family · fiction · kahaniyan · people · Uncategorized

For Mother, & a Life Well Laughed

I wonder when they emerged- the wrinkles on her face, the changes in her voice, her beautiful gray hair. Or had I been lost for too long? I held her frail fingers in my hands and hummed a familiar tune. Her eyes sparkled behind her spectacles.

My father would sing this song while driving through the mountains. My mother would be occupied in cutting fruits and passing them to us. Apples, pears, mangoes and bananas, tastes the seasons would allow. We would often stop in the local markets to buy some apricot and plums, and if there was a state run store, we would stock concentrated fruit juices and jams-for our days in the plains. My mother usually carried milk powder for me, and there were containers with biscuits and namkeen, to be had with chai during the stay. Yes, she was always prepared, in control. And if you dislike motion of a vehicle as I do, my mother could offer you some soda or sweets, churan balls and digestives. Lying in her lap I would suck on orange toffee and dream of a world with just my family, the trees and the breeze, music from around the world and her hand stroking my hair, no homework, no school, just this toffee…until sleep would take over and dreams richer than my imagination would unfold.

At times during a halt, while my father took photographs and my brother collected cones, I would quietly drop some biscuits from the car window, for the little monkeys. My mother would often warn me against this act but her reasoning failed. How could the monkey mother carry me with her? I only learnt my lesson when a monkey mother leaped on to my window assuming danger for her child; I am glad the window was up and that her glaring teeth were at a safe distance. I am also thankful, that my own mother was not as ferocious in her anger, though the two mothers could give tough competition to each other. That’s how I like to remember mother, not as this quiet human fidgeting with a mobile phone that seems too alien an object.

Holding our cups of chai, we sit quietly in her room. The bed sheet with faded elephants needs to be changed. The television set has dust sitting on it. There is a yellow shoe box filled with medicines. The calendar declares a month in the past. And the metallic photo frame on the wooden shelf is the one that we gifted to our parents on their 25th anniversary. That was indeed a long time back. She looks radiant in her yellow sari and my father looks dashing with his wide moustache. This was a photograph from their honeymoon, to which colour was added later in a studio. I think it was Bhimtal, mother defiantly says its Nainital, yesterday she had said Pithoragarh; Since this was before my brother and I were born, I agree with her each time, even if the note at the back of the photograph suggests otherwise. Wherever it was, it was a place and time where the sun shone brightly, the grass was a definite green and my parents embraced life in all its beauty. I am certain that the chequered bag in my mother’s hand contained some edible treasures, maybe some Namakparaas and Matthi, could also be Semolina Laddoos made by Tayiji, my uncle’s better half. This bag still hangs in her almirah, with vintage sunglasses and letters in a handwriting I recognize. As I read through one, I have an insatiable desire to have a freshly made Laddoo dissolve in my mouth. I tell this to mother and she smiles.

Every Tuesday, my mother used to bring Boondi Laddoos for me from the sweet shop in our neighbourhood market. They used to be soft and warm, and would break as I picked them up hastily. I could gulp down two in a row with greed written across my face. Mother would chide me for eating too much sugar, but next Tuesday the Laddoos would be there again. Just like the milk and almonds on my study table each night, or the Amla Murabba and Tulsi leaves every morning. How come she never missed any task, how come she was never late? Unlike me, who could never be on time! Am I too late?

My brother often recalls the bus honking for me. I would be the last one to get on to it. I am sure the bus driver recalls those times as a nightmarish phase in his career. My mother would wait at the bus stand with my school bag, explaining her plight to him, while I somehow managed to tie my shoe laces, grab my sandwich and make a dash.

Today, I do not wear shoes with laces and mother finds it hard to remember those recurring incidents. She joyously remixes characters and events, emotions and stories. I enjoy listening to her nostalgic monologues, these are the few times when she laughs, the most beautiful sound in the world.

