Special days should be celebrated with family and friends. Birthday moments that touch you with their joy and the feeling of warmth are especially important, for they leave you with a sense of well-being. But it’s equally necessary to look at these moments in a prism that makes up the good and the less-than-desirable.
I know the generally wide extremes that celebrating a day like this evokes: the ones who gladly share their feelings about it and the ones who turn up their noses at the idea of expressing your love for your loved ones on social media. I’ve decided to toe the middle line and do it on my blog, because it’s my diary and one of the best ways I have of recording my emotions for quite possibly, the largest influence in my life.
A blog post isn’t enough to do justice to the man I call ‘Appu’. Yes, that’s what my sister and I call him. Why? Because, as a kid, I couldn’t say ‘Appa’ but Appu rolled off my tongue so naturally that my dad fell in love with it and forbade anyone from changing it. So, Appu it has been for all these years.
Appu, how shall I even begin to talk about everything you mean to me? A list may help, perhaps, but know that it isn’t exhaustive at all. How about a series of short anecdotes? I know you love stories so let’s give this a whirl.
Remember that time I had that terrible abscess on my back which required surgery and that night the painkiller wore off and I couldn’t sleep, crying as I did through the excruciating agony? You sat by my bed singing bhajans for two hours. Who else would have done that for me?
What about the time I waited anxiously for my A-level results and was devastated to learn that I’d ‘failed’ in a subject? I’d already completed a year of college by then and was terrified of not being able to continue. You convinced me that if that was meant to be, it wouldn’t matter and you’d be my side as I explored other options.
I’ll never forget the expression on your face when I had to sit on your lap for the kanyadhaanam ceremony during my wedding. You were worried if you could take my weight (thanks a lot!) but you managed to smile through it all (painfully obvious as it was.)
If I learnt about prayer and love from Amma, I learnt about questioning everything with compassion from you. Venturing into the spiritual journey became immensely simpler just by watching you. How you introduced me to the works of great writers and thinkers (Krishnamurti, Wodehouse, Neale Donald Walsch and so many more) is something I will always treasure.
We talk about everything under the sun and I do mean everything! I’ve always admired the completely calm way in which you addressed things which may have been considered taboo for a dad to discuss with his daughters but you haven’t shied away from them. Not once. That openness, that ability to always speak the truth, come what may, bonds us together more than you know.
Then, we have all our inside family jokes, just the four of us, that the world wouldn’t understand and that secrecy of chuckling together every time we meet is so precious that I cannot put it down in writing.
We have our standing joke of ‘Let me tell you two things’. It’s always two, isn’t it? Never one and never three; just two. But those two things are enough to make me ponder and reflect on everything we speak about.
During my depression phase, I remember you sitting me down one day, when I had a wave of self-pity wash over me and in the gentlest of tones you said, ‘I know this is hard and you feel you don’t deserve this. Remember though, that this will make you stronger, much stronger than you consider yourself right now. And you will learn that every stumbling block in life takes you further on your spiritual path.’
Appu, your love is one of the most amazing things Sindu and I have had the fortune to experience and I am grateful every single day for the forces that destined you’d be our dad. I pray for a healthy, happy life for you today and every day.
Today’s story is not fictional though and it began 15 years ago, on this date, to be exact. Every year, on the 4th of February, the man I married greets me with ‘Happy Anniversary’. It’s uncanny how he never forgets this day considering every other date in the calendar, including his own birthday, is something he never remembers. The best part is that it isn’t the day we got married.
It’s the day we met for the very first time.
Ours is a very traditional story with a bit of an unusual twist or two. It was an arranged match and V had come over with his folks to meet me at my home. The first unusual twist is this: I knew his sister very well because we had studied together in college. For 3 years. In fact, it was she who’d suggested that I’d be a good fit for V. Who knew that people would be recommending me for marriage? That was the first twist!
Second and although nobody believes this, I swear it’s true. I had never met V before this particular day, although I’d visited their home a few times when in college. As it turned out he was away studying in another city and was never at home when I dropped by. In fact, I even remember telling my sister-in-law that I thought she only had one brother! Turns out she had two, who knew?
I recall the mutual nervousness that we had upon meeting each other but the casual almost informal way we managed to slip into conversation. The fact that we clicked may have unnerved V a little though since I couldn’t stop talking for the 2 hours that we spent on lunch!
