Having lost my mother recently, I have been pondering over the evolution of my relationship with her – from a little girl holding her finger and following her around, slowly easing away from her grip, and finally seeing her go in my arms while she held my other hand tightly. The magnetism of that touch, her last vain effort for breath, the radiance on her face when she finally let go, abridged the real essence of her life and what she meant to me.
Our relationship as mother and daughter found very little verbal expression of feelings or emotions. In fact, my childhood memories are more of a strict and disciplined environment. I remember disagreeing with her on most issues, so friction arose at the drop of a hat.I now sense that the issues we differed on were relatively minor in comparison to our basic agreement on how to conduct our lives. As both of us wanted to be independent of each other, we could never cook together, shop together, eat together, or for that matter, sit together and talk for more than an hour.
She was no idol for me in the early years. I always thought she denied me a lot to fulfill her responsibility as the eldest daughter-in-law of a fatherless family of 12.
Also, she was too fastidious about housekeeping. Her speed at work, eating and doing anything as simple as reading the newspaper was slow by my standards. She pushed me around to take up several activities — music, Bharatanatyam, violin, guitar, tailoring, embroidery, typing and shorthand; she even made me sweep and mop the floor at the age of 10. She lived in constant fear of raising a spoilt kid, as I was an only child.
As a mother, I think it is difficult to see your child as a different person. Being a mother myself of two daughters, I think the ego boundaries get diffused. The mother wants the daughter to be like her or have traits and characters of women she admires. At times, I have myself felt that as a mother I try to project or transfer some of my unconscious desires on to my children.
If my mother had similar intentions, I did not help her achieve them. I never attempted to live up to her expectations. In the process, I tried to achieve and complete all tasks at breakneck speed, resulting in a careless disposition. I gave very little importance to eating at leisure and getting a taste of every mouthful.
I used to mock at her penchant for cleanliness and did very little to keep things organised. Many a time I felt she was too stubborn and unforgiving. In her pursuit of perfection, I felt she failed to notice the little sparks of excellence or positive strokes.
However, I became no perfectionist but a jack of all trades, and now have a finger in every pie. I realise that moving from girlhood to womanhood, I unconsciously started acquiring my mother’s behavioural attributes.
I was yet to see a demonstration of her will. Some unpleasant circumstances and problems acquired during childbirth demonstrated my mother’s will and determination to stand by me for my child’s welfare. Her struggle to pull me through was formidable; she was then experiencing a spread of cancer, from an earlier operated-upon breast to the uterus and ovaries.
She travelled 35 kms daily to look after my child so that I could get back to my job. She decided to shift her residence close to my office so that I could breastfeed my child for a year. She did all this on the strength of her conviction.
This had a great impact on me, though I never expressed my gratitude to her verbally during her lifetime. During her last days, when I knew she was slowly slipping away from our grasp, I did think of talking to her about my feelings for her. But, as always, I could not bring upon myself to speak. Habits of a lifetime die hard.
Today, I feel her absence is more powerful than her physical presence. I am unable to dismiss some of the issues close to her heart. Her constant admonition to me for losing my temper with the kids, the necessity of the ritualistic give-and-take at family ceremonies, preparation of special delicacies on festive days, maintenance of the highest degree of cleanliness and hygiene, have borne results. These acts now come naturally to me. I am now more aware of what I am doing and of myself.
As a result, I’m slower now, but my work is well planned out. I am also less careless. I appreciate the need to develop several interests simultaneously to keep a sense of balance in life. If you encounter a block in one area, you concentrate on another. My kids are now into music, dance, pottery, swimming and I am also looking for leisure-time activities. These were the very activities I had detested during my childhood as an imposition by my mother.
In her own way, she taught me to revel in the joy of just being able to think, to see, to sing, perhaps even to be oneself. To revel in the simple pleasures of life, to walk on a breezy day, watching the leaves sprout almost overnight.
She tried to open my little mind to the pleasures of art, music, spirituality, books. It was left to me to decide what I wanted to do with my life. I wouldn’t be what I am today if that option had not been given. I still have an identity of my own despite the powerful impact of my mother. Or, maybe, because of her.