My mother’s laughter has its own dedicated epics, ones that are narrated in the lanes of Meerut even today. “She would always laugh, we used to call her the laughter queen,” retired neighbours reminisce in the park; “One day, she was talking about her pressure cooker not working, she was laughing even then!” my aunt mutters while frantically rotating her beads, as if memories of a generous laugh can enhance the effect of her mantras. I do remember her laughing while my teacher complained of my slowness, much to the teacher’s despair; and when she recognized a long lost friend while negotiating the price of bitter gourd. I always thought that this is how life would be, her fingers stroking my hair, my father at the steering wheel, my brother playing music and my mother laughing through it all. We shall drive through life in a chocolate brown car, with monkeys, trees and countless stars greeting us on our way to nowhere. I had wished for things to only be beautiful, but that would have been unreal, I wish things could have stayed unreal. I wish I could turn back the clock and bring the wheels of time to a stop. Just like the photograph in the metal frame, with the greenest grass and love in bloom.

I don’t know when I grew up, it was sudden. I was sent to an institution in another city, to study with smart people and become a professional. Consequently I moved to another country, to study further and become an even better professional. I studied, cooked simple meals, and struggled to survive. With time, I made newer friends, fell in and out of love, started living an independent life. The mountains, the fruits, the almonds and milk were far behind, the laughter of my mother was replaced by libraries, museums, events and money, never forgotten. I imagined a life with my family, but a family yet to be born. I had to curb memories of the strong Punjaban with her dark brown hair, holding my school bag, awaiting my return as she packs Laddoos to be couriered. She got limited to phone calls and irregular visits. Papa would take care of her, my brother is there, and I felt distance wouldn’t matter- I can send her flowers on her birthdays.

She has always preferred roses as far as flowers are concerned. She would delicately fix a red rose in her hair as she got ready for a celebration. She was always well dressed in the most colourful attire. I would hold her fingers and walk with pride. After all she was mine. With time she continued being mine, but I stopped being hers. After all I was doing this to please her, to prove that I can be as smart as any other child. Did I fail to hear the loneliness in her laughter when I made those hurried calls? Was I too occupied to notice the discomfort with which she navigated foreign lands? It is not that it pained me any less just that I refused to acknowledge the change. Perhaps it was my only way to survive adulthood and its many surprises. I lack the fortitude with which she could laugh throughout life; I am a child who could not accept her own bubble being burst.

Speaking of bubbles, my mother is a great bubble blower, indeed the greatest ever. She has mastered the art of mixing the right amount of soap and water to create magic. We have a photograph of her giving me a bath, the bubble blower kept on her side, lest I begin to cry and she needs to distract me through the glorious globes of soap, water and air. I would try and hold, like dreams too fragile to touch.

Here, sitting in front of me, is the protagonist of all my dreams, fragile as a flower, magical as a bubble, fading in her quietude. I can choose either to wallow in the misery of change, or live our reality as she would have liked. The latter seems appropriate. And so I shall stop typing on my laptop, and go make a few calls. It’s her birthday next week and we must go for a picnic. It’s never too late to meet friends old and new, to celebrate a life well lived with food well cooked, to hug and laugh and blow bubbles, who knows when a chocolate car might appear and take us far away.

 

Advertisements
children · poetry · reflections · Uncategorized

I want to be like the Deodars

I want to be like the Deodar when I grow up.

Standing tall above the sounds and smoke,

amidst the clouds and tales of hope.

Holding the earth and all that creates,

reigning over the hills and hearts.

The Tall Deodars…I want to grow up to be like those.

