Thursday, August 28, 2008

Phenomenal Woman

Today is my mum’s b’day. When I was a kid, the elder sibling and I would be up late, the previous night, decking up the fridge for her to see in the morning. Most times it’d be a card, sometimes an elaborate chart with a poem, or a few ribbons tacked up in what I thought was a representation of my mother’s colourful persona.

When I grew up, the hand-made cards made way for gifts: a beautiful orange ceramic dinner set that took up most of my first pay, and which turned out to be so heavy and cumbersome, that it has been relegated to the crockery cabinet in the attic. Some books, and a piece of jewellery that is a proud part of her small, but beautiful collection.

And though these gifts brought me joy, they never came close to the satisfaction of that garishly decorated fridge, because, perhaps, there was no ‘real’ effort on my part. Yesterday, as Nino and I made cards for mum, part of the glee came back. Eventually we were fighting over who really was making the card, till Nino’s dad wisely stepped in and gave us two separate card stocks. While the end product is far from finished (can’t put it up here, incase mum checks) – we will be seeing her over the weekend – there are more similarities than you’d imagine. My lines may be straighter, my imagination more tangible, but the colours are the same garish blend of un-inhibited child-like glee.

It’s impossible to imagine my life without my mum around: with her pep talks and torrent of love, words of advice and kind forgiveness. And I know, my mum, who brings in this birthday a fortnight after losing her own mum, will find little to rejoice over today. But I hope you know Ma, that we’re marking it as a full-fledged card-making, cake-chomping, riot-ensuing day, and even have Nino go to bed half-an-hour later than school-night bed-time. I hope you remember it’s a Happy day for both your daughters and three grandchildren. Dida and I will be thinking back to childhood: racing to see you at the main gate when you got back from office, Dida inadvertently tripping on something. Memories of you towering over me in a maroon saree with big polka dots. Opening your purse on the sly to smell the small perfume bottle inside. Going to sleep on the swing listening to you sing along with Vivida Bharati. Sharing novels with you. Having you clutch out hands as we brought our children into this world. And seeing the same love and joy reflected on Nino’s face as he races me to greet you at the main gate when we come home. Love you Ma: happy b’day.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

The namesake

As the clouds begin to clear, Mr Edison decides to pop his invention in my brain - all of this, mind you, this morning as I struggle to keep my enthusiasm levels at keel with Nino's who has miraculously woken up happy, brushed happy, done potty happy, had a bath happy, eaten breakfast and drunk juice happy and ready to go to school happy. As you can see, each individual step is a miracle, and has taken the sleepy and knocked-out with cold mother by surprise. So yes, as I watched my son evolve into the poster-kid that inspires most parents to make more babies, the lightbulb went on.

This blog is about Nino, no? The proof lies in the name of the blog, in my introduction to myself even. So it's a tad unfair that the last few posts have been devoid of Nino. So I'm making up for all this with a Nino-only post and pictures too! We recently did a road-trip to Udaipur, Rajasthan and Nino had a blast watching the mountains. He's a beach bum, and I was keen to see how he'd react to the hilly terrain. Well, he loved them, how 'mighty' they are. We climbed a few - by car, of course :) - and he could not get over how tiny everything else had become. And yes, he wanted to 'climb a mountain' all by himself, so Nino's Dad and he climbed a small hillock - and came back looking like they had conquered the world! There was boating and camel rides, folk dances and a puppet show. And then, there was shopping - lots of window shopping, with Nino happily trudging along, mouth open at the colourful displays, tiny streets filled with cow and 'cow potty', and the hundreds of nooks and corners that offered tantalising slices of the city's famous lakes. We picked puppets - a horseman with a sword and a 'raja rani' couple - and a wooden doll house/temple that opens like a secret compartment and is painted with the tales of the Ramayana.

The downside of having an enthusiastic kid is the many gazillion questions that need answered - so much so that while the other adults are kicking back and enjoying their drinks, the Bacardi breezer that I was nursing evetually turned into more of cough syrup than manna from heaven. Fortunately one of the couples' we travelled with, has a daughter slightly younger than Nino. In the beginning they couldn't stand each other, but were quite the friendly types by the time they dropped us back home after the trip. Here are some pictures of the two of them, managing to be friends over the sharing of Nino's much loved connector markers and his mother's tattoo making skills...

Kicking back on cane, Nino waits to colour while his friend hands out the markers.

Admiring his gecko tattoo: okay, actually, I'm admiring it, he's trying to find out if the marker runs when its rubbed.

And then one for Nino's friend too: as I struggle to keep a steady hand next to a kid who's trying to test the guarantee of the hotel furniture we were perched on: how many jumps-proof is it?!

