When I look back with a even a morsel of objectivity, my childhood wasn't as happy as I'd like to believe now. The maternal relatives - who "took us in" after our inept father started his long inexplicable parade from one job to another in the Nilgiris - perfected the subtle art of tainting every act with either displeasure about our presence or elaborate shows of their "kindness" that we were constantly reminded to be thankful for. Between my father, grandfather, maternal and paternal uncles, I was surrounded by inadequate adults who were brazen enough to take out the frustration of their many failures on children. And the family women were reduced to gossiping, scheming, squabbling teams pitting wits and tongues against each other, for in those arid, pre-television days in the '80s there was very little else to do. So, life at home was reduced to the constant side-stepping of minefield tempers and sensibilities, pretence commiserations, earlobes burning with shame from a zillion innuendos and insinuations, derogatory notes hidden in magazines with words a tramp would hesitate to use with a child and the heavy feeling that I was somehow responsible for everything that was wrong with the family. Given the state of affairs, it was thanks to a few little things that I emerged from it all with my belief in the goodness of life intact - a steady supply of great books... success, popularity and kindness at school... And one guileless, mild-mannered woman who stood like a rock by sister and me through it all.
For a good decades after we moved to India, my mother lived through a similar routine as she struggled to raise her children against crushing financial and emotional odds. Rising before dawn to cook for the family (my housewife aunt "couldn't" cook), getting us ready for school and packing lunch boxes, rushing with us to school where she taught a raucous bunch of six-year-olds, running through a set of extra classes in the evening and finally returning home to serve a quick dinner and do the day's dishes. Through these years, she also battled migraine and ulcer and nursed her father whose urinary tract was too odious and messy for others in the family to handle. Despite earning her own livelihood, she also had to hear her family's sermons about how her kids were being raised to become characterless, spiteful monsters and her husband's rants about how her "selfishness" had destroyed his career and family. Why she persevered the way she did and what she saw in the future that kept her going, I'd never know.
Once my grandfather's death obviated my mother's presence in her brother's household, we finally moved into our own little house. Despite sheer desperate need, further emotional trauma and our adolescent angst, my mother shaped those few years into the best of our lives. It wasn't easy - there would be month-ends where we were out of kerosene and there wasn't anyone to turn to... The looming spectre of higher education for the two of us... Our growing frustrations with the status-quo as we grew old enough to compare our plight with others in a predominantly upper-middle-class community... Yet, my mother ensured that we had every comfort she could afford - and some that she couldn't like branded shirts and school-trips! In that little house with horrible ventilation, my family came together as I recognize it today - my mother, my sister and I against the world! In those days, I came to love and respect this woman who has given me all I own and cherish! I learnt to appreciate for the first time what she was really up against... To understand that every time she took her bag and walked that long path to school, she was walking with grit and resolve towards her distant and translucent dream for us... And in those days, as we shared radio shows, happy dinners, gardening triumphs and wishful thinking, my sister and I would make an important choice - to put our mother and her happiness above all else! We have stuck to it for a good many years now - much to the chagrin of my father and others.
Later, I'd learn that my mother's battles began way before I was even born. The darling daughter of a reasonably affluent tea-estate manager in SriLanka, she'd married into a poorer and significantly more peevish family. That inter-caste marriage not only broke ties with her family temporarily but it also meant daily battles in the smoke-filled sooty joint-family kitchen with jealous in-laws who couldn't come to terms with a working, English-savvy woman in the household. When war entailed a move to India, things slipped from bad to worse. Thrown smack in the middle of all this was the challenge of raising her children with her own liberal outlook among very backward influences. And yet, when I look back, I can't remember my mother being angry - tearful, sad, helpless yes, but never angry!
A better future would arrive. But not before road dropped tumultously towards darker and bleaker times that we wouldn't talk about here. But a few years later, we moved my mother's uncle's house - he was too much of a gentleman to goad us. And somewhere around those years, things started turnly pointedly upward! These days, good tidings abound. Simple joys like the weddings of children that would have just been a matter of time in most families... Not so in mine... There were times when it looked unlikely that all three of us would make it here as..., well..., three of us. But we did! Now, grudging relatives have either come groveling around, forced by senility, childlessness or compunction, or seethe in envy about how well my sister and I have done. People who presaged a career in crime and pennilessness for us seek counsel for their acquaintances and are quick to take credit for our triumphs. And money, that monstrous wrench that queezed every inch of life from my mother's best years, is now available in sufficient plentitude!
My mother's been retired for five years now. She's still up at dawn and despite my sister's best efforts she can't sit still and relax for a minute. Between me and my sister we bully her into watching Everybody Loves Raymond, reading Tintin and talking a breather. I call her everyday and everytime it suprises me how this woman with a child's heart and innocence overcame such overpowering obstacles. And how she doesn't hold a grudge against anyone in the family. My mother's happy these days. Her children do rather well for themselves. Though she'd never think of taking due credit for anything, I know that my IIM diploma, $90,000 pay-cheque and more importantly, my belief in humanity are all thanks to one little lady fighting tirelessly for a better life for her kids.
A few others made my childhood worth remembering - my uncle and aunt in Ooty and my Grandpa. Wish you were here, Athai, Mama and Thatha... Noone would have been happier to see us now!
My maternal uncle did turn a new leaf and go out of his way to help us in later years - him I might forgive.
|K G Prasad |
May 15, 2008 07:36 AM PDT
The timing is just right. I read this blog just after reading getting your wedding invite. I am very happy for you. Limitless possibilties await you. Have a great time my friend..........
March 5, 2008 06:47 PM PST
And loooooong time no see... How've you been?
March 5, 2008 12:14 AM PST
No words can describe the feeling,thank god for these remarkable women called "Mother" We are what we are today:) and i smiled at one sentence "I call her up daily" Because i do the same.How much ever she says its ok if i don't call her daily also but i still know she waits for that call and so do i :)
March 3, 2008 01:05 PM PST
I think struggle never is romantic when we are in the midst of it... But memory does add it's own shades to the past... I have learned to look at this period of my life with almost a sense of wonderment....
March 3, 2008 06:07 AM PST
I am trying not to use the word beautiful. Because struggle never is romantic. But thank you for being so ruthless with your memory. A lovely piece.
March 2, 2008 07:06 PM PST
Teehee... Thank you :D
March 2, 2008 07:05 PM PST
Bang on - this was a rope-walk in what to write and what not to...
March 2, 2008 07:04 PM PST
March 2, 2008 07:04 PM PST
Hehe... I know :)
March 2, 2008 05:40 AM PST
Your mom is a remarkable woman.. and I knew that all along! You know why, kiddo? :) 'Cos she raised someone like you!
March 1, 2008 12:57 AM PST
It's deeply moving.
I feel that you should have written this with a heavy heart and tear-laden eyes, so much so that you could not put all you want to put and still fight to put as much that can be made public. Amazing!
March 1, 2008 12:16 AM PST
Antha Mylapore Natkal - Nan niraivaga vazhntha natkal
February 29, 2008 08:44 PM PST
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