 

 

people · reflections · storytelling · Uncategorized

सुना है बम फटा है

सुना है
बम फटा है
दूसरे मुल्क में
अफगानी काबुल में

चलो हम तो बचे हुए हैं

और वो तो हम नहीं
वो
जो रहते हैं काबुल में

रात के आसमान में तारे ढूँढ़ते हुए
एक ख्याल आ मिला
याद आयी वह तस्वीर मेरे दोस्त की
जिसने दिखलाया था बामियान का आसमान
काबुल के ही पास
तारों की चादर है उनकी रात
आज भी, अभी भी
वो भी यूँ ही तारों में ढूँढ़ते होंगे कल की सुबह
वहां, उनके अफ़ग़ानिस्तान में
वो भी चाहते होंगे कि बच्चे खिलखिलाकर हंसें
कि रात को रोटी मिले और जश्न में संगीत
कि जब सुबह हो, तो ज़िन्दगी फिर चल पड़े

तो क्या फिर काबुल में हम नहीं?
उसी आसमानी चादर के नीचे मैं भी हूँ, तुम भी हो, और वो भी हैं
क्या फिर भी …हम काबुल में नहीं?

 

पूर्णिमा

 

 

narratives · society · Uncategorized

Musings from Madhur Vihar

In front of the board that says “Please Don’t Feed The Dog”, the dogs of Madhur Vihar are uniting against a lone cow. They have been hungry for days but it has not dampened the will to fight for their territory. “Go Away! This is our home!”, they seem to be shouting in unison. They are clearly unaware of their own minority status in this neighborhood, and the cow too seems to be oblivious of her revered status in the nation. The dogs are tiring out, and the cow has decided to turn and go back to the garbage dump where it has been left by its owner to find some food. The upholders of the respective status of the above mentioned animals are currently busy taking a nap or watching news with ego-maniacs as anchors, their anger interspersed with advertisements of a very happy generation. “You wan’t to get angry, here I’ll break a mug!” says a loving cosmopolitan husband to his wife who seems to be tired of her luxuries…I am wondering how to sneak in the dogs to feed them, and am sorry for the cow who is not alone in facing double standards. Meanwhile the crows have been spared, and my crow friend has just picked up the egg shell I left for it on the stone slab.

family · kahaniyan · narratives · people · reflections · society · Uncategorized

Amma and I (Fiction: Short Story)

On the second shelf in the kitchen are two mugs- orange and yellow. Amma and I bought these together from the neighborhood market some months ago; she wanted to spend time with me over chai.

I have been living with Amma since last summer. It was unplanned.

I had been working in another city for 6 years, when she called me and asked if I would like to move back. I was surprised by that sudden call. But I had been noticing changes in Amma’s voice, she sounded more fragile and lesser of the strong woman who had raised me on her own. I sensed urgency, and feared that leaving this opportunity of time together might be my biggest regret later in life; I started applying for a new job.

A few months later, I packed my bags with great hesitation, said goodbye to the loveliest friends and was home.

Only to realize, home isn’t the same.

My room having served as a space for guests had remnants of their personalities. My books were missing, my memories of an entire childhood had been painted over, and as if to mock at my sense of belonging, a strange wall art had appeared in their place demonstrating dearth of imagination and skill. I was unable to relate with the velvet curtains and their display of fake splendor, and the calendar with models wearing gold jewelry deserved to be hidden.

I felt invaded.

But I decided to curtail my impulses and settle in. I was carrying with me imaginations of a period of bonding, a fresh beginning where the two of us navigate through unforeseen adventures, moments of laughter, nostalgia and exploration. I needed time to slowly initiate this process with her. First, I needed to feel at home. Amma meanwhile had been nurturing her own desires that had been unfolding across time and space. Little did we know that the colourful memories we were hoping to weave, might turn into bitter episodes we both crave to forget.

To give you some context, I have been raised by a feisty single mother, who fought against all conventions to ensure that I have a safe childhood away from her abusive husband, receive good education and appreciate life through all that it has to offer. We had our turbulence and there were times when Amma struggled under mounting pressures, but it would be safe to assume that we managed well. I chose to pursue a career of my choice and consider myself fairly independent. Amma took pride in my achievements and I found consolation in performance. Then I fell in love. After living with my partner for a while, we realized we were happier alone, and I moved in with some friends – the year when Amma stopped being herself.

