Momma Cat

What is the word for frequently whacked, without connotations of serious violence? Is there word of such specific colours? If yes, then that is the colour of my childhood, courtesy my Momma. But let me give credit where credit is due: I eat most vegetables without flinching. Eating tantrums bring back the feeling of a freshly thumped back.

I grew up around a very blurred definition of “bad” manners. The result of this (you guessed it) whacks every now and then, interspersed with many, many verbal whacks. Established examples of bad manners aside, this volatile word could encompass anything: from laughing loudly to opening one’s own birthday presents without permission. Ah, how far do lie discipline and logic. How far indeed. To this day, the letter “G” can bring a feeling of terror. Consider this scenario:

SDM (momma) is teaching me the alphabet while preparing dinner (I can barely prepare dinner while preparing dinner). I reach “G” on that clolourful bore of a book. I’m stuck. The time of my “stuckness” is directly proportionate to my mother’s rising temper. The silence grows heavier and heavier.

Me: *silently praying* Dad please come home. Come home. God what is this letter. Dad come home!

Whack. “Its G! What is it?”

Me: “G.” *sobs.*

Later, sisters see me sniffing. They laugh.

It’s a rite of passage. A long, long passage. But to be fair, I still know what “G” is supposed to sound like.

Looks like a grim picture, except it was not. You see, in our little world SDM has to balance things out for us, because my father’s go to line when he saw us studying was “Eh. Why are you wasting time with all this? Are you in 10th? Come lets go nap.”

But she also has her moments, which are useful in explaining mine. For instance, the first time a mixer-grinder arrives at our house, the excitement is palpable. My grandmother has long shunned these “shortcuts that make for flavourless food”, while my mother is on cloud nine because here is a new appliance for her to clean. Yes, that’s right. Not to use. Clean. No one bothers with the manual much. In go the mustard seeds (because, Bong) and whirl. Seeds everywhere because the lid is loose.

There are mustard seeds in my dress. In my shoe. In my soul (it’s called inflated writing. I just made it up).

Many years on, she puts them chillies and what not into a utensil, puts that on the machine and keeps pressing the button saying “It’s not working!” She does that about three times before realisation dawns. I remember my grandma. Shortcuts alright.

A few years later, a washing machine arrives. This time, the manual is read and re-read. Big whoop. It is used only for bedsheets. Which is not often because bedsheets, being a passion of my mother’s (among utensils and bedcovers) are dry-cleaned. Mind you, the washing machine is sparkling clean and empty.

The first time I hear her gushing about me is to my domestic help, when I’m about 6 and under a bed sweeping. It was fun for me, sweeping. And for my mother, because I was tiny enough to really get at the corners. That is what the gushing was about.

The first time my sister and I are watching television in a new house, we hear strange noises from behind it. we switch it off thinking some wire is sparking. Later we realise it’s mother cleaning the tiles of the other side of that wall. Cleaning in between tiles with a safety-pin.

OCD aside, she also has a long list of amusing phobias. The number one being drunken men.You could be a drunk man on the other side of a busy street, minding your own business (as best you can) and she would run as fast as she could from the spot. How would she know you are drunk? No idea. Not saying its an accurate radar.

Once on a horribly 10-hour delayed Rajdhani to Delhi, a man offers us his mobile to call people waiting at the station. She throws me nervous glances. I go sit next to her:

SDM: Don’t take his phone. He is drinking alcohol!

(There is no distinction here. No beer no whisky. It’s all always simply ‘alcohol’).

Me: How do you know?

SDM: You didn’t see? He is drinking out of that can! In front of me! These men. Disgusting.

Me: That’s Del Monte juice Ma!

SDM: Oh? Well go ask him and call your sister then.How nice of him to offer.

I never received much advice in the way of cosmetics from her. The first time I got my eyebrows done, she had one comment to make:”Idiot.” Not one for public beauty standards, my mother. I don’t this this counted as advice. But I have a scenario which is closer:

SDM: Don’t use this face cream. It’s so sticky. It’s pulling my skin and my face is white.

Me: That’s because it’s a facewash Ma.

I was not entirely sure she had made a mistake. Having found no soap at hand (while in the process of shifting houses), she had washed her face with surf and went to the bank.

On being called to school to take an ill me home, she caused much confusion by asking for my sister who has graduated about 3 years earlier. Then she caused much laughter at me by sarcastic english teacher who said “See how umimportant you are to your family? Your mom doesn’t remember who you are.” To which I said “Thankyou sir. Now you can treat me with the special kindness that you would extend to David Copperfield.”

A lot of us spend much of our childhood in the belief that our parents are infallible. They are not allowed mistakes. These episodes help us become wiser. So that eventually, some of us can reach a point where we see them for the people that they are and can get to know the same. The more I realise my state of affairs, the more I wonder how she did all that she did.

By my age she had already had children. I consider coming out alive on the other side of a weekend alone with my cats (with them alive too) and the house not at all in flames, as praiseworthy.

It is going to be ten years. And the questions keep multiplying. I cannot do much, except write them down, hoping she can hear. So I will do the same. Forgive me.

How did you do it Ma? How did manage to go to work, cook meals everyday for 5 people, knit, sew, clean and keep with with those annoying soaps, every single day? How, being as overtly cautious as you, break away from your own family to marry a man you loved and knew only in letters? How did you know love? How did you hold your own in a house full of strangers? How did you feel the first time you held your baby? When among all of this, did you cry? Did you also have days when the tears wouldn’t stop? What did you want to be when you were a child? Did you have a happy childhood? Which is your favourite story?

And how, how did you manage to impress upon a home, an aroma and aura so strong that it leaves every other prospect of home as always already incomplete?

It is not loss that haunts. It is all the lost conversations that haunt. But you probably know that.

And there isn’t much you cannot face, if you have lived through the moment when your mother asks you to let her go. That there, was unfair.

Let me tell you a few things. I like washing dishes too. I love buying new bedsheets too. I brush at night while on trains as well. I’m dead scared of earthquakes too. I’m scared of leading life all by myself as well.

The only time I feel beautiful is when people say I look like you. I keep cooking in the hope that something come close to the taste of your cooking. And by the way, the only reason those cakes of yours would often not rise is because the baking powder was not in proportion to the other ingredients.

Ten years or twenty, I will never get over you. I think of you every single day. And even though i always favoured dad, or anyone else over you in general, I miss you more than anyone else. There is nothing i wouldn’t give up for you.

Ans Harry Potter is not about ghosts for god’s sake!







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