Today, I sat in my room in New Delhi, studying for an examination, when it all occurred. In the wonderful workings of the mind, the sweetness of an unheard tune came to me. It led me to Youtube, where I heard it one more time – after so many years: Jamaica Farewell, performed by Harry Belafonte.
In a personal way, it reminded me of my mum. It took me to the moment when she read the lyrics out from a book, taught me the song and made us sing it together. We sung it many times. That was over two decades ago.
Mum passed on four years ago, and for once, this tune brought me strong memories of her. In a very special way. Reading about the origins of the song and the life of Harry Belafonte, caused me to think about Mum in a way I never before have.
Mum the hippie.
The song led me to cast her in a light that I never saw her in. Her loving care and concern for her family filled the greater part of my memories of her. But the song took me beneath the surface. It made me deconstruct the motherly posture.
A dread-locked uncle, inspired in every way by Bob Marley. Then another uncle, who broke the family’s longstanding Christian roots by converting to Islam and living the rest of his life in another country. A rich and polygamous Dad, a girl’s life in the city, tales of concerts attended, pranks and adventures with her twin brother in their teenage years. A root of Renegades. That was the editorial of Mum before she became a mother. Only Harry Belafonte’s performance at the tune could tie it all together.
Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, the Indian Spiritual Leader once noted,
“The moment a child is born, the mother is also born. She never existed before. The woman existed, but the mother, never. The mother is something absolutely new”.
I knew more of my mother, but little about the woman who existed before me. As I watched and heard the purity of sound which came from the flute in Belafonte’s band, I got close to the sacrifices of motherhood. The denial of self. That recurrent announcement of never caring for a pie, when she realizes there are only four pies for five people.
Teaching me those lyrics and us singing together was not just for her sake. It was for my sake too. Hers was reliving the moments with her only son. To me, it took me all these years to realize what Mum was trying to say through those acts. Shakespeare also said it long before her:
“Thou art thy mother’s glass, and she in thee calls back the lovely April of her prime”.