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An ode to Mom!

Rathish Balakrishnan | May 05, 2005

We asked you, dear readers, to share with us what you learnt from your mother. And we are overwhelmed with your resposes! Here are some of them.

Isquinted at my watch under the light.

I realised I wasn't going to make it on time. It was already 9.30 pm. I was supposed to be there at 9. Mother

The stickler for time that R is, I knew I had to hurry. I broke into a sprint and made it to the house at close to ten.

R's mother greeted me just as I was looking around for R. She told me he was going to be an hour late, but he had told everyone at home about my arrival.

She showed me to my room. The bed was made, a couple of magazines in the corner, the room was well lit and the mosquito repellent was on.

It was 10.30 pm.

It was a small house. We had three small rooms and a huge portico with an asbestos roof.

The house felt as if it were on an elevation -- three steps led you from the portico to the drawing room.

At the left end of the hall were three steps which formed the puja room of the house.

Every year, this day, this time, my mom would be in the kitchen, preparing a list of sweets for the next day. Nothing about the event changed in years -- the place, the list of sweets and the diligence with which mom made it.

My brother and my dad would be sound asleep in the two adjacent beds placed at right angles to each other. I would twist and turn. And finally would sit next to my mom in the kitchen and watch her cook.

I have never been a loving son. But the idea of my mom cooking alone while the rest of us are asleep was somehow not quite acceptable to me.

The Ajanta clock that we bought when I was 10 must have stuck 10.30 then.

I didn't enter the bathroom to take a shower. It is just one of those things that happened. The first thing I spotted as soon as I came out was the lungi and the flimsy white woven towel with a red streak at the border -- two pieces of cloth that are characteristically Malayalee.

Lungis are special to me. They were the first sign of adulthood. Wearing it somehow transformed me from a naïve boy to a cynical, know-it-all adult.

Just as I was coming down the stairs, R entered with a long day written in multiple lines all over his face.

He tried some small talk, but both of us were too tired to indulge in something we believed was a waste of time.

We sat there acknowledging each other's presence through silence, looking through the television in front of us like a two-year old married couple who have run out things to tell each other.

My mom and I were very similar in many ways, like an unflattering passport size photo showed when I was 14. But the similarities weren't just skin deep.

As my mom always puts it, I have absorbed all her bad traits!

We weren't going through the best of times then and our tempers would usually flare against each other. So most of the time, both of us sat silently, not bothering with small talk.

But late nights were different. When the world slept, both of us would open up, talk about her childhood, my school adventures, everything.

In 23 years, these are the only happy conversations that I remember we had.

There is something extremely rejuvenating about home food (probably the way it is served).

After a month, I was having dinner on a working day. Home food is heaven.

R and I are not exactly cousins. We are distantly related. But he and his wife are probably my only relatives I can have meaningful conversations with.

As always, there was family talk. Things moved on to biotechnology, temples, architecture and personality development courses.

Close to midnight, we decided to call it a day.

I have always been fascinated by nights. During the frequent power cuts, I would escape along the mud path outside my house to stare at the moon and the stars.

My mom would light up those kerosene lamps made out of stray ends of old bedspreads, an ink bottle full of oil and a whole bag of soot all around, and wave a Competition Success Review at me.

She loved quizzing -- asking questions, that is . She would diligently buy every quiz book around and ask me questions.

She wanted me to be this educated guy they showed in the movies. So every evening, I was given the day's newspaper and a notebook, and was asked to write ten new words in it. She would sit next to me and watch me do my homework even if she didn't understand a word of what I wrote.

The punishments were equally harsh -- she would hit me with whatever she found -- the broom, a red-hot iron rod, broken legs of old chairs.

At nights, she would explain why it was very important for me to study and get the family to a respectable position.

I don't know if I ever understood or if we believed it would happen. That my brother and I would go ahead to earn five or six-figure salaries, close family loans and indulge in luxuries.

At midnight, she would tell me to go to sleep. I had to wake up very early.

It must have been 4.30 am when R woke me up.

Thanks to 23 years of experience, I knew I shouldn't open my eyes.

I raised a hand for him to hold. He carefully took me down to the ground floor, through the twelve polished steps I had counted last night.

He left me in the puja room. I opened my eyes to see a blue-eyed Krishna staring at me.

I could only smile. I wasn't sure I would be able to do it this year.

Yet another year -- mom's going to be proud of me.

Yet, there was this inexplicable disappointment. It is like your second kiss -- you are glad it happened, but realise it will never be like your first kiss!

There's something primordial about the way she closes my eyes and leads me to the hall in the early hours of dawn. There is something about that touch.

With half my senses still asleep, my eyes still closed, I trust her as she leads me to a small wooden bench, sits me down, takes her palms off my eyes slowly and tells me exactly where I had to look.

She takes me through the list of things placed before the pastel-coloured Krishna -- books, rice, flowers, food and every other deity who has an honorary presence around Him.

She gives me a minute to pray and ask for what I want (and tells me what I have to ask for!).

Then she tells me sweetly, it is too early; I can go back to sleep.

I whisper, "Happy Vishu," to her and get back to bed.

My mom called me at 7 am.

Yes! I did the Vishukani [waking up to see the Lord on New Year's Day] this year, too.

I did it by myself during my years in France. This shouldn't really surprise her. But she still feigns cutely and presses me for details.

I leave the phone in the hands of my relatives. Pleasantries are exchanged.

Twenty minutes later, she calls again to ask me whether I gave Shreya, my four-year old niece, her Vishu kaineetam [Vishu kaineetam is a custom where elders give money as gifts to youngsters].

I smile and say yes. She chides me for being tight-fisted, and doesn't believe when I say that is all I had.

The fact that I take this custom seriously probably reaffirms her faith in the way she raised me. The nagging doubt that her son is more a Tamilian than a Malayalee, and that she's partly responsible for the same is quelled. Maybe. 

But I do know the reason I do this every year, beyond all the cynicism that is parcelled with adulthood and professionalism, is I want to remember the touch of my mom's palms on my eyes: the single, most beautiful sensation I have retained since the days I could remember.



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