[Personal Histories] ‘I didn’t let mother into my life beyond the peripheries’



Illustration: Mayanglambam Dinesh

ONE OF the earliest memories I have of my mother is lying on bed and admiring the way she applied a daring pink lipstick and put on her pearls in front of the dresser. Seeing her get ready for one of the many army parties was pure delight. There were saris of feather light chiffons, gorgeous georgettes, printed silks — all exploding in a burst of colour and softness in my face. My dream was to grow up fast and dress up like her for a zillion parties. 

She was vibrant, cheerful, spirited. And I was quiet, shy and reticent. At a subconscious level, I loved her expressive self and yet resented her for not being more like me. Growing up, I did not have the best relationship with my mother. As a child, I would be defiant and hurt her by keeping secrets. When I was in college, she tried to be my friend, advised me on love, laughed at my jokes, and gave me the space to be who I am. She would be frightfully proud of whatever I did — getting my first job or a university scholarship. But to me, she remained on the periphery of my life. I would visit her only to seek respite from my heady life in Delhi. Her love was taken for granted, her support was a given. And secrets were still not to be shared.

As time passed, I went through life’s motions of love, pain and disillusionment. My mother, meanwhile, fell ill and I was angry at her illness, for her inability to be by my side. It was a private hell of my making. Then one day, I learnt to accept the universe for the way it was and started to reclaim my life. With this new acceptance of life, I was finally filled with a deep love for my mother. I was ready to accept her illness, listen to her, ask her how she was. But it was too late. She had, by then, suffered her second stroke to the brain. She was too tired and could barely understand my words.

A couple of months ago she died, suddenly. I barely had any thoughts as I rushed to my dad in Kolkata. The next few days blurred into each other as friends and family walked in bearing fruits, sweets and few words of comfort. In between conversations, someone or the other would remember her and I would smile at the tale told. Old photographs were ruminated upon, and new ones were ordered to adorn the walls. I moved between the past and the present, as my days were full of memories, routine and work and the nights pierced by silence and emptiness. After completing the final rites on the 13th day, I returned to my home in Delhi to finally mourn.

When I see the old photographs today, I see a woman who lived life fully. She loved her man, her children, her family of seven brothers and sisters. She loved to grow vegetables, and put fresh flowers in the house. She loved to eat sweets at weddings and festivals. She loved to meet people and make friends. She loved to laugh heartily at a good joke. She loved to dress up and dance at a party. All the Zen books that I had to read to know the truth, she knew already, for she lived every moment, and no moment was ordinary for her.

When I was young and yearning to be in love, I asked her, “You found dad and married him. I, too, want to fall in love first and then marry. Why has it not happened yet?” And she said, “It does not matter how you marry. Just make your husband your boyfriend. You can then create your own love story any time.” She once asked me, “Why are you so restless? Life is actually quite simple; just be happy.” Her wisdom was simple, and so were her wants. In her life, I see love and happiness, the two mantras we all keep chasing. I now have a new dream — to live fully every moment till death surprises. Even in her death, she gave me life, again.

Swati Sahi is 43. She is a Communications Professional based in New Delhi



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