Yes, that’s the word. That one word can sum up my life, this entire blog post, mom. It has been 15 years. And without you, these 15 years have been a void that can never be filled. No one can. Nothing ever will.
It was a normal July morning, nothing unusual about it. I remember the fleet of cars outside our house. A 10-year-old returning from school with water bottle hanging on her neck, a big school bag making her stoop a little. The car stopped near our gate, and I was stunned to see so many people swarming outside our house.
A general murmur went across the crowd after seeing me. No one could face me. They quickly looked away, hiding the tears. All swollen faces, eyes red and puffed up. I made my way through all these tall people, clearly crossed. Why isn’t anyone telling me what is going on in my house?
Before the child in me could comprehend anything, I was pulled away from everyone. Into the washroom. “Listen to me very carefully,” said my Bua, gritting her teeth. Tears were streaming down her face and I could hardly comprehend what she was saying.
And then, she said it.
Mom. No. More.
Years later, when I recall that moment, the only thing that I wonder is, why did I not cry? People expected that. They expected a motherless child bawling and throwing fit, probably even fainting. They were ready to console me, pat me, sympathize maybe?
But there I was. Wearing that red-checked school uniform with a huge tie, standing, with a straight face. No emotions. No tears. No questions asked. No answers given.
I have always been the kind of kid who would get angry or sad, but would come back home, close the doors and then cry. Showing my emotions to people has never been my trait. After that day, I shut myself more. Formed a cocoon. My own world.
It was evening. People were growing in number in our house. Women were crying, yelling, mourning. So much noise. Hundreds of people around.
“Where is Chunchun (my pet name)?” I heard someone ask.
I was sitting on my study table. Head stooped. My English literature book opened in front of me. A poem about the fox and the sour grapes, I remember. My eyes squinted with attention. I was reading.
“Chunchun? What are you doing, babu?” someone came and gently asked.
“I have a class test tomorrow. I’m studying,” I calmly looked up and said, before burying my head back into the book.
Women covered their faces with their anchaals, looked at me and cried out loud.
I now know what they wanted. They wanted me to mourn. They wanted me to cry. They knew the shock was too much for me to take. But I didn’t.
My mom’s coffin was being flown off in a flight from Chennai. I could never see her during her last moment.
Late in the night, the coffin arrived. Yes, I peeked in. I saw her. And, I left the room.
There are incidents in our lives that have the potential to change us forever as a person. For me, this day was that incident. Few days back, I had won multiple ‘Privilege cards’ for Math from my class teacher. In my school, these cards were given to students for excelling in a particular subject. But few weeks from this incident, my Math grades fell. I started sucking so bad, that even I was surprised at myself.
I became more withdrawn. I talked less. Actually, I just talked to myself (which I still do, by the way). I missed her at every step, but I never showed it, lest someone sympathizes. I hated sympathy. I hated that look in their eyes. The clicking sound of the tongue and then expressing concern what a motherless child might grow up into.
Contrary to what many people thought, I didn’t turn into the drug addicted, damaged, college drop out, who did nothing for a living. I grew up just fine, didn’t I? Maybe not the best, but I did a decent job out of it. I have a respectable job and I live on my own in the big city. What I couldn’t probably help was saving myself from being emotionally damaged. Or, from being afraid of getting too attached to people emotionally. What if they leave me like you? Let’s leave them before they can leave me. It sounded fair in my head.
I did finally cry. I don’t remember when. But, I did. Maybe behind closed doors. Maybe looking at her pictures. Or, maybe during Board exams when I used to see other moms feeding their kids and practicing last minute formulas together during the break.
Yes, I cried. I still do. But, always behind closed doors.
Every once in a while, incidents around me make my heart sore. It wishes you were here. Right here holding my damn hand. Be it people gorging on home cooked food made by their mother, people getting phone calls from their mother while living in the hostel, or maybe as simple as getting back home and getting to see their mother after a long day at work.
Growing up was tough. Dad used to be out for long shoots, and I had the walls for company. Talking to myself wasn’t bad though. I wrote, talked and played games with myself. I knew you were there, somewhere, watching me. You still are. Well, that’s what keeps me going.
I remember those afternoons when I used to bury my head on your bosom, and you would keep patting me off to sleep. After a while, I could feel your soft breath on my neck, and you would doze off to sleep. I used to tip toe and walk out, in order to go and play. I hated napping in the afternoon. Now, I crave for that touch, your smell, the pats on my back.. I would have never tip toed away, if only I could get that touch back, just once.
Two weeks back, you came in my dreams again. The best part about you, Mom, is the fact that you never aged. Still in your 30s, smiling, that bright red sindoor on the partition of your hair, sparkling eyes.. beautiful, divine. In this latest dream, you were in my Parent-Teachers meeting. You went to school to get my report card. At 24, I still dream of things that never happened, that could have happened, stuff that I deserved in reality. Didn’t I deserve it?
Back in college, during my hostel days in Pune, all the other mothers used to dutifully call up their wards everyday – sometimes multiple times a day. For me, it was abnormal. Why would they need to know what their children are doing every minute, I wondered. But then it would hit me. It is abnormal for me, because I never knew what it is like to be on the other side of the fence. That’s when I put some random number and saved it on my phone as ‘Mom.’ Little piece of me was satisfied staring at it. But that number never called me back.
As Alexi Murdoch softy croons ‘Through the dark’ and I take another sip from this cheap wine bottle, I feel your presence. Your assurance. A sense of calm prevails. Tears well up. I smile.
With each passing day, weeks, months, years, the memories started fading little by little. Even though I wanted to hold on to it with all my heart, mind, soul.. But it slipped away. It is so exhausting to conjure up, dust off the bygone moments and resuscitate the details Now, I can’t remember your voice, your smile, your face…
But then, I look into the mirror.
Note: It has been 15 years since my mother passed away after battling with cancer. This is the first time in all these years; I finally got the courage to write about her.
People who have seen this picture, have asked me, “Who is that baby with you?” Well, that’s me on my mom’s lap.