Thursday, September 03, 2009

My Mother...

When I was a child, I was always daddy’s little girl. I could never grasp why my mother insisted that I had to be back home at the stroke of 6pm every day, or why I had to score only 100 in math, or why I had to leave the room when the grown-ups were discussing things that did not concern me. Being the only child, the only girl child in two generations of my family, I naturally ran to my father or my grandmother for sanctuary every time my mom tried to be a mother. But despite being thoroughly spoilt and despite my best evasive efforts, to this day I’ve never been home 5 minutes late without informing my mother, even before cell phones existed. To this day, I stop dead if my mom is silent and cannot be at peace until she herself tells me why she is angry.

My mother had a queer way of raising me. Every time I fell down and hurt myself (I used to have sutures twice a year) she would rebuke me like I had committed a crime, but not without torrents of tears streaming down her eyes as she rushed me to the doctor. When I was ten she bought me a bicycle even before I asked for one, because all the kids in the neighborhood had one. But she didn’t let me ride it the 3km to school for three whole years. “There will be big buses on the way,” she used to say. When I was 15 she bought me a scooter and allowed me to ride it to my gazillion coaching classes without a driver’s license, but would stand in our balcony with bated breath till I came home every night. I could never understand why she would voluntarily put herself through such trauma.

When I was sixteen, my relationship with my mother changed permanently. On an uneventful Monday afternoon, as I hovered around the kitchen talking to her about this and that, she taught me about choice. “Everything in life is a choice,” she began. As a girl from the average Indian middle class family, I could choose to do well at school, etch out a career of my choice, travel the world and never know what a budget meant. Or I could squander away the next few years, pursue whatever education my academic prowess afforded me, get married at 20 or 21 and, in the worst case, lean on a man for financial support for the rest of my life. Then she drew out some personal choices for me. I was at an age where I had an uncontrollable urge to rebel, she explained. If she restricted me, I would do things without her knowledge that would prove to be far more unfortunate than doing them with her consent. So she awarded me complete freedom. She would not stop me from doing anything. Instead she would offer her opinion and possibly explain the consequences as she saw them. Essentially it was up to me to tell her the truth or to lie.

That is how my mother dealt with my adolescence. She did not once try to make my choices for me or to nudge me towards the right one. She just left it to me. And her method worked like a charm. By giving me the freedom to screw up my life, she ensured that I never did. That Monday afternoon, I left the kitchen a little bewildered. But my mother had become my friend. Today there is nothing I cannot discuss with her. Boyfriends, crushes, alcohol, parties, my insecurities, my aspirations, my confusions, nothing is off bounds with her. She shields me from judging relatives. She debates with me about my decisions. She indulges me and my profligate ways. She eggs me on when I'm feeling down. She brings out the idealist in me when I struggle with bouts of cynicism.That clueless sixteen-year-old has come a long way today because of her mother's attitude and unrelenting support.

When I think about it now, 10 years later, I realize that she probably wanted me to have the childhood she never had. My mother was blessed with an untimely maturity. At the tender age of 8 she used to help her slightly ill mother cook before she left for school every day. At that age she never let me enter the kitchen except to throw dishes into the sink. When she was 16 she would wake up at 4am to study for a couple of hours before she cooked for the whole family and got her little brother ready for school before she left. I, in turn, slept for 15 extra minutes while she ironed my uniform for me. When she was 18 she graduated at the top of her school and got admitted to an Engineering program. Instead she gave in to family pressures and married my father and had me when she was barely 19.

She may have given up her academic dreams. In fact for a very long time I used to complain to my grandfather about his misdeed. "Look at her family. What more should she achieve?" he would ask. I daresay he is right. She is a success in every undefined sense of the word, on numerous immeasurable counts. She has always been a success in ways I have never understood. I call her every day. For five years now, every single day I’ve found her excited and waiting with some new story to tell me. Ever the social butterfly, she is always buzzing with activity and fussing over people and flitting around with her bubbly energy. Even our extended family brims with her fans. People cannot shop for weddings without her. People called her with their problems even when she was visiting me in the US. My friends who I don't see more than once a year, visit her every time they are in Madras. She takes care of her parents and, until recently, her parents-in-law. She single-handedly manages the finances and investments of all my dad's siblings who don't even live in India. She is the omniscient, omnipresent super daughter, super wife, super mom!

To people, I am always Veena's daughter and I would not have it any other way. Some day in the distant future I hope I become my mother.

Happy Birthday Ma!