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

The many limbs of memory

It's two in the night and my stomach is cramping - huge pelvic knots that send my body pores into wide, open flashes of panic - and I realise for the nth time, food poisoning is as mean as it sounds. I'm tempted to groan and moan - I'm a firm believer in expression of feelings, especially the painful ones - and awaken the gently sleeping husband to my misery. Instead, I sit up, do a couple of deep breaths, remember Her, and sip some water. This has been the second day and I've taken my tablets on time, skipped those foods that are likely to make my situation worse. And I've not complained. It's predictable behaviour for an adult, you may think, but it's not predictable behaviour for me. I've to be prodded to have my medication, spied upon to make sure I stick to a particular diet, and patiently listened to as I moan about the pain that racks my body.

But I'm thinking of Her today, as she quietly went about her routine, medicines on time, meals never skipped, the quiet sigh as she sat down the only indication of a painful ankle. They say she hated to depend upon any one - I think she just understood that few people have the patience to play nurse. 'Why to trouble anybody ma', she used to say. It wasn't the bother she was talking about, it was the worry. It's what she said as she lay in the ambulance, vulnerable, watching me button her undone blouse. 'Did not mean to trouble anybody ma,' she said. 'I know,' I said, but she was already hooked on to the ventilator, unable to reply. As I chanted the vighneshwaraya vardaya sloka that comes to my mind when I'm faced with pure and absolute terror of loss, she exerted a mild pressure on our clutched hands. Even in that state, as she lay racked with the pain of a heart that was giving up, she looked out for me.

There were no loose ends with Her, ever. At the hospital, as the doctor asked us about the medications she took, we mutely opened a tiny tin box that was her medical file. Every tablet she took was there. There was no medical file per-se: she hadn't been ill in years - she was indestructible, almost. As I spelt her name out for the countless forms we filed it seemed ironic that her long and beautiful name was rarely spoken. For all whom she met, she was merely Manni, Perimanni, Amma, Periamma, Akka - generic names that will never be the same again for those who spoke them with Her in mind.

I wondered how she felt, lying there, jabbed in half a dozen places, unfamiliar hands and faces all around her. Did she think of all the people she loved and lost? Of all whom she loved and would not be able to see? Did she feel cold, angry, hurt, betrayed? Did she accept it as she did everything and everyone in her life? Did she mean to fight it as she fought her debilitating stroke a decade back? Was there something she thought she had left unsaid, undone? I remember asking her if she wanted something. 'Shall I sleep,' she said. 'I'm very sleepy.'

I remember her telling me through most of my adult decision-making life to do what made me happy. It applied to career choices, clothes, love, marriage and even rituals. The only rule was that the decision had to make me happy: sometimes I wonder if it was because she was confident in the upbringing we had received that prevented us from being happy at someone else's cost. She merely smiled when her grand-children told her they eat meat. An orthodox Brahmin who merely switched the question 'What did you eat' to 'Did you eat well' every time we returned home from a restaurant/party. Nothing was taboo. Not love, not food, not the body. She clutched my hand and lead me into the Somnath temple, just after I'd rebelled against the Hindu ritual of shunning women during their menstrual period. 'It's what you believe in,' she said to me then. 'If it's not sin to you, it's not sin.' How did she manage to balance the ideas she was brought up with, with the times she saw changing?

As I cringe every time I bend my beliefs/ideas for the family I'm married into, for the people I work with, I marvel as how tensile adaptability can make you. She bent with changing times, at-level with the people she interacted with, never snapping with the effort. And yet, never changing the true steel of her character.

They say you must begin your day with the thoughts of the Almighty. I do, but she comes first. Because it is she who taught me to say the morning chant of Kausalya Supraja Rama that I use to wake Nino up. And everytime I say it, big lump in my throat, I remember Her before He comes to my mind. Lately it's strange to see my atheist husband try and join in, stumbling at the Sanskrit pronunciations, his way of helping me keep as much of Her around me as I can.

As I lay screaming in labour, not allowing my body to take its due course and open up to Nino, I forgot how she'd walked a pot-holed muddy road with a kerosene lantern on a rainy night to deliver her youngest son. Her husband was travelling and she had to worry about the other kids so she made sure everyone was asleep before leaving, but not before she had arranged for their food. It seemed so heroic to me then, but it was so simple to her, it was so her.

I believe being able to nurture is a trait very few people are blessed with. It does not come automatically through mother-hood, neither it is something that can be perfected through conscious practice. She was that rare breed: she nurtured - family, relationships, people, plants, the food she cooked, the stories she shared, the prayers she said. It did not matter if you were not related to her - she had reason enough to wish the best for everyone who met her.

