This is one story I always wanted to write but never got down to it because I have so much to say and only so many words to say it in. This story is about my mother.
In one of my favourite pictures of my mother, she is in her early 20s, a teacher, out on an excursion trip with her students. Her suit is the same colour as her skin – pale and wheatish. The wind is playing with loose strands of her hair, rest of which is tied up in a braid falling down up to her waist. She is wearing oversized glasses that sit comfortably on her thin, pointy nose and a little below her sharp cheekbones. She is perched atop a megalithic rock, looking up at the sky, a pose that is reminiscent of her young and carefree days.
The young woman in this picture has already gone through a lot judging by the string of stories that have been told and retold. She has lost her mother to paralysis and her youth to becoming a mother to her siblings. The young woman in this picture has no idea that life will bring her a husband (loving yet eccentrically different from her) and two doting daughters.
I remember whisking away this picture, one afternoon, from our large and unwieldy family album when my mother was not looking. I did not put it in my wallet. I did not place it on my cupboard door. Instead, I tucked it away safely in a book titled Only Love Is Real. Months later, when she asked me about the missing picture, I shrugged because if I told her that I took it with me, I would also have to tell her why. I wasn’t quite prepared for that.
I remember looking at this picture of her’s a lot during my pregnancy. Wondering whether my child too would have a favourite picture of me from my younger days, of who I was before I became her mother.
“You are so much like me”, my mother says ceremoniously.
“I see a lot of me in you too.” I confess.
Particularly when she is sulking. I locate something of myself in the deepened lines on her forehead. It is an echo of my voice that I hear when she is muttering under her breath out of anger. She often reprimands me for exhibiting similar behaviour in front of my daughter, “Speak up, so that we can hear what you’re saying!” I want to tell her I get it from you but I end up muttering that too.
Whenever she is with my daughter, I often find glimpses of that young woman in the picture in my mother. A certain goofiness surrounds her demeanour, they dance, sing and laugh like no one is watching. All parts of her that she let go of when or just because she became a mother.
Behind the etchings of age and motherhood, is a past version of my mother that I long for. I have only come across that version in brief spurts yet it has been there all along. Still is. She can be pestering, disapproving and sentimental all she wants. She is also fiercely brave, insanely comical, eloquent and sublimely generous.
The other day I went upto her and confessed to having stolen her picture and misplaced it too. She looked unpreturbed.
“I knew you had taken it.”
“Then why did you ask me about it?”
“Because I really looked good in that and I thought of putting it up as my Facebook profile picture.”
Almost just like that she became that young woman in the picture again.
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