MOTHER

I don’t remember mine ever being the hugging, kissing, making us (sister and me) sit on her lap types kind of a mother. She was a working woman, tensed most of the time, short tempered with hypertension in her 30’s itself.

I don’t remember her taking leave to babysit us during our sickness or exams or fretting over us for simple things. We had a few cousins (who were already adults when we were kids) or servants from her/dad’s hometown who used to live with us to take care of us in our initial years, in the 70’s. There was never a word of encouragement when we did well, but we surely got beatings with slippers, rulers, hands, and were even made to kneel down on the rugged carpets if ever we got into trouble or failed a test.

In spite of this, I turned out to be a jack of all trades from school days – I was always there, in front, taking part in all events-be it sports, debates, singing, dance competitions and winning several medals and certificates in each and every one of them. I don’t know if she was proud of my achievements because unlike other mothers who would sing praises of their kids who even got the 10th rank in class, she never used to have good things to say about me-be it my achievements in studies or extra-curricular activities. Whenever we ask her why she never used to say good things about us to others-be it relatives or friends, it would be brushed off with just a look. Maybe she feared the evil-eye.

The teachers and nuns at school would call me for anything and everything. They were always-oh this competition…call her, that debate..call her. I remember at a P-T meeting my class teacher congratulated my mom saying “your daughter is good at studies, all sports, debates, extempore speeches, other activites etc. I will not be surprised if she becomes a lawyer or gets into politics”. My mom just stood there with a small smile and then twisted my ears when we were going home with a comment “concentrate more on studies and try to get that 1st rank, instead of wasting time on everything else”. No good words, no nothing.

The year I was in 10th (1990) our school along with our 2 other of our sister schools had a huge function-it was a Saint’s birth centenary celebrations combined with Parents Day. There were to be performances from all 3 schools. Among all 3 schools I was selected to give a speech about the Saint. I would practise every day after coming home. My Principal trusted me that I could pull it off in front of the big crowd of parents and students from 3 schools. I was a nervous, but did not want to disappoint my teachers who placed such immense trust in me. The day came and mom accompanied me to school that day. There were rehearsals going on for other programs from my school and I sat in a corner, going over my paper for my speech and talking to myself. Few parents who had also come with their kids and all the rest of us, piled into our school bus and reached the venue. Just before the program was about to start, my Principal (who was known to be very strict with a non-smiling face), came up to me, patted me on my cheeks, set right the collar of my shirt, touched the ribbons on my hair, straightened my Games Captain scarf on my shoulder and gave me a bigggggg smile and said-“you can do it”. I will never forget those few seconds and after that interaction her face went back to being the same stern woman!!!

All other performances went by me in a blur and then I heard my name being called-“now a speech by Miss XX about Saint ABC from YY school”. I broke into a sweat and walked up to the mike. Principals of all 3 schools, the Chief Guest and few other people were seated behind me on the stage. I took the mike and could see the auditorium was filled with people. I closed my eyes for a minute and took off–non stop for 5 mins. I realized I had finished my speech without a hitch when I heard claps–thunderous applause from parents seated below and most of them were standing and applauding, as I walked down to find my mother. I could hear “well done, nice speech, very brave” etc etc as I walked past. One parent gave up his seat so that I could sit next to my mother. I was flying, I was thrilled, I was soooo happy. But then, not a word from my mom. It was already 8pm and mom did not want to stay back for other performances and said we should get back home. So we left and went home. No words about my performance to my dad or my sister. No congrats, no well done, nothing.

The next day when I went to school, my friends congratulated me and some even made fun of me that their parents scolded them for participating in song/dance performances where even their faces could not be seen. Their parents said “Look at XX, she was so brave to go up on stage and orate for a full 5 mins without any fear, how proud her parents would be”. I came home and narrated this to my mom that evening and all she had to say was “yeh yeh, now so what. Lots of people will tell lots of things, now don’t let all that get into your head, go study”. It hurt, it hurt and very badly at that. Many many such instances.

