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So much of woman talk is body talk. We spend an incredible amount of time dissecting our bodies, and then dissecting the bodies of other women we see. This is not always a malicious act; most times, it is a non-passionate, objective commentary of what we find attractive in each other.

There is something intimate in the way in which women prepare their bodies. The care they take towards putting their best faces forward; the time they take to pick what suits them best. Some of my favourite memories of my mother, especially as a young child, was watching her dress for an event, brushing her hair away from her face, clipping her earrings on. She never spent too much time, but what time she did spend, was spent wisely, carefully, tenderly.

I learnt young, that body talk, in essence, is politic talk. We spend so much time talking about our bodies because it is by which we are first and foremost, assessed. It is by which, (and this is a sorry fact, but it is what it is) how we assess ourselves. Eventually, if we are among the fortunate few, we begin to understand that our bodies become our first books, pages and pages in which we write our stories, carry our experiences that we have shared with our sisters, our mothers and our lovers. Our bodies will be what draw these women and men to, and away from us.

***

I once remember a lover staring at me in the afternoon light, in the early days of our coming together. He stared at me, as if he had never before seen a woman, and I remember the wonderment in his eyes, and the reverence in his fingers. It may have been the magic of light that hasn’t settled (as afternoon light is wont to do), or it may have been the tender feelings that softly oscillated between love and lust during those early days, but I remember looking at him looking at me, and thinking to myself I could have asked anything of him, anything, then, and he would have said yes.

I did not ask him anything that day, or for days afterwards. And when I did ask him, finally, the most important question of all, it was too late.

By then, my body, like my heart, had started withdrawing.

I’m convinced (especially as I grow older) that the real beginning is the middle.

Not that I am anywhere close to the middle of anything – I have neither lived long enough, nor done anything long enough to truly understand the tedium of moving towards the middle.

As time passes, though, I suppose I experience more and more, the middle of things.

The middle of a book, the middle of a song, the middle of the week (Wednesdays, days of part hope and part despair, depending on which side of the bed you wake up that morning), the middle of a relationship (no one, hardly anybody talks about the middle of any relationship, maybe because one does not want to think of the end of it, but….do you have to know the end, to understand the middle?), and so on and so forth.

***
Today, in the middle of a walk – the sweet smell of a particular brand of soap used to wash clothes.

The last time I had encountered this smell was in a lover’s home; he had passed me his T-shirt to wear for the night, and as someone deeply inspired by smells, I had pressed my nose into the sweet-smelling garment and taken a deep, deep breath.

When I told him how wonderful his shirt smelt, he looked at me in surprise, and told me that it was the first time anyone had ever told him that. 

Later that morning, when I left his place, I buried my face in his chest and took a deep, deep breath, trying to memorise the feel of his arms around me, and the feeling of being surrounded by all that warmth and the beautiful smell of clean clothes. 

I didn’t know then, that I was trying hard to capture something to survive a loss.

That time, it was not the middle. It was almost the end of things. 

***

The smell disappeared into the morning air, and I continued walking, still, still, somewhere in the middle of things.

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.
***

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.

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.

 

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