Having lived her life on her own terms, I had expected Amma to be my biggest support in that phase. On the other hand, I faced an onslaught of unsolicited advice and fears. Her reactions were exaggerated, conventional and seemed alien to me as her child. I wondered who had she been speaking to; can a person’s identity and beliefs change drastically over time? Is this really my mother? I was coping with an estranged partner and also disbelief at my mother’s radical transformation. Things weren’t easy.

Amma’s phone calls kept increasing in their frequency and her tone was always worried. She would call me when I was in office, at the gym, with friends, and her queries were always regarding my future with my partner. He and I were not planning to move back together, yet we cared for one another, how hard was it for her to understand? Things kept boiling between us for a while, I did not want to hurt Amma, but I couldn’t hide my sense of shock at her extreme reactions. My impatience with her was growing, she was disturbing me, I was feeling stressed after her every call, I was borrowing her anxiety, for the first time in my life, I suddenly felt insecure.  My friends asked me to avoid talking to her so much.

I reduced our interaction; I would only take her calls on weekends and make sure the conversation is short. Seeing her missed calls during the week made me feel nauseous with guilt, but I needed to do this for myself, or this is how I justified it. Every passing weekend, I felt Amma seemed even more anxious than before, her questions ranging from my roommates’ personal lives to my ex’s future plans. Once she asked me invasively about my sex-life, at that point I could just not take it anymore. And I burst out. I do not remember what I said; I just know that I was in great anger and that she fell completely silent. I had hurt her, and hurt my own self. After that she stopped calling me. I cried my heart out, overwhelmed with guilt and anger- frustrated at having lost the mother she was and at my own incapacity to be more responsible towards her growing insecurities. I wish I knew how to deal better. Because I could not find a solution, I started escaping my reality. I also did not call Amma. That year, we did not go for a holiday together, our annual treat. I too did not present the idea; I felt it was better for me to keep distance lest I lash out at her.

It was tough to imagine Amma as this weak person who had allowed me to disrespect her. She had been most loving but also a very strict mother. Raising a child on your own in a society as ours has never been easy, and to run your own organization along with it is even tougher. Amma had several moments of extreme stress when I was growing up, and often she would direct her resentment at me in some form or the other. It wasn’t deliberate, she needed attention, care and love, but all she got was endless nagging, judgement and criticism. However she never broke. She held her head high and taught me to do so. As a child I developed an ocean of empathy for her, I could sense what she was going through, I could ignore her angry remarks and focus on her deep love for me. We were a team. This team was breaking now.

After a phase of discomfort in silence, I began calling Amma on my own. She would always take my call, irrespective of the time. She would tell me about the neighbors, the problems at office, some news of my childhood friends who still lived in the city, but never about her health.  I used to feel restless speaking to her, I wanted those conversations to end sooner to avoid possible confrontations. She regularly asked about my meals and I wonder why it never occurred to me, is she eating properly?

Time flew by, next year I could not offer to go on the trip because I had to finish some work. Amma came over to see me. This time she was weaker, fidgety with her luggage, nervous in the taxi and fell sick on eating ice-cream. She was worried about my life. How long will I live with flatmates? Two of them are already married and have moved out; will I always keep working like this? Is this all that I want?  I was surprised at her questions, isn’t she the one who told me in school that if I do not work hard, I’ll waste my life? That it is better to focus on Math than on boys? So why is it now important for me to forget my priorities and instead hunt for a husband? Amma did not persist much; she would just bring it up feebly, listen to my response, and take deep breaths. I wanted to embrace her and tell her gently that I love her, but I couldn’t, I just told her that her views are not aligned with mine.

The year after that is when Amma called me to ask if we can stay together, and I landed home.

She had become quieter, thinner and would often cough. She refused to take medicines or to reduce her workload. She still washed her own clothes and preferred to not have a cook. I on the other hand had gotten used to a different lifestyle. I liked being in control at home, so did Amma, and this has been her home forever. With Amma, life revolves around her rituals and schedule. Her priorities started becoming mine, and I found myself in constant conflict. I felt stranded in my own house and challenged her authority.

