My Mother’s Tongue.

I’ve been thinking a lot about languages lately. Hence.

***

My mother’s tongue comforts me on days
I yearn for familiarity –
Words, feelings, colours that come to me even in my sleep,
Subconscious-awakening, fed to me with
Breast-milk,

And then when I was a little older,
Sambhar mixed with rice, one handful, one kaipidi at a time,
By world-weary hands stained with manjal.

(“Protects you from cancer”, Amma used to say,
She, who would, years later, survive chemotherapy drinking
Milk laced with turmeric, still, still believing)

When I say “my mother’s tongue”,
Really,
I am referring to my mother’s culture, her beginning,
Her mother’s beginning,
Ancient, fiery, pulsating,
Like the colour red that dances between my mother’s eyebrows
Her pottu, that she never leaves the house without.

(“Wear your mangalyam with pride”, she tells me, the
wayward daughter who forgets more than she remembers,
forgets, forgets, until – )

The days when the belonging disappears,
When the brown skin is always reminded of its colour,
When English, the deserting friend, the language of the adopted
Slips through my fingers no matter how hard I
Try to hold on to, because,
It has never been mine, never will be.

When I stand on the outside, looking in, trying, trying,

My mother’s tongue comforts me on days
I yearn for familiarity –
Words, feelings, colours, that come to me even in my sleep,
Subconscious-awakening, fed to me with
Breast-milk,

And time-tested love.
***

Notes from a Bus Ride

In the bus: a little Indian girl and her father are sitting across from each other. The child is tired, her little feet dangling in the air, red velcro sandals swinging gently as she slips into slumber.

Her father watches her as she nods off a little more violently, her little body lurching with sleep.

He tries to wake her up. Her eyes open blurrily for a second, she nods without processing what her father says and falls back asleep again.

This time her father scoops her up into his arms, holding her close as she curls into him and continues sleeping.

I have no doubt that one day, this little girl will grow up to see a similar scene in a bus and smile, remembering her father. Just like how this grown up girl, who’s witnessing this scene, smiles.

And she will furiously type into her phone to capture this memory, before life shifts it into a corner of her brain where she will forget.

It is this safety that we seek in love. The safety of letting our guard down, and trusting that the person/people we love, will hold onto us when we are barely able to hold onto ourselves.

Sometimes love really is as simple as that.

Mother.

It is another Sunday afternoon. My father and I have just returned from the gym. I can barely feel my legs as I lower myself onto the floor, by the sofa where my mother is seated. She is perusing the newspapers for the day- her morning ritual, reading out parts of articles that amuse her.

It is the 8th of May 2016.

This time last year, my mother was fighting for her life in the CCU Unit in a derelict hospital in Varanasi. I was away at that time, traveling through the less explored parts of China. I only knew about her condition when I landed in Singapore several days later. I still remember receiving the call from my father, telling me to make the necessary arrangements to come down as soon as possible because he didn’t know if my mother was going to make it.

I was 24 years old, and my mother was dying in a hospital very far away from me.

There are some moments in your existence where life makes sure that you are aware of your priorities very, very quickly. It is like a shock to your system – a violent, tumultuous shift of tectonic plates somewhere deep inside your soul that forces you to remember exactly what is important in life, exactly what matters most.

My life has been filled with those moments, and most of them have to do with my mother. To cut a long story short, I made it to India in time, my mother eventually made it out alive, and here we are today, her methodically reading her papers, and me sitting on the floor after a hectic morning workout.

My mother mispronounces a word and I quickly correct her, my voice laced with irritation. This is not an unusual occurence.

I wrote several days ago that I am very unforgiving of home. What I really meant to say was, I am very unforgiving of my mother. I expect perfection from her, in her deeds and in her thoughts, because to me, my mother is the pinnacle. She’s it. If she falters, then what more can one expect from mere mortals, random strangers, friends?

(A deeper fear is, if she falters, then what more can I expect from myself, her daughter, who is so far removed from all that she is?)

I don’t know how to rationalise these expectations. So instead, I unleash my derision on her. Picking on her for little things. Getting angry when there is no reason to be. Etc. Etc.

You would think that as someone who has nearly lost her mother several times in her life, I would have more perspective (what happened last year is just the tip of the iceberg that is my mother’s fantastical, almost miraculous life). But, I forget. It is easy to take for granted someone who gives unconditionally. It is easy to take for granted someone who is so good at what she does, and who she is – be it keeping the house clean, managing the finances, having excellent aesthetic sense, giving advice, etc – that it is easy to forget that she too is human, with her mood swings, her good and bad days, her insecurities, her infinite human complexes.

It is easy to let the little things cloud the bigger picture.

