But, there’s a Story behind every Mother

As humans, each of us fetches a story within ourselves. An account of narratives that shape into a series of events and people. Even if there is nothing to write home about, that inevitable process of evolution fails to take our leave until time can remember. From infancy to our first day in uniform. From schooling routine to the sudden burst of hormonal rage for that ‘special someone’. From puberty to the selective firsts of exploring our – and another’s – finer fabrics. From juvenility to the indiscriminating responsibility of standing on our feet. From reaching the stage of a merited earner to shouldering responsibilities, whether for oneself or the household. The beat goes on; there is no eluding this vicious cycle.

This is the part of life that I refer to as keep-calm-and-dote-on-your-family. For things here on, aren’t the same. They begin to branch from what they were once.

The roads fork out, and the juncture prods one to pick their prong. Our siblings have carved out a niche for themselves by now, and are well on their way to treading the path. Our significance in their hand-picked route reduces to visiting them once in a while. Regardless of the fact that we love them as much and more, we no longer belong to the same environmental radius as we did five years ago. Or even two. Our father’s first strands of grey peek more prominently than we thought they would. The receding hairline on his forehead and once thick mop seem to be blown off with a candle. In one go. Mum no longer pulls through the household errands with the same spring in her step. There is a discernible lag. A sliver of silver on her sideburns attempts to hide assiduously beneath her shoulder-length tresses – an unrefined endeavour that yields part-time success. The little folds under her eyes that are otherwise camouflaged behind her myopic spectacles reveal a dusted tale of hers to reminisce. Except that it isn’t.

They asked me to drape a Sari. I didn’t know which one to pick. So, I borrowed a piece from them all and draped a collage. Photo: Margaret Lanzetta, Kashi Art Gallery, Kochi Muziris Biennale 2016

The fact of ageing hits us when see it reverberating in our parents. It isn’t until then that we register how contradicting the illusion of age is but a number gets for us. We disagree, shake our heads vehemently, and argue that age is not just a number – not for our progenitors. Because it reflects. It isn’t until then that we come to a fully-flavoured perception of our parents’ childhood. After all, they didn’t spring up to the phase of becoming a father or a mother. As their offsprings, we are merely the freshest blots of ink in their tales that they continue to record even today. It isn’t until then it strikes us that they would have had their share of yarns to spin when they were youthful dicky birds. Although our small nothings could have transported them backwards more times than we could have counted, they chose to not regale their chronicles when we were busy clinching ours.

Their evocations and echoes unheard and buried, biding their time to surface over the counter.

Some people come across with a natural tendency to talk. Without inhibitions or borders. Yesteryear gossips of family feuds to tomorrow’s worries tumble right off their tongues without ado. They let slip off of everything that goes on in their mind, some time or the other. Such people inadvertently unburden themselves through a fellow human to converse to, not to gauge an actionable reaction but to bask in the solace of companionship. Then, some people speak, yet remain guarded with their thought-process. They voice out their secrets when in the mood, and at other times keep the conversation flowing like a duck in a pond. Level-headed on the outside, scuffling under the waters. At such times, their exchange is likely to become transactional, to the point of being a prototypical parent. And then, there are the rest who forgo their past because it no longer matches their present. They let go of what exists no more for they cannot in the slightest, meld it to their current. Their lifestyle alters to a one-way that as per them, demands to gel into circumstances that pass them by. They are through – done and dusted – with their times bygone because they need to assume accountable responsibilities. Leaving them with no space in their ever-turning sheets of to-dos to accommodate any time for reminiscing their memories – which, now seem to belong to another lifetime. Their moments of monkeying around. Their earliest ‘special someone’ in their friends’ circle. Their first pubic exposure. And their elephants in the room. They see no point recollecting what’s done and the results that were kindled in the process. All is now defunct. Meant to let go.

My mother falls into this category.


In my thirty odd years as her daughter, not once do I remember her recounting her childhood to me. Aside from a few fundamental facts of her upbringing in a Northern territory of India among four sisters, her mother being a housewife, and father a serviceman who socialised at the city club for a game of cards, I had no clue of what her childhood was like. Not until I chanced upon bits and bobs recently.