In the past year we have fought over our culinary desires, wardrobe, choice of toothpaste, frequency of oiling hair, desire or lack of desire for a pet, selection of news channel, re-purposing of furniture, watering of plants, and of course my marriage. Every time Amma brought it up, I put up one question- I thought she wanted me to live with her, why is she not letting me do that and asking me to get married? Amma refused to respond.

I had come back with a desire to amend things with Amma. To express and resolve the resentment we had built up in the past and to go back to the relationship we shared, but our dynamics grew worse. Neither did we enjoy anything together nor were we particularly helpful to each other. In fact I stopped seeing Amma as my ageing mother, I stopped being gentle, I could sense a rising insensitivity within me which was alarming yet overpowering. Be it on walks or at dinner I would avoid talking to her, or make calls to friends and ignore her worries. Amma on the other hand refused to let go of this opportunity to influence me, she would quote examples from neighbourhood, and warn me of dire consequences in future. In retrospect I think Amma being the protective mother she has always been wants to ensure that I do not face the hardships she went through, she wants an easier life for me, and she sees matrimony as a solution having witnessed happier marriages of her cousins and extended family. What Amma refused to acknowledge was the fact that I am an adult and responsible for my choices and future, it is no more her duty and she can choose to enjoy this time with me, knowing ourselves better. I had hoped that in all these years Amma’s determination to solve my personal crisis would have mellowed; instead it now haunted us day and night.

Amma also had her new-found misery to deal with. A daughter she had nurtured with much love was now being arrogant, defiant and denying her a role with dignity. Over each cup of tea, we fought. With time we became more hurtful, brought out monsters from the closet and delved in self-pity. To aggravate her further, I forced her to follow a new diet advised by a doctor and suffered paranoia regarding all possible illnesses that could divest her of her vitality. She became irritable and stubborn, and I acted like an impatient parent.

I thought this would go nowhere and was on the verge of giving up. I had started looking for jobs again and wanted to move out. Unable to solve our crisis I wanted to flee. Amma on the other hand chose to go into her shell on learning that I might leave again. I was openly voicing my regret at having moved in with her and she started living with the resentment of not having solved my life’s problems.

It was in order to save our relationship and collective sanity that I decided to take at least a break and went back to stay with my friends. I wasn’t running away, or perhaps I was being a coward. I was seeking refuge to be able to soothe my frayed nerves and find a solution to our daily upheavals.  The first few days were relaxing; I followed all advice- from Yoga class to Green Tea and then evening by the river. I was supposed to find peace and I was ready to embrace it wholeheartedly. Just that it was hidden deep within.

On one of my walks in the park, an elderly gentleman who had been greeting me regularly waved at me. I went up to him. He was warm and welcoming and we struck a conversation around purpose and meaning in life. As if he could read my distress, he remarked, just by meditating in this park here you will not find your answers. I felt annoyed and chose to ignore his advice. I continued to live with my friends and worked from distance.

After a few weeks, I could not resist an overwhelming guilt. I decided that maybe Amma too could benefit from this change. I booked her tickets and invited her to stay with me. We spent a week together wherein we watched theater, used our favorite recipes for cooking, sat in the park and read passages from books we had read together long ago. None of us brought up the topic of marriage. She did not ask me when or if I would come back. I was too scared of my inability to control my reaction and she had been silenced. On this trip I realized that Amma had a flair for cards, and she enjoyed drinking mocktails. My friends took her out for a movie and had a wonderful time with her over coffee. Amma laughed easily, music to my ears, yet I found her to be hiding her hurt.

While leaving, she did not say anything; she just squeezed my palms, hugged me tight and kissed me as she always does. When I saw her walk with the trolley, I noticed she was slower, her shoulders drooped slightly. I held back a fierce wave of tears, and shouted, “Amma! I’ll be back soon!” On my way, I recalled, Amma had been petrified on flying alone earlier, how did she manage this time?

