Every adolescent girl has issues with her mum, growing up. But even as a young girl, I positively hated my mother. What could I tell you about a woman I did not even share a bond with, as a child?
This post was originally written as a guest post on relationships for Shailaja’s blog. I am a great fan of hers for more reasons than one. Her personal victories over health issues, her dedication to her work, her love for her daughter and family and the pure honesty with which she writes – all of these and more. So, when the notification popped up on her guest post series on relationships, I impulsively messaged her a few months ago saying I would love to contribute, without really thinking it through. I missed updating my blog in-time for reasons beyond control. Since I had the post ready, I just decided to publish it anyway.
When it came to relationships, I realized there was enough written about most of those immediate, deep bonds. Children, husbands and wives, parents, siblings…. what did I really have to say at all? Most of the bloggers I follow seemingly had perfect stories to tell. And mine – especially my relationship with my mother, was anything but perfect.
What would I say about a woman with whom I did not even share a bond? I love my mum – because she is my mother. I worry about her as much as I worry about my daughter. I call her every other day to check if she has taken the right meds, eaten right, if the care taker is around for her. I chat with her to sort out her bank, money, rental and logistical woes. We talk about her aches and pains, the weather in Bangalore and my daughter, who is our only common interest, perhaps. What could I say about a woman I share so little with?
I grew up away from my mum for a significant part of my childhood. That is just one part of the story, and was more a matter of circumstances. Every adolescent girl has issues with her mum, growing up. But even as a young girl, I positively hated my mother for not being around for me and struggled for the longest time to forgive her for it. I despised her for not packing me lovely tiffins, not being there for my parent-teacher meetings at school, for not taking me to the tailors for decent well-fitting clothes or encouraging me in all of the activities as the other mothers did with their girls. As an adolescent, I never had her teach me how to dress up appropriately, do my hair up in different styles or look after my acne-ridden skin, never had her talk to me about life and living through all its challenges. The trend continued with no hint of a mum-daughter talk on what to do or not to, as I traversed through my first job, my engagement, marriage, child-birth – and so on. Note that I use intensely negative words as I express my feelings – am not proud to use them but that is how I felt as I grew up. I envied every friend of mine for the things their mothers did for them. Some had “working” mothers – that was almost aspirational for the generation I belong to; other mothers were brilliant home-makers with exceptional cooking skills; yet others helicopter managed their daughters’ relationships for them or the more sensible ones really passed on well-meaning advice – where did mine belong? She struggled to get out of bed and put a decent meal on the table half the time. She would look and feel ill perpetually and waddle around in her ill-worn saree, sitting in front of the television watching crappy serials for hours. We had yelling matches at home everyday as I went back to an unwell mum, dirty home and a dedicated father who was so tired of trying to hold it all together. Of course, in all this, I must mention I was blessed enough to have uncles and aunts and grandparents who did try to pitch in and help out, a lot. And cousins who empathized with me. Them all, our saviours, I will write about on another day.
When I try to recall my moments of pure enjoyment, laughter and joy with my mum as a growing up girl, I come up with just a handful of happy memories. For the longest time in her life, as a result of all her medications, my mum was the grumpiest soul around that you would possibly encounter on a normal day. Or so it seemed to my teenage eyes. My appa was a mild-hearted and gentle soul, it took little to please him. He was a man of simple tastes and little ambition. But he worked hard, did his best to provide for us and to keep peace at home.
Now, 20 years later, I feel differently about my mother. I still think she could have and should have been there for me. But, I have also learned to appreciate what I could not see back then, in my youth. That there were perhaps reasons and explanations for the life she lived that were beyond a child’s understanding. That through all the negatives I experienced around my mum, she did have her strengths after all, and that has done me a lot more good than I cared to realize and admit in my growing up years. That whatever her faults might have been, she couldn’t be faulted for the lack of love towards her family and friends. My advice to all those young women out there who struggle in their relationships with their mothers – learn to sift the wheat from the chaff. There is always something to learn from. Always something to appreciate.
