When I was in senior school, I once had the responsibility of escorting a neighbour’s little girl to her nursery class. All the way to her colourful classroom, I would be in awe of the large fish and butterflies drawn on the walls. She, on her part, would be busy trying to cry. More often than not, actual tears would fail her, and she would have to make do with howls-that-make-your-hair-stand-on-end. I was curious to know if the howls resounded in all their glory in the confines of her house as well. I spoke to Mom about it one day.
“How did you manage to stay sane when I howled?”
“Thankfully, you never did. You enjoyed school too much to howl.”
Aha! I went up in my own estimation.
Mom got back to spring-cleaning the teddy by the window – the one who was a prominent figure all through my childhood, with his silent observations on my growing up days.
That was before I was enlightened to my inclination toward err, in-house camping. It seems that, inspired by the Famous Five’s caravanning and vacationing in tents by the lakeside, I wouldn’t want to be left behind. So I would handpick Mom’s select dupattas, clothes-clips and the largest umbrella I could lay my hands on. I would then proceed to install a fine tent in the middle of the house. Mom would be my tent-mate and give me company in its rather claustrophobic interiors. Everyone would need to pass through it to go over to the other side – much like a toll plaza. To say nothing of the number of times they barely managed to avoid tripping over one of my tent’s pillars. Mom would put away such hazards as the side effects of camping and bring me hot pakoras to munch. So much for not howling.
With time, I failed to acquire most of Mom’s natural empathy and affection. I had none of her finesse in social circles or a heart big enough to appreciate without competing. Delhi, however, managed to lend me truckloads of cynicism. I would find faults in the grammar in a pamphlet, the pretentious accent of someone who called us for dinner and how they had lied about their last European holiday. When Archies would make a big hoopla-ho about the unceasing number of special ‘days’ in a year – ranging from celebrating your pet to the first time you had an icecream – I would gag. ‘We are minting money’, the gifting companies would grin wickedly at me. For Mom though, I would paint a handful of dahlias on chart paper. She loves flowers.
One Mother’s Day, we went to the cinema. She enthusiastically got me the overpriced popcorn and Coke, despite my feeble protests about how it wasn’t Children’s Day. Her eyes sparkled all through the film and continued to as we came out in the glorious May evening. Dad has never been a film buff – well, maybe not never, since he can still declaim a Raj Kumar dialogue with unrehearsed elan. But thanks to the hard-core engineer that he is, much of today’s mindless cinema doesn’t appeal to his sensibilities. And the loner that I usually am, going to the cinema with a large crowd of people isn’t either appealing or very practical.
“Thanks to you, I get to see the latest movies!” Mom announced as we hailed an auto.
I smiled. That should have been my line.
Mom has always made possible for me what at first seemed too fantastic to achieve. A scrapbook we filled with all types of leaves to be found in Delhi (well, most), a cozy bed under a starry sky, an A on my History project. Unlike me, she manages to see the silver lining and the sun hiding behind the clouds. I, strangely, notice only the blinds on the window. She lends a patient ear to all the tales the world has to tell. And then, from these, she hand-picks the best ones for dear daughter.
I shout at her when the cupboard isn’t shut. Or sleepily brush her off when she claims I have snoozed the alarm three times already. When the world gets on my nerves, I sit her down and vent. In complete smoke-comes-out-of-the-dragon’s-nose style. So you gather, she has to play quite the hit-me doll who needs to bounce back each time.
Mom, you have no idea how much you have done and continue to do for me. Trust me, you don’t. I too have no idea if I am worthy of your selfless love or it’s a karmic bag of goodies that has landed in my fortune’s path. No matter how life pans out to be, the stars you put up in my room’s ceiling, painstakingly stretching your neck, will be the first ones I will remember when I look up at the sky.
And oh, notwithstanding all the fragility of today’s times that is fodder to my cynicism, we will always be the best of friends.
* I am writing a Tribute to Mom in association with Parentous.com