It is funny how inane objects become precious memories. Things that you never thought of as important, things whose presence you would rather not acknowledge, and those that are so much a part of your everyday life that you never thought they were worth memories!
I was getting ready for work in the morning today and wearing my saree (I work for a hotel so don’t raise your eyebrows…we women in this industry do wear a LOT of sarees and oh! we ensure our sarees are matched properly with accessories and we look like the epitome of the Indian women!) when I was hit with memories so strong that I thought I should pen the thoughts down.
As people around the world are gearing up to outbid each other to show who loves their mother more as Mother’s Day comes knocking on our doors, I got thinking about my mother.
I lost my mother 7 years back (I didn’t even realize 7 years have passed till I counted it today. Guess time is not doing a good job yet). To say the loss was heartbreaking would be an understatement. Losing a parent doesn’t just leave a mark, it alters you. As you learn to move on, you start picking up the pieces and stick them all back like a big jigsaw puzzle and you build it around you like a steel core. That’s the time you start looking for…memories….
Ma was a Bengali girl settled in Varanasi when my paternal grandmother and grandfather proposed her marriage to my father. Years later, when I was in school, I would ask Ma about how it all happened and she would laugh and regale me with stories about how she always knew she was destined to be married to Baba, since the astrologer who sat on the steps of Dashashwamedh Ghat had predicted that someone from a faraway city will come and marry her and take her away to see the world. I never got tired of listening to that story.
After Ma passed away I was given the dreaded task of sorting her clothes. After putting it off for as long as I could I finally dragged myself to her closet one fine weekday when I knew I was alone and won’t be disturbed.
Rows and rows of garments greeted me. Heady aroma of long fading Channel, Dior, Sandalwood and the good old Ponds Dream Flower Talc mixed with the clinical smell of the quintessential Bengal Chemical Naphthalene balls attacked my senses. It was as if she was standing right beside me talking while she arranged her cupboard and searched for that one mauve silk saree she loves and just HAS to wear it on some occasion. I was given the task of fishing each mauve garment out of the huge neat piles:-
“No that’s not mauve Buri. Please don’t be so colorblind!”
“That’s not silk! Have I not taught you anything?!”
“But Ma! You have four whole closets full of these things!!! It can be anywhere!!! Just wear one na! Who cares about silks and chiffons???!!!”
The colors winked at me now, the materials begging to be touched with the same reverence Ma would have had she been sorting them out. I could finally differentiate between the mauves and the purples and the pinks…but I had no one to show that skill off to.
Each one of us would have a fond memory of our mother. Being Indian, most of us would recollect our mother in one of her favorite saree looking so pretty that we would rank her as Miss Universe. And if we happened to be daughters…90% of us would have fingered those sarees and secretly coveted them thinking…someday I will grow up and borrow this from her. Someday I will also look as pretty as she is looking right now. I unfortunately fell in the rest of the 10%. Sarees never interested me. I wore them for occasions and it was a task for me. I think that made her sad at times. Looking at her tomboy girl I don’t think she ever imagined I would grow up to be someone who had an entire closet full of sarees for herself. I asked my brother today which attire of hers bring back memories…he said “Her cotton sarees”. During my growing years Ma would hardly wear anything but sarees. Calcutta being hot and humid she usually wore Taants. And she wore it with an elan that I am yet to master.
Like all Indian girls (apologies about the generalization) my first saree was begged and borrowed from my mother. The school had some celebration and I was performing a dance and her white saree with broad red border was needed with an urgency that can only be compared to NASA’s first attempt of launching a rocket in space. But Ma loved that saree and refused to part with it knowing fully well that I might end up ruining the material with my callous way of treating the garment. A tantrum ensued and I did get my way…only to return the saree the day after the event with a big blob of stain from the Coca Cola I happened to spill on it. I was young, wearing a saree was a tedious chore albeit the novelty of it. Taking care of the saree and then folding it back to a pretty bundle to get back home…..was just an unreasonable demand I felt. Plus it was just one garment out of the thousands Ma had….surely she didn’t love it that much!
