A Hundred and Twenty

Posted on March 4, 2013

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It has little to do with a surprise grandchild.
But your mother does not want me in her house when she’s not around.

Not because she’d have to hesitate before doing up your bed, or would be forced to have an explanation for the stray hair the maid found that is simply too long for explanation. It’s not because she would have to avoid the sofa with her crocheted lace doilies, or the friendly inquiring neighbour. Not even because some day, she’ll find herself watching the clothes vigorously spin in the front-loader, and inexplicably blush.

Forget what I see about you. Your mother does not want me to see things about her.

She does not want me to see the hoarded bits of tamarind mush that she hopes to one day use to fight grease. She does not want me to see the crusty coconut grater with old flakes still stuck in the teeth; the walls of her kitchen that she has adorned with blue and white milk packets; or that her one act of wifely defiance is that she uses your father’s erstwhile brown briefs to soak water from the blabbermouth tap.

She does not want me to know you are married to that threadbare razai you’ve had since you were a child, and that your family has a bit of a cholesterol problem, what with the ghee dish having more char and neglect in it than ghee. She does not want me to see her saree blouses unironed, sun-crisp, and inside out, the occasional rust-mangled hook oxidizing some more on the clothesline. She is not yet ready for the intimacy of an all-cloth-brassiere discussion.

Your mother wants me to see you as you, and not necessarily as her son. She does not want me to see the pink talcum she has bought for your manly armpits, nor the mound of your t-shirts that hasn’t been folded because she is not here. She doesn’t want me to see the gods she brought you up under, dressed in last morning’s wilted flowers. Your mother doesn’t want me to know that she is gnawed by worry, about you and your bed that is gnawed by termites, and that her only defense is a Kannada newspaper and cellotape. Not even The Hindu, or a glossy tabloid supplement.

She doesn’t want me to know the secrets of her youth. I am not to see the blackened old cup on the bathroom shelf, and the half-empty Godrej packet in it. I am not to see that she is mortally afraid of dandruff, and consults with three different kinds of oil. She would rather tell me, than let me deduce from the dubious coloured vials, that she believes Ayurveda can cure her of her swollen feet. I am not to know the smell of her from the latest Lux bar at the sink. I am not to know that her molars are false, and have been forgotten at the same sink.

I am forbidden from knowing the corners she cuts for her budget-keeping. That every morning before the mirror, she contemplates between three stickers, and dutifully sticks them back on the mirror before going to bed. That she mends the buttons of her house-cardigan, each mending done absently in different coloured threads. That by her bedside is a vase with plastic flowers that don’t need replenishing, and it’s not like anyone buys her flowers anyway.

Your mother does not want me to know she has left in a hurry to her mother’s house, maybe for a celebration because the cupboard to the Kanjeevarams is still ajar. But it is your duffel bag that she has taken. Maybe because of what your foreign-returned brother has just installed in your father’s That Cabinet.

Your mother wants to be there when I say, “Oh, she plays the veena?” She wants to modestly blush and brush me away with a hand and say, “Used to. Now I’ve lost practice.”  She wants me to sit in the veranda and fuss over my parentage and show me pictures of you as a little boy with long hair and give me an orange and betel leaves to say she loved having me over.

Your mother is not here.
But she wants to hear me tell her that I will leave, and I will be back soon.