Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Good Mother!

I survived a Mother’s Day full of cloying, forwarded messages. About how the essence of motherhood is sacrifice, duty and selfless love. And I couldn’t help thinking, how convenient.

My mind went back to a year ago, when I visited my bed-ridden nani (grandmother), who went into a shock and consequently dementia, just after my grandfather’s death, with which she had lost all purpose and meaning in life. After all, he was the centre of her universe and she gave him her all - from total devotion to caustic criticism.

She does not recognise me and often lapses into a time in her life when she wasn’t yet married. I guess that’s part of repressing my grandfather’s memory altogether to deal with the trauma of his death. Her sentences contain words that signify some thing in her world, but in ours they make no sense.
On that particular day she appeared no different. I ritually introduced myself as her grand daughter. Everyone who meets her does that and she mechanically nods her head and repeats what they just said. It doesn’t seem to really register, perhaps due to the repression. But on that particular day she asked me what I did. I told her that I taught. Her eyes lit up. She smiled. And asked, “Kya padhaati hai?” (what do you teach?” I said, “Design”. She nodded her head, as if in that moment she had merged with me, my completeness feeling like her own, and said, “Bahut accha! Bahut accha!” (Wonderful! Wonderful!.) Then, as if she realised that she and I were different, her beaming face started to shrink. And with a smile wiped away, she whispered, “Mujhe bhi padhana tha” (I also wanted to teach). “Ab main padha paungi?” (Will I be able to teach now?). I tried to maintain the lightheartedness of the previous moment, because I did not yet want to acknowledge that what spoke to me was the climax of a tragedy, perhaps of our own collective making. So I reassured her, as we reassure little children when they ask us whether they will see Santa this time, that she will be able to teach soon.  But I mistook her dementia, her apparent state of being a child, for being stupid. Because she shook her head and started saying repeatedly, “Ab nahi padha paungi” (I won’t be able to teach now)

My nani was feisty. My nani wrote prolifically during her early years. She wanted to teach. She didn’t. She couldn’t. And it was not her choice.

It was a choice we made for her. We? We who lionise mothers for giving it all up for our sake. And no, of course no-one ever asks her to! She finds joy in doing that. Always. Don’t you mamma? Shouldn’t you mamma? She does. I do. I do. I do because I am not horrid. 

So lets put her up the pedestal. Make a Goddess of her. That takes care of never having to deal with her flesh and bone humanness, her heart that may beat for a lot more than a self-effacing motherhood, sometimes with deeply conflicting desires. Till she internalises the pedestal. Till it becomes part of her identity. Even if pedestals can be a very lonely place.

Thank you, mother. Archies greetings for you.

Image courtesy: http://www.fireseastudios.com/aa-pedestal.php