Were you upset over this?
Yes, I was very sad. I still feel that way.


Apart from studies, what were you interested in?
I was interested in everything. I used to act in school plays all the time. I remember when I was 12; I acted in a play at school. A drama director saw me and took me for an audition to his studio. He wanted me to act in one of his plays.


Were you granted permission?
Of course not! On the contrary, I still remember the slap on my face. My brother got really angry when he heard that I had gone somewhere for an audition. My uncle gave me a warning and told me to behave like other girls.


Did you try convincing them?
I tried really hard. Even at that age, I dreamt of becoming a teacher. I remember pleading with my mother. I told her that they would not incur any expense if I continued my studies because of the scholarship.


What did she say?
She always had only one response: ‘Ask your father.’ That was the end of it.


Do you think you would have made a good teacher?
I am sure I would have. I find a lot of happiness in teaching my maid’s children. I also helped my grandson with his studies while his parents were pursuing their higher studies.


Do you think of life as unfair?
Yes I do. But I am not alone, there are many like me. In fact, when I see the story of Ramabai Ranade, particularly the television serial Unch Mazza Jhoka on Zee TV Marathi, I relate strongly to her life. But the point is not to get bitter and still find happiness in things around you.


What brings such wisdom?
I have always enjoyed whatever I have done. Even though I could not finish school, I used to read my friend’s books. I always enjoyed listening to music; my friends call me a walking encyclopedia of old songs. After marriage, I lived in a large joint family. I loved cooking and taking care of my family. In fact, cooking remains a passion even now. I also enjoy knitting and have always made sweaters and shawls for my family.


A tip for happiness?
Find joy in whatever you do. Treat your husband’s family like your own parents and siblings. Treat your daughter in-law like a daughter. Don’t expect anyone to change for you, rather give them space so that there is enough room for everyone.


A memory you cherish?
At the age of 42, I joined a textile designing course. I enjoyed it very much. My husband took good care of me and nurtured me.


Have family values changed now?
When we were growing up, relationships were given more importance than wealth. Nowadays, children go abroad to pursue their studies and career. They send money back home but that is not what parents need the most. I am very lucky because my son and daughter in-law really take good care of me.


First published in April 2013 in Harmony – the magazine for senior citizens for the column – The Great Granny Diaries. Part-2 of this post is Wadi-Che-Sambar, an authentic Maharashtrian Sambar from the kitchen of Pushpa Deshmukh. She is the eighth grandma featured in this column.


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