I have been told by her on my face that I was the one who put her on her bed rest as soon as I was born. My sister was a Caesarean baby and so when I was due after 4 years, my mom was already 35yrs and I was again a caesarean child. There was another complication soon after. When she went to the Indian toilet at home and got up (there were no Western toilets then), she pulled a nerve on her left leg and it also led to her surgery stitches on her abdomen to tear. She was again hospitalized and led to her bed rest for 3 months. But I fail to understand how I am responsible for this. This pulled nerve led to swelling on her left leg, she was scared to have surgery done to rectify it at that time and lives with it all these years.

When it was time for my marriage, it was a huge struggle to make them accept my choice of a partner for inter-religious marriage, but my parents did give in finally for my sake. My sister too had a love marriage, inter religious, but my BIL agreed to convert for the sake of the wedding and to get my parent’s approval. I did not agree for the same in my marriage, though both my parents had finally agreed for the wedding. Dad was slightly worried about the reactions of our relatives – an inter religious marriage again, but no church wedding, what will he and mom do all alone, once I too leave home. This tension led to him having a heart attack just 2 weeks before my registered wedding was to take place and he never recovered from that. I was blamed and my mom even said to my face that “You are the cause of your fathers heart attack”. It was like a knife had been thrust into  my heart, the scars of which haven’t vanished even after 10 years.

She can never find goodness in others. No one is good enough for her. No food can satisfy her. The food has to be cooked only in the way she knows and should taste the way she makes it. Even my sisters cooking and mine can never impress her. Everything else, cooked at home or from a restaurant is trash. She feels she knows everything and can never accept she can be wrong. She does not have any friends and has managed with just one close friend from her office days till today(for almost 40yrs), and cribs about her too at times, which shocks me. My sister and me have even told her that thank God she did not have a son-she would have destroyed his marriage unable to get along with his wife, or she or her DIL would have ended up killing each other.

Coming to my husband’s Mother – she wanted a son so bad, that she had 3 daughters and did not give up her want for a son. She is the type who will not accept that it was because of the Y chromosome from her husband’s sperm that gave her a son, but would say that it was a result of her pujas, prayers, fasts and visits to temples. She is of the mentality that daughters always belong to another family and only a son belongs to the parents. She will never ask her daughters for any help, let alone her Son-in-laws. Even asking her Son-in-law to drop her at the bus stop or getting her some things from a shop or asking them to take her to a doctor because she is unwell is something that should not be done. She also loves her son immensely, but that love vanished when he wanted her to accept his choice in his marriage. The love for the son was not so great and unconditional then, when compared against what the society would say to such a marriage. So she has never accepted our marriage to this day–this year which will be our 11th anniversary. Her love for her son, did not mean she should accept his wife. Her love for her son did not mean that his happiness was important to her or accepting that he was perfectly capable of making his life’s choices as an adult.

95% of my friends do not have a good relationship with their husband’s mothers. They have been ill treated and subjected to so much of mental abuse and plain ignoring-be it in an Arranged/Love marriage. How is it then that a mother will not extend her love to her own son’s spouse? How is it that a mother tries to spoil her own son’s life by brewing trouble in his life and ignoring his life partner and the mother of his children?

All this does not mean my mother doesn’t have good qualities. This does not mean she doesn’t love us. She has done so much for us. She has been and still is a very mentally strong woman. I have got the independent and rebel streak from her. My “take no shit” attitude comes from her. If not for her, my sister and me would not have studied in good schools and be whatever we are today. In spite of her physical pain and problems she went to work to put food on our table and give us a good education and life – something she never had. But then, when most people say “I want to become like my mother and be how she was”, I would say, I wish I don’t become like her. I wish I don’t get her pessimistic attitude. I wish I don’t get her judgemental attitude. I wish I don’t become like her.

Most of the American detective soaps portray criminals/psychos as those who had “mommy issues” when young. They would either be shown having uncaring parents or obsessive possessive controlling mothers. Thankfully I am neither a criminal nor a psycho. I would just say that my mother is one of those who doesn’t know how to show/express her love to her children. But, I still love her and will take some nice memories of her to my grave.

Is it then such a wonder that I just do not get it when people say “My mother is the bestest. She will do anything for me. She will do this. She will do that. She brings out the best in me”. Is it wrong when I do not feel the same pride when I hear my friends talk about their mothers and their love? Would I have made a good and loving mother? Is it good in a way that I do not have children on my own? I do not have answers to these questions.