She Studied Till Class 5 in a Village, He Got a Post Doctorate from Europe, They’ve Been Happily Married for 68 Years!

It’s only well into adulthood that we realise how important our mothers are, and how we’ve inherited their histories and memories. In our three-part series ‘Her Blood in My Veins’, three women trace their mothers’ lives, and see a mirror to their own truths.

JASHO

By Anita Panda 

My father Dr Abanish Panda was always the celebrity in our family – the eminent paper technologist that he was. But my mother Jasho was his driving force and was the true ‘shero’ in my life.

Jasho’s story is that of an ordinary, primary-school educated woman from a nondescript village, who became the ‘Rock of Gibraltar’ for her ambitious, globe-trotting husband. It is the story of her metamorphosis from a shy, simple girl into being the driving force behind her illustrious husband’s success. It is also the story of ‘The Beauty and the Nerd’, which proves that marriages can still work despite vastly mismatched educational and intellectual disparities in a couple.

Jasho hailed from a family of zamindars and freedom fighters in the village of Bhurkamunda in Odisha’s Jharsuguda district. She cleared fifth grade but discontinued her education. Betrothed to Abanish since childhood, she got married in the summer of 1947 at the age of 16.

They had their first son in 1955 and the second in 1957. Her husband got the opportunity to work in Finland on an international exchange fellowship and young Jasho was left behind with two little sons at her maternal home.

One year of her husband’s stay abroad turned to seven as he decided to pursue his PhD from Germany. Jasho stoically bore all the trials by fire, pangs of separation, social ridicule and wild speculations from the villagers about being abandoned by her husband.

But she had unflinching faith in Abanish, toiling hard to achieve his dream, the first Asian to earn a doctorate from the Darmstadt Tech University, Germany.

The couple kept their love alive by exchanging long, sentimental letters every month. When Abanish returned in 1963, his two young sons reacted to him as a stranger rather than as their father!

He wanted to take his wife along for his post-doctorate in Norway, but being heavily pregnant with their third child, Jasho couldn’t go. Abanish left for Oslo soon after their third son was born in 1964.

Anita and Jasho
The writer Anita with her mother Jasho, 2017

The family relocated to Delhi in 1972, five years after my birth, and Jasho adapted quickly to the urban lifestyle, socializing with the elite at parties, attending to her home, raising kids studying in top schools. Her lack of formal education was no deterrent to her playing hostess to numerous European guests.

Later, we moved to Kolkata, where she continued to be the motivating factor behind her husband’s soaring career graph. Abanish took Jasho on an unforgettable European tour and – despite her inability to converse in English – she made her husband proud with her charm.

In 2005, Jasho was diagnosed with cancer; a lump in her left breast had been found to be malignant. She and her family went through hell but she bore it and survived with her trademark grace and resilience.

Earlier this year, her husband was felicitated with a ‘Lifetime Achievement Award’ for his exemplary, 60-plus years of contribution to the global paper technology industry. As his wife of 68 years looked on, her eyes moist behind her smile, their youngest born and only daughter looked at Jasho with pride.

Here’s to an exceptional woman and mother: “Ma, tujhe salaam!”

This is the first in the three-part ‘Her Blood in My Veins’ series published in the June issue of eShe magazine