Old photographs surface from the corners of her neatly kept cupboard. Black-and-White pictures of a dainty young woman in an immaculate Kanjeevaram and an impressive nose-pin. Her grace and determination is evident even though the woman I knew looked so different. Did she mourn the passing of her youth, the changing shape of her body after motherhood, like I did? It is not as if the outwardly never mattered to her: 'My blouse doesn't match my saree, hope it'll do,' she would mutter as guests came in. Her eyes would light up everytime the grand-daughters would wear sarees, but they never frowned on fashionable expressions.

They say she loved her husband to bits. And that though he bullied her, they shared a love that transcends understanding and definition. They say they're together now. And I know exactly which particular piece from Shakespeare Bapuji is serenading her with: Sonnet 18.

They say the departed spirit spends 13 days on earth with its loved ones, before it goes on ahead to its future destination. It’s almost 13 days now, and I know Amma’s filled these by zipping across continents and time-zones making sure her children, grand-children and great grand-children are doing okay, making sure we can see her benign smile though the swirling clouds.

Lalithangi: the one whose limbs resemble/are akin to the divine mother, Devi. Lalitha also means the 'adorable and brilliantly sweet One who plays.' She was named aptly.

Monday, August 4, 2008

A communion in anger management

I've a confession to make. I'm a short-tempered person: and I lose my head quickly and often, and I can be very cruel with my words. And because this is a confession, and it involves being honest - even though the truth makes me squirm like water got into my leather pumps - I don't necessarily spare Nino the brunt of this. And yes, I've smacked him - good manners are very important to me - being kind, saying sorry and the like - though Nino's Dad says it's not the lack of manners that bothers me as much as the fact that Nino is a 'different' person than I am.
I remember when he said this, I felt like my stomach fell to the floor - and though I've made a personal commitment not to loose my head on Nino, it's happened today.
He's ill - fever, cold, cough, the regular seasonal side-effects of pollution that today's kids have to be put up with - and unlike other kids, or unlike me, it's very difficult to make that out. yes, you can feel the temperature rise and fall - but otherwise he's the same, not necessarily crankier, as exuberant, and as pause-less as ever. And getting him to rest - because that is as important as medication, in my opinion - has been fruitless and therefore, irritating.
Now I made him a paper plate game a few days back with numbers from 1 to 5 pasted on the plates. A small bag accompanies the plates and it has sets of various objects (stuffed puppets, pebbles, rocks, shells, animals, etc) that are 1 to 5 in sets. The aim is to match the number to the number in the set. Three pebbles go on the plate with the big number 3 pasted on it, and so on and so forth. It might be a slightly complex game for a 30 month old, but Nino's been showing an interest in numbers and often counts out aloud. So I figured he'd love the game and be good at it. Somehow however the sorting hasn't gone well. Perhaps it's because it's the first time he's trying to match a number with the word he reaches when he finishes his count. I've done the routine with him several times over, without the toys, first checking the numbers and the succession they are placed in; then seperately counting the toys; and then counting and placing on the apporpriate plate.
It's not worked and when he was unable to do it again this evening I lost my head and I told him to pack the plates up and put away the toys or play by himself. 'But I want to play with you,' he said. 'No, you don't know how to, you're not ready to listen to Mama who's telling you how to, so we can't play.'

He looked down, and must have been crestfallen, if I had looked into his eyes. With a trembling lip he muttered, 'Somebody bigger will have to beat Mama.' I would have smiled, burst out laughing, but I know I would have hurt his ego. And yes, kids do have egos. If you believe otherwise, please, let's take this outside the blogworld one of these days. He remembered my rule that he can't hit elders - including and especially Mama. But Mama hurt him, and he wanted to hurt her back. As my anger melted away, I wondered how when Nino was born, and motherhood brought forth all things nice, I resolved to be a better person for him. Eventually that philosophy moved on to not hiding my real nature from him, to let him see his family with all their faults. I wonder if this is truly a healthy choice, or whether it's an easier one to make. I don't ponder if his affection towards me gets affected with my temper - everyone around me believes and makes a point to express that they think I'm too strict with him - but I do know that not hiding it under the perfect mum tag and just expressing it doesn't make me feel any better. I've tried everything - counting to ten, even writing it out line by line - and yet there are times when the situation gets better of my intent.

If you want to know, I did apologise for screaming. I always do say sorry. Because I usually am. And he said 'It's okay Mama' even before I finished explaining why I got angry. 'Let's colour now.' He forgives and forgets far more easily than I do.