Poetry Of A Common Indian Female
The gate had Dada’s name on it. I looked at it curiously, trying to decipher the story of the bearer of this name, and the journey of their life. Little did i know then, that I was about to witness a classic love story.
Mahipat Dada welcomed me in and I quickly absorbed the artistic qualities of the house. The bed in the small living room was full of puppets – puppets of all shapes and sizes, in varied and vibrant clothes.
I sat on the sofa looking curiously at Dada’s face. He sported a big beard and was still overflowing with energy. I could sense by the way he was talking to me that he was genuinely excited at the thought of his wife’s interview being published in a book.
But wait! Where was Lila Baa?
“She is in the kitchen, she will come at any moment.” Dada said with a hint of excitement.
I was observing the entire house and then my eyes fell on her- beautiful, even at this age. I was literally in a trance like state after seeing her gracious persona. She had a glass of water in her hand, which she gave me, and sat adjacent to Dada on the bed.
“Ask your questions beta.” Lila Baa said.
“Arey, at least let him drink the water.” Dada said instantly.
Lila Baa gave a warm laugh and looked at her husband. Her eyes were intense and they exhibited the tremendous love they possessed.
I was ready now after drinking the water.
“Shall we begin?”
“Ask beta. But I hope you will not get bored?” Lila Baa said.
“No, I would not Baa.” I said knowing already in my heart how huge this would turn out.
She has witnessed eight decades, countless difficulties and won a national award and she stood tall against the sands of time. Today, at eighty, she can still make puppets dance miraculously on her fingertips. Although the puppets are lifeless, she with her Midas touch brings them to life.
This one is a dive into Lila Baa’s life, that too, a deep one… Get your oxygen masks on people.
Here we go…
“Beta I was born in present day Lahore and your Dada’s family was settled in Ahmedabad.”
Just as Lila Baa said this, I immediately got the vibes of what was about to come… This one was a timeless love story! To be honest, I felt a chill going down my spine.
“Are you sure, you want to hear our story? I don’t think it is that interesting.” Lila Baa said.
“I am not going to move an inch until I hear it.” I said looking at Lila Baa and Mahipat Dada’s wrinkled faces. The faces were warm and endearing, shining brightly with years of marking by this thing called life. Yet they shone! And they did shine brightly.
13th January 1934, Present day Lahore, Pakistan. Lila Baa was born into a Sindhi family. Her father had a restaurant. Europeans were the main customers since it was a non-veg. restaurant.
“Don’t forget, she was born in Anarkali galli of Lahore.”Mahipat Dada injected his humor.
Lila Baa laughed at her husband’s quick wit and looked at him affectionately. After nearly sixty four years of marriage, that’s quite an achievement! Making your wife laugh at your jokes! All my male readers who are married would definitely agree. If not yet, some of them would try making their wives laugh today after reading this!
Catch up with Mahipat Dada someday; he seems to be a pro at it!
“We were a total of six children. I was the fifth after three elder sisters and a brother, and I had one younger sister.”
Young Lila Baa grew up on the streets of Lahore.
“It felt very good, growing up there. Same like I am feeling, getting old here.” She said.
“We had a three storied hotel in Lahore, and it was very famous.”
Lila Baa’s childhood was very good. Her father earned quite well, and she had everything that she could want.
“I was a creative child. I was very much interested in anything related to arts, and I was very fond of singing.”
This creative side did play a huge role in Lila Baa’s life, more on her creativity later.
“Once, one of my sisters told my dad to close the non-veg. section of the hotel, since she had heard it from some saint that people should not eat non-veg.” She says, “Immediately – we didn’t expect it- but my father instantly agreed and decided to close down the restaurant and move to some other place.”
Moving to another place! Where? Lila Baa’s father was unsure. Of one thing he was pretty sure. He couldn’t have succeeded with only a vegetarian restaurant in Lahore.