This period since I’ve been back home has been an exciting, sometimes turbulent, mostly joyful experience of getting to know my mother as the woman she is. It has been a journey of rediscovery, and a renewal of a relationship that has seen its fair share of wear and tear. It has been a journey of detaching enough to understand that my mother is her own woman, as much as I am my own woman. Our personalities are very similar, and yet, so different. Acknowledging the similarities and taking pride in that has been my journey. Acknowledging the differences and accepting that her daughter is her own person, has been her journey.

On most days, we meet in the middle, and laugh at each other. On other days, we yell at each other, our quick tempers rising to the fore and abating, with one of us eventually conceding and raising the peace flag.

And so life goes on, my mother and I walking our paths together, yet separate.

And today, there is only gratitude, that we have both arrived at this together, and that we will both continue together.

What more can any daughter ask for?

Happy Mother’s Day, dearie. For everything that you are, and for everything you’ve taught me to be.

 

image

Musings.

Musings.

***

I suppose one thing remains true:

We are all afraid of getting hurt.
We are all afraid of putting ourselves in a position where we can be rejected by another; when the reactions to this rejection are beyond what we have carefully planned for ourselves.
We are afraid of losing control.
I have realised that the person who needs my own advice the most, is me.
“Learn to let go”
“Give up these expectations that you have of other people”
“Remember that no one person can plug the love-holes (no, not that one, the others) in your life.”
“You cannot wait be waiting for absolutes all your life”
“The search for perfection is futile”.
Etc, etc.
Sometimes, I forget that the words I keep repeating oft are not the ones that others need to hear; these are the words that I need to internalise more, to believe more, so that maybe, I will feel better, feel better about
the fear
the loneliness
the rejection
the possibility of happiness
or otherwise.
There are no coincidences in life.
People don’t come and go from our lives by chance. The roles they have to play have  come a full circle – the necessary exchanges have been rightfully conducted. Exit stage left, because a new beginning is waiting, waiting to enter.
Learn to let things go with grace.
Learn to invite people in with grace.
Learn that hurt too, is made better with grace.

On how Love colours Dark Things.

Sharing a few thoughts on Dark Things by Sukanya Venkatraghavan

***

Dark Things by S. seemed like the best book to read after the heavyweight that was Rahman’s In The Light of What We Know (which I have still not grasped in its entirety, but this story is for another day).

After all, Dark Things was described to be about fantasy, and romance – two genres that I had steadfastly avoided in the last few years. It seemed like the best thing to lose myself in, a world that was fictitious and in characters that did not exist.

How foolish I was.

Someone once told me that in every fictitious tale, lies a smidgeon of reality, a reality that you don’t even comprehend fully, until it is right in your face, staring at you, demanding you to deal with it. This reality does not take excuses for an answer. It is a reality that wants you to know that truth always finds you, even if you refuse to see it, once, twice, however many times.

Perhaps, this is the best descriptor that I can provide, as I finished this book.

Dark Things is about many things, but ultimately, it is about love. (Just like life, I suppose. Life is about many things, but ultimately, it is about love).

There is a love story that is explicit, that which transpires between Dwai and Ardra. It is right there. It is not that complicated, it begins in the early chapters of the story, and it lasts till the end of the book. But this is not the love story that demands one’s attention in this novel.

There is another relationship that never quite begins, and never quite ends, between Dara and Ardra. A relationship much more complicated, much more real, much more relatable, and one that has no conclusion even as one draws to the end of this tale.

Because it speaks of a love that was, until it wasn’t. A love that wasn’t, until it was.

How can feelings, that have never been acknowledged, ever come to fruition? And yet, are these feelings any less real?

All of us carry these tales close to our hearts. Of the loves that we wished we had done something about. Of the people we yearn for, but can never return to. Of the things that we could have said, but didn’t. Of all the ships which have sailed, of all the memories that remain in the harbour.

It is so difficult to name this particular brand of love, because it is one that we have never quite owned, one that was never truly ours. And yet, perhaps, because of this very fact, this is the love that will always remain with us, because it is a love laced with freedom.

And if love should be anything, it should be that. It should be free.

This was that smidgeon of reality in Dark Things that caught me by surprise.

Because it is easy to forget, in this day and age, where life is about ownership, where relationships are about claiming and staking, that what is free and gone, is probably what will remain with us forever, however ironic that may seem.

In the concluding chapter of this novel, Ardra says that she can never quite return Dwai’s love the way he deserves to be loved (I presume she meant, as completely and wholly as he felt for her). And this is because of Dara. What she had with him, which was really, what she didn’t have with him.

This was another smidgeon of reality that demanded my attention.

Most times, we do not end up with the people who have us completely. We end up with the people whom we meet at  a particular leg of the journey, who get to have the most of what we have to offer, to share, to experience. We are incomplete; the love we share, mostly complete.

And this is how our (love) stories will also come to a close. Never quite finished. A continuum. Just like life.

And perhaps, if we remember this a little more fervently, we will come to accept this passing of feelings a little better.

Read this book, and meander through your own memories of what is, and what isn’t.

dark things

*picture is not mine*