It’s why I probably took to her steps when it came to building my self-esteem. Because she chose to disown it in the process of adulting. It’s why I probably took to her steps when it came to building trust for a street display. Because she chose to irrupt into a nutshell soon after she picked the prong of her fork. It’s why I probably took to her steps when it came to administering my social quotient. Because she chose a non-opinionated self as her shield, an instant reflex, lest the crowd ridiculed her thought-process or nitpicked on her lifestyle. It’s why I probably took to her steps when it came to believing that I could never be up to any good, an individual with below-average capability. Because she chose to live in shadows after she went through a phase change.


My mum no longer chose to be the rebellious voice in the house because her ambience had altered to donning the role of a married woman. She no longer opted to be the asserter with the man opposite because that wasn’t her father anymore. She no longer assumed the role of a caretaker for her youngest sister, because she had younger ones of her own. She no longer chose to be that socialising bee she once was, because we were her ‘others’, her society and her world. She no longer associated with that mischievous-most kid from her schooldays, because she had now chosen to steer her lifestyle one-dimensionally, towards her renewed priorities.


As humans, each of us fetches a story within ourselves. Little did I know, there existed one under my roof. Of evocations and echoes, unheard and buried, biding their time to surface over the counter.

Photos: Students’ Biennale, Kochi Muziris Biennale 2016; Kochi, Kerala

To Visit,​ or To Not Visit?

It’s a different story when mum visits over.

Your presence lingers just like the chimaera of a shadow from the afternoon sun

A cleaner house, a more organised routine, timely meals, and household chores running like a set of well-oiled machine. As kids, there never went by a time when we were left to starve. There never came a moment when we had to pick and wear the same clothes we had dumped in the wash tub yesterday. There never showed up a week when we were late for school. And there never went by a year without new clothes. We took our basic needs, which Maslow has so mindfully defined, for granted. Or, so was the case with many of us.

When age plays its card of reasoning, the tables turn over, and the daylight of it all cracks on us. While accounting for mum’s ubiquity. There is a need to consider all domestic pursuits with the same effervescence. Whether, the regimental mundane or the infrequent extraordinary. It can mean obliterating those lacklustre cobwebs that are beginning to claim their reign across the ceilings. Or, freeing the living space from impending pests and insects. It can involve restitching her clothes from where the seaming has long retired. Or, restocking the refrigerator as so to avoid running out of supplies. It can intend having her routine health check-ups done. Or, ensuring she consumes her after-meal medicines on time. The list of to-dos pulsates as faithfully as the heart pumps blood into the system. In the midst of which, the household dailies are the one arm. And the need to assimilate any me-time with a diplomacy is the other.

The wake of this sojourning pit stop fetches a realisation of selfless dedication. And we find it to be all right if she decides to take some time off. A trip into the hilly valley canvassed with a flowing stream nearby. Or, paying a visit to the near and far relations. Attendance at a social gathering, even if it means compressed absence. Or, spending a few days with another of her offsprings. This is the me-time we crave for. The chance to unwind from the paradoxical routine.

Sometimes, I feel amused at the thought of the concept of time off. Because of its out-of-the-blues prominence. Because of the stressed insistence we make about its presence. Because it was an abstract conviction in days when we grew up. So acclimatised are we to our lifestyle today, that anyone stopping over for a stay becomes nothing short of a moral obligation. And we take our time coming to terms with it.

A lifetime gives us an airtight container worth of opportunities to undergo first-time experiences. We cherish some. And pay our last respects to a handful. No container, yet, is ever enough to collect and bottle those ventures that we engage in with mum. Considering, the memory of every one of her stays is an experience of a first-time. Whether cherished or swept to a corner of the mind.

These days her attention is elsewhere that is sponging a significant chunk of her energy and time. For she is visiting my younger sibling and taking care of my year-and-a-half-old niece. On days when the sun shines on the tropics, it would not make a difference. But today, I couldn’t have cared less about unwinding.

They say, learning to give in and give away is an acquired trait. You tend to pick it up when you have a younger one around. One can be the centre of attention for only so long. Maybe, it is a phase you’re meant to grow out of.

Honestly, I’m not there yet. For, I feel the blister of an old-school sentiment brewing within me while she is away.



Photographs: Paris, Kashmir, Kodaikanal