“Finally my father went to Nashik to meet an old friend and meanwhile he shifted the entire family to the Sindh part of Pakistan. The friend suggested that he should set up a sweet shop in Ahmedabad.”
Lila Baa’s father considered this option very seriously, since the family’s entire future depended on that single decision.
“My grandfather also had a sweet shop, so it was natural for my dad to think about setting it up in Ahmedabad.”
Lila Baa’s father immediately decided that this was what he needed to do, and brought the family from Sindh to Ahmedabad.
“My father purchased a small, old shop which was shut at that time plus his friend provided a helper who would look after the shop when he was away.”
Everything was settled now. The family came to Ahmedabad from Lahore which was still a part of India at that time. Lila Baa’s father had his own shop, which was enough to look after the family.
“All this was back in 1943-44 I guess, I was hardly ten years old. The shop was doing well, and my father’s decision to move to another part of the country seemed to be paying off. We still traveled back sometimes to Lahore via train, just for holidays or meeting relatives. I was small, so I always loved travelling by train.”
Lila Baa was a brave child and would not tolerate anything that was wrong. She understood a lot more than her age. As she says, she had a compassionate heart right from childhood.
“I completely agree that she has a compassionate heart.” Mahipat Dada spoke suddenly.
Lila Baa turned her face and looked at him-a stare, followed by a blush. Dada realized that Baa understood what and why he had said that.
“At this age also, he keeps on doing this. He always tries to sweep me off my feet, by praising me. What can I say? I just blush in return.”
“Note it down somewhere in your book, one more secret for a happy marriage!” Dada said, winking at me. Lila Baa blushed once again!
I can’t say how happy I felt when I saw them so madly and deeply in love, even at that age. Truly Inspirational!
The family was very happy with their life in the new city. Lila Baa’s father thought about expansion and he opened a combined restaurant and sweet shop in the city of Surat. He started this venture with a few other relatives.
“The restaurant fared very well, and we temporarily shifted to Surat. I was admitted to I.P. Mission Girls’ School in the city. My brother was put In to I.P. Mission Boys Primary School.”
During that time, Lila Baa faced the first of her life’s problems and she faced it quite well even at that tender age.
Lila Baa’s brother was a member of RSS. During those times, before partition, many people would be sent to jail for their active participation in the freedom movement.
“My brother had his board exam and before he could study and give the exam, he along with many others was sent to jail for the protest that they were doing.”
Lila Baa’s brother requested her not to tell their family that he was going to jail.
“I was very close to my brother, and when he told me about what he was doing I was shell-shocked. I just had to give him all the materials to study and had to fill the form for his SSC exam.”
But how was she going to do it? The brother was in jail, and the exams were due in less than a month. The little Lila Baa showed great strength and an outstanding fearless attitude. Let’s hear it from Baa…
“I anyhow had to get the SSC form filled. So, one day I told my mother that I was going to see some friends and straightaway went to the jail in which bhai I was kept. The jail was in Ahmedabad, so I took a train from Surat, reached the jail and requested the warden to let me meet him. Finally I met him and got the SSC form filled.”
Lila Baa was hardly twelve or thirteen years old and in eighth standard at that time.
“So, I got the form filled, plus I purchased some stationary like paper, pen etc. requested bhai to study hard since there was hardly any time left for the board exams, and went back home.”
Lila Baa’s brother did come home before the exams.
“We all hugged him and cried a lot. He was our only brother, and we couldn’t imagine him being away from us.”
“Baa, did your brother pass the exams?” I asked.
“Of course he did! He scored a second class. But considering what circumstances he studied in, for us it was more than distinction.” Lila Baa’s eyes sparkle at mentioning her brother’s heroic attempt during those times. Super Sister!
During this time partition had already taken place, and the two nations of India and Pakistan independently began their journey. Lila Baa’s family had already shifted to Ahmedabad so they were able to escape the distress that people had to face while moving into India from Lahore, Pakistan.
“My brother and your Dada, then famously known as Kavi Saheb were friends. And, I was friends with Kavi Saheb’s sister.”
