I do not want to deviate much from what this series is all about – A woman’s grit and wit in her own life that often goes unnoticed – leave alone applauded. But this first one is a tribute to the woman I knew during the first 8 years of my life – My mom. Let me be humble where I can, and say “not because of any heroic or incredible feat” – but just because she was my mom.
While I know for a fact that all mothers are the protective, caring, kind, thoughtful and whatever adjectives you can think of – mine was – passionately obsessed. I don’t want to debate she was one of a kind – probably there are millions around. But I can only tell ‘her story’ – so here you go.
She died when she was 37 and I was 8 – and somehow in retrospective, it was as though she knew that her days with me were numbered. Now, I was her third, the others being boys and I’ve hardly seen them getting the attention I got – not sure if they being almost a decade older than me factored in any way.
So the story begins while I was still in the womb – or actually – before that :D!!! 8 years after having 2 boys, she decides that she needs a girl. Apparently, contrary to the social scenario back then in rural areas of Kerala and Tamil Nadu where she spent her days, she asked anybody and everybody around to ‘predict’ that it would be a ‘girl.’ And then, when it was decided to be a caesarean she did not leave the doctor either – “it must be a girl,” she told the doc, “and I will name her after you.”
Thanks to her determination, positive thinking and promise – a girl was born and she named her after the doc – Indira. Realizing that’s too foreign a name for a Malayalee household, dad helped her stich Priyadarshini to it! She called me ‘Priya.’ She was on Mission Priya – for the rest of the eight years of her life. I read couple of her letters to her father – beyond the regular news, it was all about me. The words I said when I was barely two, the qualities she saw in me when I was three and the enthusiastic school goer in me, when I was four.
She hadn’t studied much. So, it was as though her life depended on me learning English and Hindi! And it makes me smile to think of the efforts she took. She would make me watch Doordarshan – especially that ad, and ask me if I could write it down. She made me watch Hindi programs (though she did not understand) and told me that I would understand eventually. When I was seven, she subscribed to ‘The Hindu’ and made me write down all the headings in the newspaper! Neither I nor she knew what those meant back then! I still remember the number of DMK and AIDMK that I had written in those days like an imposition assignment. She would take me to the neighbor, as dad’s time was limited after office, to ensure that I learn to speak English. She called my friends home and saw to it that I spoke to them only in English. Dad wasn’t spared either. He was to make me read a story and record it in the good ole tape recorder – None of us asked her the logic – I was too small and Dad was.. well, her husband – so she ruled! I don’t have a copy – but I remember the story – The pancake who ran down the street 😊
I loved pets, especially birds, until I realized it’s a crime to cage creatures that can fly. So, she maintained a poultry house in the backyard, had a ‘love birds’ cage in the front garden, few turkey birds, and two white rabbits- again exclusively for me! She maintained a flower garden and vegetable garden and won state level awards for each.
Bathing me was quite a feat!
I had She maintained long hair for me when I was seven, which, when plaited two-fold would still fall long on my shoulders. She used to have all those homemade treatments to ensure that! Whichever sarees were pretty and expensive, she wrote my name on it! Will you believe that? I don’t have proof! You must take my word for it. “Priya” – she wrote on all those Chinese silk and cotton sarees – the name in her handwriting looked prettier than the sarees themselves. She wrote my name in the steel utensils at home – back then that was a practice – she just overdid it I guess. She had envisioned me as a dancer and carefully drawn and asked a jeweler to make me an earring (traditional jhumka) – which again I lost (I got the nickname ambalamani in college for that)!!!! She did enroll me for dance, but the lazy me was never regular.
She was obsessed – but wasn’t blind. I remember when I was four or five – I slapped her. She hid meat in the rice she was giving me and I pushed the plate and slapped her on her face. I remember the dress I wore and the place still. I probably would not have remembered if she slapped me back or made a fuss of it or scolded me or reacted in any normal way. She looked at me with this sad eyes and told me that I can continue to slap around till I had someone to take it. I don’t think the five-year-old in me understood a word of it, but I remember feeling so damn guilty and shameful about it. When I was seven, a friend of mine got a fancy black purse to school. It was a shiny black purse and had a bunch of shiny one rupee coins in it. I admired it a lot and when the coins fell off the purse, I took one and kept it to myself. You can imagine my mom’s fury when she got to know this! That was the only day I remember being beaten up by her. The Only Day. I got beaten up black and blue with a thin cane from the garden, and was taken to the Pooja room to promise that I would never, ever commit the act of stealing, and then was taken immediately to the friend’s house to tell her and her parents that I did this, I’m shameful that I did it and I’m returning this. That was one lesson well learnt for me.
While her loss is, irreparable and draws tears till this date, her zeal for these few years to bring up or dote on a little girl was awe inspiring. I’m a mom now, had been one while away from work and am now while I’m working, I could never do, or imagine to do, for my child as much. For the sake of readability, and due to the lack of memories, I have only given a short account here. It is her relentless dedication to the mission Priya that I owe this story to.