The Bones on which I cut my Teeth

Parents rarely let go of their children, so children let go of them. They move on. They move away. The moments that used to define them – a mother’s approval, a father’s nod – are covered by moments of their own accomplishments. It is not until much later, as the skin sags and the heart weakens, that children understand; their stories, and all their accomplishments, sit atop the stories of their mothers and fathers, stones upon stones, beneath the waters of their lives.

-MITCH ALBOM, THE FIVE PEOPLE YOU MEET IN HEAVEN

Almost seven months into my newly married life and with the pandemic and the ‘stay at home’ mantra, I’ve been spending a lot of time at home, with my in-laws, grandparents and my husband. Surely, conversations about various aspects of life are bound to come up. The more I speak to my new family about my habits, my dreams, my aspirations, my interests, my life before marriage, the more I realise the gamut of my being that’s been built on top of my parents’. All of what I am, physically, emotionally, socially, intellectually, all of what I have achieved thus far, necessarily needs to be attributed to them. All my rights and wrongs, all my indulgences, all my moods – they have had a huge role to play in shaping my thought process, my reactions to situations, my tastes in food, clothes, people, books, media and the list has all other possible aspects of life.

While I learn how to cook in the kitchen, with the most patient mother-in-law for a teacher, I narrate stories of how my parents’ cooking styles differ, their regular routine of cooking alternatively, and the likes and dislikes I picked up from them. My incredible tolerance for sweet, inherited from my mother, my love for anything and everything with mushrooms and paneer, courtesy my father’s various experiments in the kitchen with the same. My expectations from marriage and from my relationship with my husband, my learnings on how to balance both family and work, my stance regarding the various household responsibilities, I realised just how much the way my parents were around me and the way they behave with each other, the way I’ve seen them manage their home, their work, their child and their own parents, had sub – consciously affected my expectations and desires from my various other relationships as well.

To my parents’ credit, they created a perfect nurture balance while bringing me up. I was given responsibilities while still young, that helped me realise my own abilities and strengths to cultivate, and weak spots to work on. Being the only child and a daughter, my parents were also always fiercely protective of me. But in a way that never affected my freedom of choice or expression. While I would drive to and from the college, attend late night parties and sleepovers at my friends’, my parents would always be in the loop of things, they’d know who all would be attending the said party and would always have a couple of my friends’ numbers in their contact list. Even when I shifted to a new city and started living independently, my father would make sure he called me every morning, as soon as he woke up. I was required to share my cab details with him every time I boarded one, and he’d keep me company on the call while I’d be heading towards my office. One of the many eccentricities I have is that I usually prefer to eat alone, without company, both in the form of a human being and other forms of e-entertainment. And at times, after a stressful day at work, the only person I look forward to talking to is my father. The only company I so far have genuinely enjoyed and looked forward to. He captures my imagination and attention like no one. He knows what conversation suits my particular mood and how best to steer me away from negative spaces. No matter what time of the day I dial him, he’d always be available for me. He’d get up from meetings to take my calls and would happily keep me company for as long as I desired, never once complaining of all the other important work he’d have left behind, for me. Though admittedly, he has an urge to want to fix and come up with practical solutions for all my problems, which is maddening considering that when you are emotionally vulnerable, you sometimes don’t want to hear fixes but only a venting source or a shoulder to cry on.

Enter, mothers!