Lila Baa blushes once again. I think, primarily because now she will be embarking on the tale of her love story. Whatever the reason, Mahipat Dada instantly steals a glance at Baa so that he doesn’t miss any blushing sight of her; because, as Mahipat Dada says, “I always try to see her while she smiles or blushes. She looks beautiful.”
Honestly, this is love at its purest form. Even after so many years. Salute!
“I wanted to give Vardha Hindi exams, and hailing from a Sindhi family, I was not very good at Hindi. So, Kavi Saheb, who at that time used to run Hindi speaking classes, was a very good resource to learn Hindi from. At least, that’s what I thought.”
Fate plays some strange games many times. The spoken Hindi classes were just a means to make both of them meet. Fate actually had something else in store for them!
“I was right. He was a good choice for a Hindi teacher. But, later I realized that, he was the best choice for a life partner.”
This time Mahipat Dada looked at me and now it was his turn to blush.
“I liked him, he liked me, I loved his mother, and she loved me more in return. My mother-in-law was a terrific singer and I really liked spending time with the family. We would sing and talk and enjoy ourselves. Somewhere I decided in the back of my mind that this was the family that I would love to spend the rest of my life with.”
But, there was a catch!
“I was Sindhi and Kavi Saheb was Gujarati, two different communities and two different ideologies!”
It was quite evident that Lila Baa’s family whole heartedly opposed the couple’s love story.
“My father fixed my engagement. The family was based in Surat. And, I didn’t have the slightest hint of all of this.”
It almost feels like a movie plot from the 70’s or 80’s. But here, back in 50’s, it was happening for real. Back then it was very hard to believe.
“I believed what I was suspecting when I found a letter in my father’s clothes. It was a letter from the other side regarding the confirmation of marriage dates.” She says, “I was shocked.”
Lila Baa couldn’t let this happen. She and Dada were irrecoverably in love with each other, and living without each other was out of question.
“I told the proceedings at home to Kavi Saheb. He very calmly said that if they don’t allow us to marry each other, it would be their bad luck, because then, they won’t be able to attend our wedding.”
This was such a positive response from Mahipat Dada that it injected some much required confidence in Lila Baa, so that she could run away from her house.
To elope in broad daylight – was the step the couple decided to take. The year was 1951. Eloping from the house was not at all in fashion those days.
“I went to my bapuji and told him that I knew what he was up to with my marriage. And, requested him to let me go to my school, So that I can at least invite some of my friends to the wedding.”
It was a risky plan and Lila Baa executed it quite well. Her father allowed her to go to school to invite her friends.
What followed is history!
“On the decided day, I wore my mother’s saree and with fifty rupees in my purse left the house to meet Kavi Saheb. I was always high on money but Kavi Saheb ordered me to bring minimum money, so that later the family cannot raise a finger at Kavi Saheb.”
Lila Baa was barely eighteen and Mahipat Dada was only twenty one. This was a bold step by the young and madly in love Baa and Dada.
“Kavi Saheb met me outside the limit of our area where we lived. He was wearing a simple kurta and pyjama. Upon seeing me, the first question he asked was, how much money do you have?”
“Because, I only had one rupee in my pocket.” Dada quickly said, smiling and holding Lila Baa’s hand in his hands, interlocking their fingers.
“And he set out to marry me by running away from the house.” Lila Baa said mockingly but without letting go of Dada’s hand.
Dada again looked at Baa. This time with intensity in his eyes that is hard to believe at his age. Dada can give tough fight to any Bollywood hero in terms of intensity in his eyes.
“So, after running away from the house, immediately we went to Arya Samaj Mandir in Ahmedabad. But the pandit there told us to get married first in the court. So again we instantly moved to court, for the official wedding.”
The money which the couple had was very limited, so they had to be careful with their spending.
