Comfortably Numb

Sheila Kumar's Storehouse

Published on: 02/14/13 9:10 AM

Feature: When Did I Become That Mom?

When did I become that mom?

It’s well past midnight and SK and I are as tense as a pair of wound-up violins.

Our daughter, our only child, had called  an hour ago to tell us she was setting off homewards … and home is just a 15-minute drive from where she was.

We were serial-calling her frantically on her cellphone and getting the ‘unable to connect’ message. By the time she walked in (and no, you don’t want to know the time), my usually calm husband and I had long passed the meltdown stage. Speechless, we stared at her. She raised her eyebrows theatrically. “What? My phone died on me, ” she informed us. “And, guys, you know I can take care of myself. ”

Actually, she can. Because she is twentysomething, holds down a job and drives herself all around the city with aplomb. But,  and here’s the rub: she lives with us.  And of course, we were just being true-to-type Indian parents: the sort who just can’t let go. No, let me get my spouse off  this hook: I am fast becoming the parent who just can`t let go.

There is a lot of truth  in the clichêd portrait of the Indian mother, she of the multifaceted legend: creator/destroyer (of ego?)/ comforter/confidante… and The One Who Never Lets Go. You’ve seen illustrations of this creature, haven’t you? Like Michelangelo’s David, she has a wondrously strange smile on her lips. Seen from one side, it’s an uplifted smile of pure pleasure. Seen from the other side, it’s a contorted lip line, hinting at some dark pain.

Did I say it’s a trait endemic to Indian mothers? Not true, otherwise why would Roger Waters have immortalised the Demon Mother in the cult song from the Another Brick in the Wall album? And OMG, with that I have realised I just turned from one who sang the song with the right amount of resigned bitterness to the one who is vilified in the same song! Excuse me while I go into a deep decline.

The point is, the dice is always loaded against the parent. Manipulation of the aforementioned progenitor comes as easy as breathing to offspring and they hone that skill as they grow older but not necessarily wiser.

When they want to, the kids seamlessly revert to 20-going-on-12. ‘Where is my favourite blue stole’ (that’s the one which is never washed, of course); ‘How come there’s no peanut butter in the fridge’; ‘Why is there onion in my French onion soup’ (yeah, some kids are more eccentric than others); ‘I’d left a button on my table top a week ago, I don’t see it there now’ …the whines come thick and fast, decidedly unmusical in tenor.

And as a true-blue desi mother, you immediately sprout six additional arms, seeing to everything at once. This doesn’t do much for your sex appeal but it does impart a self-righteous glow.

The same kids then transmogrify into one of Lady Gaga’s not-so-little monsters and ask why you were snooping in their cupboards. Which part of privacy can’t you like, get?“

“Why do you get so dashed hyper every time I am a little late coming home?“

“Why you have hung mint green curtains in my room, never once factoring in  that I loathe all shades of green?!“

When this litany starts, you find yourself recalling Woody Allen’s parents with more than a touch of envy, the  very same couple who waited till their son, fifteen at the time as he tells it, went round to the corner shop for some milk, and immediately let his room out on rent.

The prevailing situation is also harbinger of another kind of generation gap. It’s the chasm that stretches between the person you were — heavy on the blue liner, groovy, rebel with many a cause, you know? — and the person you have become — Monica, the control freak from the Friends sitcom, one who wishes for neatly-made beds and clean-ish cupboards above all else, one who straightens cushions everywhere, anywhere.

You shriek, “Eeeek, when did I become that person ?” even as Roger Waters drones `Welcome to the machine,` in the background.

And so it was one happy day when my sole joy and treasure, my daughter and heiress (well, she does get to inherit all those Westerns and Georgette Heyers) announced that she was off to live on her own.

I immediately split into two. The Indian mother struggled to come to the fore, making lists of what her child will need, where she could buy her bedlinen (not green, of course) and whether quinoa was better than amaranth as cereal for people-in-a-hurry.

The other self, the real me, that one was channelling the ad where laddoos phootoed in her mind.

Epiphany: letting go is never easy. For the Indian parent. Or the Indian child. Just saying….

This ran in TOI-CREST on 29 Sept 2012.

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Sheila Kumar • February 14, 2013

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