Saturday, August 14, 2021

Always With Me

Sunday, 8th August 2021

Dear Ma,

I write this to you in mild disbelief. I half expect to walk into you tidying up the next room. That you would tell me of today’s must-read Indian Express article or order me yet again to abandon my decade old T-shirt. This I understand is no longer possible and I am here to talk about my memories of you instead.

My first memory, from long long ago, is your laugh, humming the eternally popular Ripon Street baaraat band tune “Tequila”, and a just-learnt-to-walk version of me stumbling along to it. You don’t drink and I can’t dance so this is a strange thing to recall. At the same time, it is so you. Your giggle and your endless stock of made-up games put you up as a firm favourite of generations of children, three your own and everyone else’s. The ease with which you engage a child’s endless energy is sure proof that you did never grow old. It is our privilege to have grown up under your joyful and imaginative attention.

My second memory of you is sombre. The impact that moving to Bharuch had on you, an out-and-out Kolkata girl uprooted from its urban bustle to a small back-of-the-woods town in Gujarat, into a world so different from what you had known. Your initial shock and your subsequent rising to the occasion were something that even a 3-year-old me could appreciate. As hundreds of your students and acquaintances from two-plus decades there will attest, Kolkata’s loss was Bharuch’s blessing. Adventure is often shown as conquering distant hills and forbidden valleys but the wonderful, protected life that you and Baba gave us 3 kids in a land so different from your own was no less exciting and brave.

My chosen third memory of you is more a running film than a specific span of time or incident. A camp-fire, a relentless passion for doing the right thing in the right way, which comforts greatly but occasionally burns. You do not appreciate half-heartedness in any form. I think you’ll agree that filtering your emotions isn’t your forte. You laugh as hard as you roar. You are a rock of comfort in critical times but don’t shy away from letting the tears flow either.

I remember the roasting you gave me when I, in teenage ignorance, ridiculed your favourite poet Dylan Thomas’s “Fern Hill”. I recall your thirst for knowledge, a core trait shared with Baba for 49 years, which kept you learning and inquisitive all through, in your own words “up-to-date”. Cable TV, vacuum cleaner, washing machine, microwave oven, PC, laptop, smartphone – you negotiated through them all, living it up virtually as much as IRL. Your sudden revelations of knowing the latest Guru Randhawa song or the exact details of a Jason Statham fight scene leave me wondering who is the older among us.

I worship your energy in all that you do – host of a ridiculous amount and variety of get-togethers, most opinionated road-trip participant, queen bee of your Brahmo Girls school girl gang, painstaking saver of money for incremental improvements, teacher of history and English in all their nuances, writer book-lover librarian extraordinaire, setter of impossible standards for pet care, denouncer of political extremism and sloppy dressing (phew, that’s only about 10% of your abilities) – all with a warm heart and a booming voice. Your beloved parents, Dadubhai in his meticulous perfection and Dimma with her emotional core, live on and spread their goodness through you. Hope your reunion with them and waggy tailed Putputti is even more perfect than I can imagine.

You could have aimed for the stars with your intellect, education and capabilities but then you wouldn’t give yourself any relief from your duties as Mom either. Through sincere work in whatever life I choose, I hope to respect your ambitions and make a few amends for your sacrifices. I never got to tell you this while you were still here, but you are my hero and your life-story is the stuff of legends. Maybe I will write it all out someday, in all its pain and all its glory. Much as I will miss the immeasurable comfort that you gave me as Mom, I will also remain in awe of the relentless perfection that you sought as a professional.

The greatest regret of my life will remain not being right next to you when your time came. Those stories of my travel which will now remain untold to their most eager audience. That long list of your planned food items during my visits home will now each hurt in their own way.

“Kutush, don’t be selfish” was your one advice in life and I try to follow that within my own limited capacity. But I’ll make this one exception by claiming your time though I know that you’ll watch over everyone that you loved, not just me. In what seems to be the only consolation for your absence from this world, when roaming areas with limited mobile connectivity or on busy days, I no longer have worry about you worrying. Now I know you’ll be there with me, on every mountain trail, in every urban jungle, on every motorcycle trip. Friend. Judge. Guide. Mom. Always with me.

Lots of love,