“In the court, the lawyer was Kavi Saheb’s friend. He took us to the magistrate, did all the formalities and even paid the fees of eleven rupees that I promised to pay him later, since he was a friend, which I have not yet paid! Then, we again went to Arya Samaj Mandir and got married there. One more friend of Kavi Saheb did the Kanyadaan.”
Lila Baa and Mahipat Dada were officially married after running away from home!
The herculean task of running a household was awaiting them. But, for now, they were just happy to be married and too young to think about anything else.
“We went to Kavi Saheb’s uncle house at a place called Khokra in Gujarat, and thus embarked upon our journey in life as a married couple.”
The marriage was done, both were happy, but the family was in disarray. Mahipat Dada’s family was quite relaxed as they had already accepted Lila Baa as their daughter-in-law. The problem was with Lila Baa’s family. Her father upon receiving the news that his daughter had run away, fainted!
“We were completely unaware about the world. We just wanted to be with each other, and were quite content with that. Kavi Saheb used to visit his old office once in a while. So, one day my father went to his office to meet him.”
“Straightaway he asked me, can I meet my Lila?” Dada said stopping Baa in between, “I said, of course you can. She’s your daughter and you have the every right to do that.”
Lila Baa’s father was a seasoned and very wise man. He knew Mahipat Dada’s caliber. He said, “I know you are a good man, Kavi. But you are not from my caste beta.”
The answer which Mahipat Dada gave completely shook Lila Baa’s father. He said, that too very politely, “It’s not my fault, if I was not born in your caste. That’s God’s mistake. Go and ask him.”
Lila Baa’s father went back content in his heart that at least his daughter will be happy with this boy.
“Kavi Saheb kept changing jobs here and there and finally after a year of running away, we came back to Kavi Saheb’s own house in Ahmedabad.”
Lila Baa’s father, who stayed close by decided to shift his residence, since he would not be able to hear the things people would say about Lila Baa.
Life moved on and apart from doing small jobs here and there, Mahipat Dada was fascinated with stage and drama. He was a trained classical singer since childhood. He joined Darpan Academy of performing arts in Ahmedabad. He did a two year diploma in drama from the institute, and later became an expert puppeteer.
“Kavi Saheb would work at Darpan and I would look after the house.”
Lila Baa and Mahipat Dada were blessed with four children, three boys and a girl.
“Honestly speaking, whatever Kavi Saheb used to earn was not quite enough, but we were content with whatever we had.” As Mahipat Dada said, puppetry was a cursed art. Whoever accepted this art as a means of earning, the goddess of money, Maa Lakshmi, wasn’t quite happy with those people.
“When Kavi Saheb was away, out of the house doing theatre, sometimes there was nothing in the house that I could cook. No atta, no rice, no oil. And, I had four children studying in school.”
The ultimate test of courage of any lady happens when she faces severe problems like these. No food at home, children all hungry, and they have to go to school too.
“I used to help Kavi Saheb sometimes in doing shows in Darpan institute. Sometimes we used to leave early in the morning. I had two responsibilities; getting children ready and feeding them breakfast- whatever was available; then preparing for the shows with Kavi Saheb. Writing the scripts, creating the puppets, stitching their clothes etc. was all that I used to do.”
It was all too much for Lila Baa. Not a great income, a rented house, four children, looking after the husband’s work, coming back from work at afternoon, then again preparing food- once again, with whatever was available in the house.
“Sometimes, when we would leave in the morning, we would be unsure about what we would eat in the evening.”
Lila Baa was raised in a well to do family. She didn’t have to work hard, everything she wanted, her father instantly provided. Here the scenario was completely different. She was doing everything on her own, and was raising four kids, plus supporting her husband, who in turn was her biggest strength.
“We never fought about not having enough money. I loved my husband a lot and he did the same. I think this love only sustained us together in those difficult times.”
Speaking of true love and being content with whatever they had or did not have, Lila Baa quotes a very inspirational incident.