There were many things about him that engaged me at first glance- his smile, his easy conversational tone, his shrug of the shoulders when he didn’t want to argue further and the twinkle in his eyes as he watched me talk about my passions, my dreams and my future. Yes, I know we’d just met, but there was something about him that made it very easy for me to talk freely. Don’t judge me!
At the end of the day, we parted ways, promising to keep in touch since I had to go back to finish my thesis for the next two months. He warned me not to expect too much correspondence because he wasn’t much of a letter writer. So, it was with a very pleasant smile that I received the first card of his on Valentine’s Day. The guy was a romantic! I recall being mercilessly teased by my roommates for having my head in the clouds and they plugged their ears in mock agony when I began to talk about ‘Mr.Right’.
That card was followed by letters- long, lovely, rambling letters that were pieces of his soul written with so much care that I choked up, reading and re-reading each one. This time was also punctuated with languid phone calls that stretched for over two hours at a time. If you ask me now what we talked about, I honestly cannot recall, except for once when I sang a song over the phone!
It was much, much later that I would find out more about this person- how he never believed in gifting people on birthdays and anniversaries, how he would always speak his mind and how he’d show me he cared, in more incredible ways than I can describe.
It isn’t everyday that an arranged match turns into a loving relationship where each person respects the other for who they are and grow together as a couple. Of course, we’ve had our ups and downs like any marriage. In fact, a lot of our interests are very varied. He loves to cook while I do it only out of necessity. He reads very different books from the kind I enjoy. We have distinct hobbies that keep us happy. But, in a strange way, it works: this acceptance without too much expectation.
Writing this all down will help me preserve the memory of this day for a long time to come and I hope that some time in the distant future, when Gy asks about the love story that brought her parents together, she will read this and smile, the way I do even today when I think about it.
I have always felt that our love for our parents/ significant others must transcend the limitations of a single day. But, today is as good a day as any to think about three gifts my Mother has given me and perhaps share them with my daughter as well as my readers.
I live in the same city as my mother. We live about 40 kilometres away and given the snarling traffic on one hand and the paucity of time on the other, we don’t get to see each other as often as I would like it. Given the fact that I work from home and run a lot of errands through the day, I hardly get time to even pick up the phone and talk to her more than twice a week.
But, my mom always showed me that it is not in our words but in our actions that we communicate the best. I remember being really low one particular day and I couldn’t really put my finger on it. In desperation, I picked up the phone and dialled my mother’s number. When she answered, my sobs were the only things that went through. She listened as I cried my eyes out and after I was done, gently asked, ‘Are you feeling better?’ I gulped and said, ‘Yes but I don’t want to talk about it.’ I could hear her smile as she said, ‘We don’t always need words. I am here for you.’
I’ll take whatever you give me
It was a month after Gy was born and I remember being severely sleep-deprived. At one point, it got so bad that I almost dropped Gy during a nursing session. My mom was right there and rushed to take Gy from my arms. Half angry, half defiant, I lashed out at her, saying, ‘I can manage! Thank you!’ She said nothing but helped me sit up and finish the feed. Grumpy, I rolled back and fell into a deep sleep.
When I awoke the next morning, I recalled that I had been unduly harsh and guiltily asked for forgiveness. My mother smiled, hugged me and said, ‘I know you didn’t mean it. I’ll take whatever you give me, because deep down, I know you love me. Just as much as I love you.’
Growing up, I have gone through my share of heartbreaks, broken friendships, soured relationships and bad arguments. After each of these incidents, I would sit with my mom, in the kitchen, while she cooked and I’d pour my heart out, as she listened with patience and understanding. The granite slab on the kitchen counter was my favourite place at the end of a long day. It seemed to support me physically as my mom did emotionally. After listening to my tirade against an ‘insensitive’ friend, she would wait for me to pause and then say, ‘ I guess she must be feeling as bad about it as you do. Don’t hold on to the anger. It will only harm you. There is great joy in forgiving and loving unconditionally.’
As I sat there, listening to the kindest woman in the world tell me this in the warmest way, I could not help but think I must have done something wonderful to be able to call her Amma.
Amma, you are my inspiration, my succour, my love and my life. You are my best friend, the one I can share my darkest secrets with. You are my rock of Gibraltar, against whom I have leaned all these years through my lowest moments. You have hugged me, loved me, advised me and taught me more than any other teacher on this planet.
Although I may not say it often, I want you to know, for me, every day is Mother’s Day.