The first incident that re-defined my mum in my eyes is about the time I went to Delhi for my Post Grad Diploma. Delhi, because I wanted to be more independent and ambitious as I chased my own dreams. But also, so that I could be away from the unpleasantness at home. At the end of the first trimester, I fared as per my usual decent standards in most courses but scored atrociously low grades in my accounting credits. I was so disappointed, shocked and embarrassed with myself that I called home at lunch time from the STD booth outside the Bennett & Coleman office in Daryaganj. “Amma” I wept into the phone “ I have only just passed in Accounting papers”. I still remember the worried tone in which my mum asked me if I was OK otherwise. And when I assured her I was, she went, “It’s just an exam paper. You are crying as if someone is dead. You can always re-appear for the paper if you want to score better”. My biggest complaint in life that far had been that my parents weren’t like the aspirational folks who pushed my friends so hard. At that moment, when I was 21, I realized what a blessing it was to have parents who would be happy with your average life, should you choose to live one. I was never ever pushed, judged, compared to another, or criticized. If anything, I think I might have done a little better if my parents had been tougher on me and not been the laid-back sorts that they were. The calmness in her voice over the phone that day, I can still recollect.
The second incident that springs to mind is around the time I got married. We lived in a decent house of our own and had a comfortable life. But we were a modest middle-class family and not very wealthy and my mum didn’t have much gold. She had one lovely necklace set – which she promptly brought to my room and handed over for me to wear, so that I had something “decent and big” to wear at my own wedding. I didn’t think much of it then, but do you realize how many mothers compete with their grown-up daughters? I am constantly astonished at how vain and insecure ageing mothers are, all around me; and how much my happiness and future should have meant for my mother for that selfless act of hers. The point is, she genuinely didn’t think of herself or how others would view her at all. That has paved the way for me to do what I do for my child. That confidence in herself and love for me, is something I will always admire and be grateful for.
The third incident is not so much about me, but it did impact greatly how I thought about my mother. Every time a neighbour walked in with general gossip and news, my mother would exuberantly welcome the guest who came home, but never the intention with which they came, especially if it was to bitch and gossip. She would enquire after their well-being, feed them coffee, tea, whatever little there was at home. She would listen quietly without commenting on what the person would gossip about and always end with “Hogili bidi. Namage yaake adu. Avara kathe avarige gottu”. That, translated from Kannada, amounts to “Leave it be, they alone know what they are going through, we must not be gossiping about these matters”. The gossip was never spread at our door by my mum ever, the news never passed on if it was unpleasant or malicious. Never ever.
And the last, is less of an incident and more of her belief. She has an unerring faith in God, in destiny, in that unseen superior force. Mind you, she is not one bit superstitious. She has a Muslim girl taking care of her, we have had non-brahmins cook in our home without ever being reminded of their caste, my folks had good friends from all communities and faiths. I have never ever been forced to pray or follow rituals when I didn’t want to. But Amma has pure, unfaltering faith in her Gods. And an infallible belief that they will see her and her family and her loved ones through all that life deals us with. On most days, I call her ignorant, irritating, naïve and stupid. I grind my teeth in frustration that her arm-chair advice is no good if she is not out and about helping the larger family with practical stuff. But on days when I most need comfort, she, the most foolish of the lot I know, is the first one I call. I cannot discuss issues with her precisely because she is ignorant and naïve. Also, because she is practically deaf and always mishears or misunderstands what I try to say. But on the days she hears my tone being less than positive, when she says the words “Devaru iddane. Yochane maadbeda. Avana kaiyalli bidu” – translated to – “Worry not. God is watching over us. Leave your troubles with him”, I gain enough comfort from her words to help myself through the less-than-perfect days.
I have come to realize over time that my mother has redeemed herself in my eyes a long while ago. She doesn’t fit the mould but then, I have learned to accept her for who she is. And in her own unique way, she is as good, if not better, than all the working, high-heel clad, BBC watching, smart-talking mums of her generation I had once upon a time coveted to be my own.