“As I told you, mostly we always had to think about what we would eat. So once, there was a similar situation. We all were at home- four children and we two with literally nothing to eat. So, an idea struck me. I went to the backyard of the house, found one plant- whose fruits are edible, plucked few and brought them home. Then, I told Kavi Saheb to bring some atta on credit from a local shop. Meanwhile, I cooked those plant fruits with some chili powder and salt without oil. We all sat outside the house that day and ate the fruit sabzi and rotis. People looked at us in astonishment but we invited them also…”
The thing to be understood here is that although they did not have any money to even buy food, Lila Baa and Mahipat Dada didn’t lose courage. They stood tall and faced the trials of life with as much bravery as possible. And, as Mahipat Dada says,
“I was able to face those difficult times, only because my Lila was with me. Otherwise, I don’t know, what would have happened.”
Outstanding! Epitome of love!
Problems kept on bombarding this family but as I said they had a safety net that was made up of love and care plus bravery, which saved them from every problem that was thrown at them.
After spending nearly fourteen years at Darpan Institute of Performing Arts, in Ahmedabad, Mahipat Dada and Lila Baa, decided to start something of their own.
“I was not a pro at puppets yet. Kavi shaeb was a puppet expert by then and I used to help in little ways. Finally we decided that we would form our own little group and do the puppet shows.”
On January 1st 1975, Mahipat Kavi Dada established ‘Puppets & Plays’ at Ahmedabad. The group produced several puppet programs, puppet films on family planning, environment, AIDs, etc. and puppet-serials for TV. The group also participated in different puppet festivals in India and abroad; performed puppet shows for foreign TV channels; and organized puppet exhibition in various Indian cities.
Our own Mahipat Dada had by then become a master puppeteer, musician, scriptwriter, translator and puppetry workshop expert.
“We used to get roughly about seventy-five rupees per show. With that we had to manage everything. Kavi Saheb used to handle production and script. I would handle costumes and other stuff. By the end of it, we were left with hardly any money. But, as I told you, we were really happy doing it, so the money, although a problem, was not a huge one.”
Time was passing very quickly, and things slowly improved for the Lila Baa and her family. But, they were not as good.
Small problems, which Lila Baa really didn’t consider problems, lingered around her. But, as we all know how Lila Baa is, she faced them with head on attitude.
“Once, my children were sent back from school because they did not have proper shoes and socks. We were not in a condition where I could buy all of them with brand new pairs of shoes and socks. I was really angry with the teacher. Was her job to teach children, or to teach shoes and socks? I wanted an answer. People who could not afford shoes and socks were not considered good enough for an education? A teacher doing this discrimination was really shameful. I left all the household work that I was doing, and marched to the school…”
I could see Lila Baa’s eyes filled with anger at the memory of that teacher, even after so many years.
“She is really adamant about what is right.” Mahipat Dada said, not shocked but alarmed by Lila Baa’s high pitched voice.
“NO! It’s not about being right or wrong. I was really upset with the teacher since she sent my children home, depriving them of their education. And, she did all this because my children did not have shoes and socks? What difference would it have made?”
Lila Baa’s voice touched a pitch higher with every word that she was speaking. Mahipat Dada was alarmed, yet there was a faint smile on his face.
“I went to the teacher and told her that I cannot afford to buy shoes and socks for all my children at once. As I get money in future I would definitely buy the required things. But for now, please allow the children to study. It’s not as if without the shoes and socks they would not understand what language she was speaking in.”
What a bold attitude by Lila Baa. The teacher would have gone into shell-shock.
“So, did she take the children in?” I asked slowly, fearing that she might shout at me also.
“She had to, obviously!” Lila Baa said, but this time in a milder tone.
According to me, all women are tender in nature. But, let a single thing harm their children, they will throw away the tenderness and fight fiercely with anything and everything that would try to hurt their children in anyway.
Years passed by and the couple stood tall against the sands of time. The shows were going good now, and both Mahipat Dada and Lila Baa were slowly becoming famous.