My mother is unlike any other. And this comes from observing her via an unbiased lens for the entirety of my life now. ‘The cult of perfect mother’ – people often paint a picture of a perfect mother, a life full of sacrifices and unconditional love is considered only natural and dare if someone points in another direction, society is always ready to tear them down. Amma has never been the one to stick to norms. An immensely intelligent, resourceful and the kindest soul, without talking much or ever tearing other people down, she taught me some of the most important lessons of life. At a time when most parents were busy pressurising their children to excel in all fields invented by human beings, my mother was busy trying to figure out and encourage the aspects of me that deserved to be nurtured. She took her time to understand my likes and dislikes and helped me first develop and later on polish, the various things she thought I was inherently good at. I was not the easiest daughter. While still a child, I was bitten by the mad rat-race, society’s perceptions of me and a raging, untamed competitive fire – a combination that never truly ends well for anyone who is born with natural skills in an area. She shielded me emotionally and helped me eventually realise that my self-worth was and would never be decided upon what people thought. I grew up with a very distinct shortcoming in my personality – wherein I would be quick to place blame on either her or my Appa for any failure I faced in the due course of my early growing up years. Children can be exceptionally mean, a lot of times, not realising how their words pierce the heart of their parents’. Like any average teenager, I’d get into regular fights with both Amma and Appa. While fathers, in fact most men, are the no-nonsense species and immediately try to cut down the conversations short when it doesn’t go their way, mothers are usually more patient, more absorbing, more hopeful of their child subsequently turning over a new leaf, more willing to see and believe in the goodness of their child, more willing to negate the less-pleasant qualities with a justification for such a behaviour – not necessarily to others but just to convince themselves, more willing to listen to incessant rants of how they could’ve done things differently as a parent, willing to shoulder blame for their child’s many deficits while attributing the positives wholly and solely to the child, more willing to keep the line of communication alive in the face of isolation or curt behaviour on the part of the child.

My mother was and continues to be all this and more.

Never once in my life has she verbally or action-wise, ever stated or made me feel that I owe my very existence to her, that all my high-flying vocabulary in the face of anger was her gift, that the food I consumed while we argued was provided for and prepared by her, that me coming on top of the class for the majority of my school life was all thanks to her innumerable hours of patience where I’d explain topics from various subjects to her to better my understanding, that all my quick analysis of books came from the umpteen hours she spent with me coaxing analysis of various authors and their works out of me, that all my confidence to stitch two words together in public was her doing – making me believe that while standing in a room full of bullies and other superior people, one’s intelligence and empathy is all that matters. She has always been the one calm, constant and forever present in the moment, entity for me.

A mother who listens and listens and pretends to listen even when one can't listen anymore. 

A mother who knew and made efforts to be acquainted with and nurture my relationships with various friends over the years. Some of my closest friends who date back to two decades, while I was still in early nursery classes, fondly remember my mother – either for her ever delicious idli-sambhar treats or her warm eyes or her very countenance. We have a standing joke between us where if I take out any of my fourteen year-end pictures and show it to my mother, she’ll quickly identify all of my classmates and teachers by names, while I’d be struggling to score half the percentage. Being heavily invested in all aspects of your child’s personal life while providing the space for the child to make his/her own relations, form habits, cultivate knowledge and opinions, allowing the child to fight its own battles – is a balance that is no way a mean feat to achieve. She knew when and where to draw the line as a mother and was remarkable in enabling me at the same time. The only person whose shadow I’m willing to be in for the entirety of my life.

Friends and family who regularly follow my work, have always had one common question to ask – how come your parents find a mention in the majority of the posts that you write? When I write about my love for stamps that originated with an on-the-spur-of-the-moment request that my father subsequently indulged and nurtured, the fact that that the love for stories is the single strong thread that connect my father and me, when I write about my super-computer type reading speed or the slow progress of self-esteem – from a highly dysfunctional introvert child to an emotionally high-functioning woman, that’s all my mother. So much of my personality and traits are drawn from these two people that I don’t think I can ever really isolate myself or my achievements or my faults or my likes or dislikes, from them. And I don’t think that I’d want it any other way.

Well, usually I laugh off the question of mentioning my parents every now and then in my write-ups, but off late and even in a sudden moment of epiphany while reading Mitch Albom’s ‘The Five people you meet in Heaven’, I have come to realise that all of my childhood and adulthood, I have looked up to only two people – they were and will forever will be my heroes, my gurus, my best friends and my most closest and trusted confidantes. The two people who can do no wrong in my eyes, and are the most calming presence to be near in times of adversities. The two people with a moral compass so strong that I can proudly claim of no amount of pettiness or greed or treachery or dishonesty ever having crossed their minds. The two people I have centred twenty-five years of my life around, basing all my life decisions on what would be the best for the three of us as a single unit. A sense of strong belonging, safety and security – all that I wanted as a child and as an adult, was provided only by these two people – Amma and Appa.

The best inheritance a parent can give their child, is a few hours or even a few minutes of their time each day, without fail.

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