Sunday, May 12, 2013


As Mother's Day loomed, I pondered what to give my mother, Meera who is 10, 000 miles away and has just sold her 3-bedroom apartment to downsize and move with my father to his hometown of Poona, after 40-odd years of traveling the world.

For the foreseeable future, my parents will now be living in a one bedroom apartment which is too tiny to hold their possessions. They certainly don't need more books, furniture, computers, cameras, and the like. I am too far away to whisk her off to brunch, take her to the spa as my daughter took me today, or pick her a bouquet of wildflowers. So what could I give Mom that I had not already given her? 

And then suddenly last night, it struck me. I wondered why it had not occurred to me before. What should a writer give her mother? I have written about my friends, my grandparents, my daughter, my work, my food. But never have I sat down to write about the woman who gave me life, who has sustained me ever since, and at whose shared table I learned to love and cook and grow and give. Why? 

Being a mother myself now, I understand that it is because she is so embedded in my soul, my every pore, that she is inextricable from my self. I would have to dig out bits of me to write about her. And yet it seems like the worst negligence that, while I have dedicated a book to her, I have never really sat down and delved into my relationship with her at any length on paper. "OK," I thought. "I will write a blog post about her and post it on Mother's Day." 

A day later, I admitted this was easier said than done. Mom has always been my biggest admirer, my most ardent fan, my most vociferous supporter. In her eyes, Bunny can do no wrong. Do you know how empowering such love is? The more I live, the more deeply I understand the preciousness of her gift of unconditional love and the strength it has given me to glide through life's turbulent waters. The more I see broken or twisted relationships, the more I am filled with gratitude that she always treated me like a rational creature, worthy of respect and gave me the freedom to be independent, simultaneously shielding me gently from life's sorrows and harshnesses. Her cocoon gave me the time and space I needed to gain the maturity, courage and self-confidence required to handle the pressures of adult life. 

I don't believe in writer's block. But stalled I certainly was. For, the more I wracked my brain to recollect my first memories of my mother, the more distant and entangled they became. How could I write about her until I had done what I love to do as a journalist, get to the root of my subject?

The mother is the first remembrance any child must have, a sense of warmth in the womb, the sweetness of nursing at her breast, the sound of her voice cooing. I have to look at a photo like this one to "remember" all that.

Kaumudi with Meera, Poona, 1969
Perhaps this is because I am older and there are many years separating me from those memories now. Or is it because there are so many warm memories, they bounce around my head, saying, "Me, me, me first!"? Like the memory of Mom and a five year old me walking down to the end of Prabhat Road toward the bakery where she bought bread in those days. She would buy me my favorite treat, a cream horn, that I nibbled delicately all the way home. And, at a time and place where there was a limited selection of children's books in book shops, she still managed to bring home a new Enid Blyton story for me every so often, a special delight for  me.

Then there's the memory of her giving me some breast milk as she nursed my baby brother. I was jealous he was getting the good stuff so I got a squirt too. The thin, comforting sweetness stayed on my tongue till the moment I first nursed my daughter 30 years later.

Is it the sound of her saying my name, Bunny, a certain way that is my first consciousness of her? Is it the generosity with which she fed me, the patience with which she answered my questions? Or the way she wriggled and giggled when the toddler me slowly ran my fingers down her forearm in a rhythmic gesture that soothed me but tickled and tormented her.

My parents were only 23 when they had me. There were no parenting websites, no "What to Expect When You're Expecting" to guide them on their path. And yet they clearly had a vision of what they wanted to achieve as parents and how they wanted to do it. They must have made mistakes but we never knew about them. To us they were, and still remain, the most enlightened, broad minded, pro-active parents we have ever come across. They took the time to explain things to my brother and me, did the hard work of engaging us with conversations and books and soccer balls and funny songs and poems instead of plunking us down in front of TV sets or leaving us in the hands of ayahs.

We rode bicycles together to Gibbons Park, we swam at the University pool, we enjoyed Saturday Night at the Movies as a family, we baked apple pies, and we played Scrabble and Canasta in the living room, decades before the idea of Family Game Night gained popularity. 

Childhood is so fleeting, my mother believed in making it as delightful and memorable for us as she could. She played with us, laughed with us, entertained us. "Don't be in a hurry to grow up," she would say. "Enjoy being a child, you'll be grown up soon enough." If I craved sabudanyachi khichadi for breakfast, I only had to breathe the words and it appeared on the table, as if by magic. If I had a nightmare, I knew I could run from my room and leap into my parents' bed to be cuddled into comfortable slumber. And while Dad may not have been physically demonstrative, thanks to that Brahmanical upbringing, Mom was the most huggable mother. Her lap was always available for sitting on. I still sit on it when we are together, and she laughs indulgently and cuddles me. 

She sang us to sleep every night, everything from Trini Lopez' Lemon Tree and Bobby Darrin's Multiplication to Guru Dutt's Jaane Who Kaise, a song I now often find myself singing to Keya. 

Mom & Keya make cupcakes, Glendale, 2012

After the muddle of warm first memories, there are years and years  more of clear, wonderful ones. Our mother-daughter nights out in London, window shopping on a Thursday night, ending with hot chocolate and crisp chocolate wafers at the Woolworth's counter. Lying in bed, wriggling with laughter and excitement as Mom told us stories of her own precocious childhood. We stored up history and family lore through her, legends of cousins and second cousins and odd uncles and crazy aunts, for whom she came up with funny nicknames by which they are known to this day. We were rolling stones but she helped us grow roots that we learned to put down as and where needed. And we knew that wherever my brother, Sameer sailed, and whatever part of the world I lived in, we could, contrary to the old adage, always go home. 

Hard as it may be to believe, there was never a cross word, not once a sour look, no exclamation of exhaustion or impatience or condescension from Mom. Even if she disciplined us, it was always calmly. And if we had had a disagreement and I refused to back down or apologize, my mother would come forward and do so, showing me the meaning of generosity and forgiveness. She was always smiling. And she let us be children,  secure in our world, carefree, ignorant of the work and the pain and the stresses of an adulthood to come.

There is no card, no gift, not even this love letter, which can begin to thank Mom for everything she has given Sameer, Aditya and me. There can only be an acknowledgement of the riches we have received and a promise to be there for her when it is her turn to need us. 

Happy Mother's Day, Mom, and thank you, thank you, thank you. 

I will always be here when you need me.