“I still remember, after years of hard work and toil, we purchased our own house, the same in which we were living on rent. The children were growing rapidly. All of them had creative genes in them. We trained our children to help us with the puppet shows. Overall, life was much better from the time when we started.”
Lila Baa and Mahipat Dada have travelled to almost every country on the globe. You name it and they have been there!
“Germany, Italy, France, Canada, UAE, London, America, Africa etc. and many more countries in which we have performed.”
As strange as it may sound, the couple is expert in doing shows in any country’s local language.
“In France, we perform Ramayana and Krishna-Lila in French, same shows we do in Germany in their German language.”
“How do you learn those languages?” I asked curiously.
“See, you have to have a burning desire to perform your craft in the best possible way. And if you are truly and madly in love with your craft, then language is a very small barrier.” Lila Baa said with a warm smile.
There was much more to her words than what she spoke. I just kept listening, trying to delve deep into her life illuminating and inspirational words.
“It’s been a lovely life. We enjoyed each and every bit of it.”
Today, after a career that has spanned over five decades, both Lila Baa and Mahipat Dada, at their respective ages, eighty and eighty three, stand quite content at what they have achieved. They didn’t think to begin with, that they would come so far, and would still be working.
“All my children are settled. We still do shows and we still love each other, just like we did earlier, before we got married.” Lila Baa’s face has a shine. Shine, which has witnessed countless difficulties in order to sustain itself.
Lila Baa is a real inspiration for all of us. She teaches, almost without teaching, how to face all of life’s problems with a smile. A dazzling smile! Get up, move and work, work relentlessly, work harder when you fail, after that keep on working harder till you succeed, and even after that. That’s what her life has been all about.
“She will be getting a national award on 11th April in Delhi.” Mahipat Dada said excitedly.
After stealing yet another glance at Dada, Lila Baa says, her voice slightly sad, “They should have given it earlier, when we were young. It would have inspired me a lot, to work even harder. Now, what will I do with the award? It’s time for the show to get over.”
I saw a tinge of wetness around both Mahipat Dada and Lila Baa’s eyes. I was amazed that even now when Lila Baa speaks of going away, Mahipat Dada can’t bear it.
“See our lives are almost over. How long we are going to live? Our children will take the art of puppetry forward, and I genuinely want the government to encourage puppetry- the art. It has tremendous power as an art, and can help support many people.”
A life well lived, a life well understood; a life well enjoyed despite hurdles. Salute to you Lila Baa and Mahipat Dada.
I finished my interview and was feeling very light. Lila Baa and Mahipat Dada changed something in me by narrating their life story. The lesson was very subtle and I would savor it for many days to come, so would my readers, who were with me till the end.
“Baa and Dada, I can’t tell you how happy I am feeling right now.”
“You should always feel happy beta.” Lila Baa said in a grand-motherly tone.
I felt nostalgic.
“Thank you very much for this opportunity, to enter your life and live it again with you.”
“Don’t say thank you and all. When are you getting married?” Lila Baa asked straightforwardly.
What? Marriage? I couldn’t actually understand the question. It slowly sunk in.
“Not yet Baa. But, I would definitely do it soon.” I said, and my face was red with excessive blushing. I had not blushed this much, altogether, ever!
“Do it soon, and send us flight tickets.”
Both of them said unanimously.
“Definitely Baa and Dada.” I said and touched their feet, “will see you soon at the launch.”
“We will be waiting.” Lila Baa said.
I took one last look at them; they looked warm and endearing- soothing my heart! I picked up my notebook, mobile and stood up. Once again I touched their feet and they again blessed me with their magical hands, by placing them on my head.
“Bye. Take care, Baa and Dada.” I said.
“Bye beta. Don’t forget the flight tickets.”
I blushed in return, waved bye at them and moved out of their house in Patrakar colony, in Ahmedabad.
I was really radiating with joy, which I had not felt in ages. A tear quickly escaped my eye. It was a tear of joy, dedicated to both Lila Baa and Mahipat Dada, for their outstanding life.