Years later when my brother got married…she wore that saree to welcome my sister-in law home. She looked so beautiful. I remember her getting ready… deft movements of her fingers…tucking a little here…tugging a little there…applying her sindoor and wearing her jewelry which she had carefully matched with the gold zari work on the red border…I never knew such beauty existed.
My friend S (just protecting her from undue attention…she is after all no less than a rockstar to me) would come home from school and drink a glass of milk every day. Maashi, her mother, would lovingly wipe her mouth with the corner of her saree pallu when she finished the glass (it happened…really…just like those old black and white movies this was a real moment repeated every time with every glass of milk!). My mother never wiped my mouth after meals with her pallu. Or maybe she did but the memory of it has faded. But her saree pallu was always available. We (my brother and I) would be running around trying to paint the house multi hues and her pallu would be available to wipe the dirty fingers. I would be a clingy child never wanting to let her out of my sight…and her pallu would be available like a life line to grab and walk behind her like a tail. And when during pujas we were nowhere in sight…her pallu was used to capture the auspicious smoke of the holy fire, tied into a tiny bundle and later touched to our head so that we achieve peace and prosperity.
Can smoke be captured inside a cloth and tied and preserved for an hour or more? In the folds of my mother’s saree it could. She could capture all the happiness in her world in that one tiny bundle and believe that she is indeed passing on all the good karma on to her fidgety children.
I gave away a lot of Ma’s sarees. I called all my aunts and asked them to choose their favorites. It was like giving away a piece of memory knowing that the memory would be equally cherished and loved and carried forward. Some sarees I kept…like the two unique Sabyasachi sarees brother and bhabi had gifted her on her last Durga puja with us. The excitement of getting her blouse stitched and the apprehension about whether she would still look as pretty now that she was so ill…it was all over her face. But what sticks now to my mind is the joy on that Bijoya Dashami day when she came out of the room wearing that heavy saree. Chemotherapy had done its damage…but that day…my mother looked every bit a Goddess as she ever could in that saree. A picture of us from that day albeit slightly grainy…is one of my most cherished one.
When I started writing this piece I wanted to bring back memories of a mother I remember and her attire…remember I was getting ready for work? Well.. I was actually wearing one of her sarees. Regular work wear. A part of me smiled at the irony of the situation. I never wanted this inheritance. I’d rather have her back instead. But there was me…still a tomboy…forced to wear a saree. Maybe it was a way Ma decided she could ensure I will remember her every day. (I do so appreciate her sense of humor!!!)
I don’t need a piece of garment to remember her. I miss her every second anyways. Every time the maid rings the bell in the morning at 6am, I miss her sage advice on what to cook daily. Every time I see a good movie, I miss discussing it with her. I spray her favorite perfume and I miss her mommy smell. I have a bad day or a good day… and I miss her. I even miss her when I just need to yell at someone and know, that, the person I am yelling on will understand. Ridiculously, I even miss her every time my mother in – law calls my husband and his phone display says “Ma”. However, as they say…inheritance is like a piece of memory. Hence every time I wear her saree…I miss her dearly. Because I know she would have been so happy. I do hope when I have my children, I can invoke such tenderness about myself in them.
Three women who lost their mothers at a tender age got together to make a documentary called “The Dead Mother’s Club”. Morbid as it may sound but I wanted to quote something they say in it…. “The dead mother thing? It’s like a club. You’re initiated. You get a tattoo. It is not going away.”
So I raise a toast to mothers today! You ladies should know that you are irreplaceable. Love your child and I hope your child loves you to bits. Not just today…every day. Even when you are not with them anymore.
And most importantly…I also raise a toast to fathers and brothers and sister in-laws and husbands… because..
Mere paas Ma toh hai nahi…lekin mere paas papa, bhai, bhabi and patidev hai… Aur wo bhi koi mummy se kam nahi hai!
– The Girl who remains ‘Honuman’ to her parents