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MY NOW TERRIBLY SWEET MOTHER
When I arrived in the city, entered her house and her bedroom, she was sleeping on her back, straight and unmoving like a corpse, covered with a sheet, her arms at her sides. I thought, ‘this is what she’ll look like when she’s dead.’
I opened the refrigerator and there in its sparkling inside was a tray of grapes, sliced melon and chicoos. Wow! Just what I needed after a day of driving and eating nothing. Quite a contrast to the last time I arrived earlier this month from the US and found a few shriveled grapes and a rotten banana. The contrast goes back, way back, when there were no welcoming signs each time I arrived home – no fresh towel hanging in the bathroom, no jug and glass of water in the room, though the room was always, because of her OCD, sparkling, squeaky clean. In fact, one of the last fights my parents had before my dad died was about this. He was bedridden and asked mom if she had put a clean towel and fresh soap in the bathroom. My mom blew up at him for some reason, probably for questioning her about her housekeeping abilities, or reminding her how dear I was to him, or some such thing. He was left shaken and shivering in his bed. My mother herself told this story to me.
My father, on the other hand, always sent a note and fresh fruit and food in a cooler through the driver when I arrived in Delhi, “dearest Kamal, welcome home!”
I greedily ate the fruit and she had woken by then. I gave her ten kisses, and she did not pull away, as if I had the cooties. She just sat there and let me kiss her. The other huge change in her is when I say, ma, I need to go run this or that errand, she says, okay, call Pandit, the driver. Earlier, she would throw a huge fit: you are always going out; you don’t come to visit me, just to do your own work. And, miracle of miracles, she now thinks about me. When I ask her if she needs something from the market, she says, but you are so busy with your own things, I don’t want to burden you. When I told her it wasn’t a burden, she asked me to do several things and thanked me profusely. She had me go to the jeweler to replace a fallen diamond in a ring she wants to give her favorite nephew’s wife; buy panties and bras – “But take the money from me! I won’t have you do my work and pay for it!” Well, she’s more accepting of help from me now. She is almost ready to start receiving, something she has refused her entire life from anybody.
This change has come about not so much by itself with time as a change on my part, too. I have not been the best of daughters, either. Last time I was here she wanted to invite her nephew for the day and wanted me to be present the whole day to chat with him. I refused. I was jet lagged and had too much to do. Besides, I always have to make a trip and buy some barbecued chicken, etc when he comes. But I felt bad about refusing. This time I resolved to take out a whole day to do it. I think it is changes in me that have changed her.
This topic of mother and daughter is a deep one. It deserves a book, if I didn’t already have too many projects.
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