I have been watching the skin on the back of my mother’s hands very closely! In consonance with the changing texture and folds of that organ, there has grown in my head a sketch of what it means to watch one’s parent get on in years.
There was a time when the hand was smooth and unblemished. It would deftly, with one quick sweep, craft a long bindi on the forehead; Mom used a “jooda pin” and lipstick! Blessed with an insistent industriousness, those hands rustled up an astonishing range of magic in the kitchen; her imli chutney, dahi vadas, red garlic chicken and missa praunthas came flawless, off those very grips. Her squeaky clean work surfaces continue to baffle guests. Be it the cooking range, the utensils or the utilities, everything gleams and winks! And woes betide anyone who dunks a bowl uncovered in her state of the art refrigerator!
There is a fan following to rival Rajesh Khanna’s. Her painstaking handicraft adorns a multitude of family homes. It is her energy, her thoughts, the beats of her heart, her occasional fatigue, her self-discipline, and her intense desire to make us richer, this entire maternal cocktail that toasts us from our walls and windows in colourful macramé and crochet marvels. Before the ready-made garments hit the Indian markets, she would crawl the corridors outside many a high end store, drawing inspiration from unaffordable kids wear, beckoning from the show windows. Patching, repairing, darning, altering, and beating stubborn stains…it is all in a day’s work.
I must not leave out the drill of the milk that has been handed down the generations! An assembly line chain of setting the curd, portioning some for buttermilk, churning a part for the wholesome white butter which is then heated into desi ghee; there is religion there! As for her knits, they are indisputable wonders of yarn.
I recall with a smile, my parents returning from one of those regular Army parties, there she would be, carefully folding away the saree no matter how late in the night it was, Dad accompanying the winding down process with a narration of the evening’s highlights. Having inherited the gene for cleanliness from her own mother, to the point of being finicky, you can always tell her pillow from the extra little towel cover. And I have not seen anyone else slough and scour and cream their feet with the vigour she does.
Brought up by a stern and disciplinarian mother in the India of 1930-1960, I think my Mom learnt early on to hide her strength and keep it firmly out of sight. She had a parent who considered her craft work a waste of precious time, better spent on good, solid housework. While our daughters today, roam the world as free spirits, my mother had to account for every extra minute she spent out of home. There was no other way. Her silence had to become her armor.
I have witnessed as a child how she rarely protested excessive imposition on her personal space and time and internalized the need to keep peace, at all costs. Some may say that it is a form of escapist evasion but having lost a father she was very close to, at a critical juncture in her life, who is to say what the voices whispered in the ears. I suspect they said, “What for? What for? What for?”
We talk today of having our own lives, beyond and away from exclusive parenthood. The theory of personal fulfilment views a desire to stay connected with the children through some furrow of the brow. There is the doctrine of letting go, of a love that is completely unconditional and space friendly. Modern gyan also extols the virtue of not living through one’s brood.
I am glad my Mom defies it all in her own unique way. Her parenthood remains the axis it was, it has just wrapped in grand-parenthood as well. A huge chunk of her fulfillment comes from the trials, travails and accomplishments of her progeny. She is like the sun, visible, life-giving but never close enough to burn.
Does she control her children? As much as an anchor does, yes! Is there fear in her love? To the degree that empathetic pain causes, perhaps. Did she ever cut the apron strings completely? In the manner of the cords metamorphosing into lifelines, of course. Does she live through her offspring? Well, they might even qualify as the raison de’ etre.
And I am afraid, no one is complaining! As a matter of fact, I might be emulating this example of letting go in a manner that has them connected and coming back!!!