That evening as I sat in the room, I could feel Amma. In all her little things- the box with laddoos, the hand towel, my old comics and new pajamas, she had left behind her essence. She called to let me know she had reached safely, her phone had been off and she forgot to switch it on. She mentioned that a very kind young woman held her hand when the plane took off. She thanked me and my friends for the wonderful time she had, and that she misses me terribly. Before ending the call she shared that after a very long time, she felt as if she was with her friend. I wanted to be that young woman, hold her hand and sleep.

A few mornings later, I sat in the park, anxious if he would be there. The gentleman who had remarked on my search for solutions arrived. I waved at him, he walked towards me beaming with kindness. I apologized to him for having been rude and told him that I am going back to where the problem is, the solution resides there itself. He patted me on my back, smiled and walked away.

I went back to Amma again. She was ecstatic. I had not informed her of my arrival, yet I found that my study room had been re-arranged to suit my needs, my books were back on the shelves, and my wardrobe was left empty for me. I prepared a chart offering to cook one meal every day and we agreed to get a washing machine, two news papers and use separate tooth pastes.

It has been a few months, and it is my birthday today; Amma kept a letter on my table while leaving for work. A hand-written letter, her beautiful cursives reminding me of the time I spent at her office desk, following her words and framing mine. She used to work till evening but would ensure that I come back to her from school, have my lunch and complete homework. Prior to my examinations she would prepare test sheets for me to sit and practice. I do not know when she took out time to manage all of this. Being a single parent is a huge responsibility, and one that comes with endless criticism and scrutiny from those around. She never faltered. I do not remember her ever crying, I just remember that she would smile a little less. And that is why, her smile has always been the most beautiful sight for me.

I read through the simplicity of her words, the depth of her experiences. She expresses why I matter so much to her, some funny memories that she cherishes and how she would like me to have friends over as I used to in my teenage years. She even remembers the bands whose music we would listen to! It is a long letter. She has traced my life from her eyes. She writes that with my permission she would like to invite some people who matter a lot to me- my uncle, my favourite class teacher, friends from school and university, and my cousin  for dinner on the weekend. Then she adds as a separate note that she’ll come home late because she has to go out with our neighbour for some shopping. She requests me to not worry about her medicines and that she would be back by 7. As an afterthought she confides, “I think your neighbour aunty has very good choice. I have seen her bedsheets when she hangs them after a wash. That is why I will go with her to select a new table cloth. It will look good when we invite people for dinner. I know you are busy and you don’t like this market, don’t worry, be happy, we will also be enjoying. ”

I immediately re-read the letter, cried, laughed, and kissed it.

In the past year, I have at times been brutally hurt; I have at times inflicted immense pain. For a while I have battled with my wounds and guilt, and have found myself sinking in quicksand. Amma’s letter instantly pulled me out. In her moment of reflection, she released both of us from roles that had outlived their relevance. Amma has made space for me once again in the house, but more than that, Amma and I have made space for one another in our lives. Our time apart and together has made us realize how complete and capable we are as individuals, yet how important is our bond, and we must relish this in our renewed togetherness.

I’ll go for a haircut and call Amrita aunty. It would be great if she can also join us on the weekend, after all she is Amma’s dearest friend. It is 6:45 pm and knowing Amma, I have left the door open. Adrak Chai is ready, ready to be served in our mugs.

Uncategorized

awaiting the tree huggers

And when you would return
from your imagined wars
rowing boats in melting snow
I would still be here
under our tree
collecting dreams for you and I

Dreams
of golden fish in waters blue
of grasses waving in changing hue
of rain drops on windows, clouds in sight
of mountain tops on a moonlit night
of laughter
of warmth
of hope, for each other’s flight
I dream
that we would again
hug our tree with all our might