65 things about my mom

Posted on May 29, 2016

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My mom would have turned 65 on May 30th. Sharing my birthday week with her used to be very exciting when I was younger. Now, it’s the worst thing ever. May is a hard month. My parents wedding anniversary was May 18th and then her birthday, followed by mine. I just feel blue and pissy.

Over the years, I have only written about our struggle with her young onset Alzheimer’s and how it completely ravaged my life. As time passes, the childhood memories are fading and now, the length of time without her has exceeded the length of time I had her. We don’t have many pictures of her and it breaks my heart every day. My mind is playing tricks and a lot of memories – good and bad have been repressed. I was 13 when she was diagnosed. The year she died, she would’ve been 50 and I, 20.

But my mom is more than someone who lived and died with young onset Alzheimer’s. This post is more for me; it is my attempt to force myself to think of her life as she was – before Alzheimer’s, or as I call it, B.A. I don’t know how many I will be able to get.

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  1. My mother’s nick name was Leechu or Litchi, like the fruit.
  2. Her actual name was Zarana, which means waterfall.
  3. She taught kindergarten for 25 years and some of her students are now friends.
  4. She met Lal Bahadur Shastri as a young girl and there was a picture of her interaction framed and kept at her high school for a long time.
  5. She loved Kishore Kumar and cried the day he died.
  6. She was stung by a baby scorpion when she was a teenager.
  7. She was her father’s favourite child. (He told me so when she was very sick.)
  8. Mummy loved coffee and had two cups daily. She taught my sister to make a cuppa when she was just 5.
  9. My parents had a “love marriage,” something unheard of in the 1970s, especially in small town India. (In our circles, my sister and I were probably the ones that came from a cross-cultural marriage. My mother came from a Jain Vaniya family and my father from a Saraswat Brahmin family. )
  10. Her favourite admonishment was, “Don’t get on to my nerves.” I learned to respond with, “Okay, I will get on to your arteries.”
  11. She ate 8 plates of kulfi the day before I was born, and believed that I was a foodie or a hog because of that. (Not true – I was a picky eater. She had to cook me special meals. I am a complete foodie now.)
  12. She learned to speak Konkani, my father’s language, as an adult and people couldn’t believe it wasn’t her native language – great accent too.
  13. Her best friend in college was Shama, who got married on April 1st one year. Mummy didn’t believe her and thought she was April-fooling her; she didn’t go to the wedding! (Years later, Shama Aunty and her daughter visited us, and it was the only time we met her.)
  14. Mummy used to drink a lot of tea once upon a time. When her mother got sick, she took a pledge to go off tea till she (her mom) got better and came home. My grandmother died, and mom never had tea again.
  15. Mummy didn’t grow up speaking or learning English in school. She finished high school at a Gujarati school in Mumbai and learned English too as an adult. The school she taught at was an English-medium school.
  16. Mummy loved the dictionary and taught me to love it too. I was 5 when I learned to use one!
  17. Mummy loved to read. She read us stories in the afternoon in different voices, and thus were sown the seeds of drama and the love for reading (aloud).
  18. Mummy acted in plays in college. Some of her costars are now well-known character actors in Hindi cinema today.
  19. Mummy had terrible vision since she was kid. According to her, she was “blind without her glasses.”
  20. She hated cooking, but was a decent cook. I think she was great and it took me more than a decade to resume eating some of the things she made for me.
  21. Mummy was very close to her brothers and sought their advice and support at every stage in life. (When she was sick, she would threaten us by saying she would tell them we were troubling her. She would call out to them and cry. I was a horrible child to her.)

(I am in tears. This is hard. Very hard.)

  1. She had chosen alternative names for me – “Aarohi” or “Urvashi”.
  2. My father was the love of her life. She hated it when we got mad at him or murmured negative things about him.
  3. My mother was devout woman and worshipped Shaktima. She chanted two mantras twice daily 108 times each. We were not allowed to speak during that time. If we broke her reverie, she would start again.
  4. She was pen pals with some of her students for years after she was done being their class teacher.
  5. She took children camping. She used to call every white bird, “egret,” because she didn’t know their actual names.
  6. She was fascinated by the saras crane and told us proudly how they mate for life and if one mate dies, the other one will too! (Not sure if this is true, or romanticized by her!)
  7. Her best friend in adult life was Radha Aunty, whom she met through her work at the school. Together, they were mayhem. They would get together and tell us ghost stories and make us cry. They would laugh evilly after.
  8. My mother’s favourite festivals were Navratri and Holi. She loved to dance and loved getting coloured royally during Holi.
  9. Every December, she would make us fill out this huge wall year planner thingy with every Tom, Dick and Harry’s birthday, anniversary, etc. She would make us send cards to them too. Even now, I remember birthdays of people whom I haven’t seen in 20 years and probably wouldn’t recognize on the street!
  10. Mummy and her father, whom I called Bapuji, wanted to visit Mt. Kilimanjaro. They would talk about it and I had no idea it was in Africa. They way they would talk made me believe it was somewhere close. Mom never had a passport and never made it out of India, EVER!
  11. She wrote letters to my dad when he travelled a lot. He used to be gone for 3 weeks at a stretch in the 1980s and phones were expensive, plus there was never any privacy at home, so they wrote letters to each other. I haven’t found these letters ever. I wish I did! I have cleaned her cupboard tens of times since.
  12. She used to call me a “golden spoon,” which I thought was a good thing. Apparently what it meant was, “Chamchi,” someone who sucks up to other people. (I used to go repeat all the conversation she would have to my grandparents, which she hated!)
  13. She used to joke with me about jumping into her funeral pyre and promised me she would do the same if I died before her. It’s a shame I couldn’t even go to the funeral home as it is against Hindu customs.
  14. She was a woman wise beyond her times. She talked to us about sexual abuse and told us that our own father or grandfather could be perpetrators. She talked to us about good touch and bad touch constantly.
  15. When I was in the 7th grade, I asked her what a condom was and she responded to me very factually.
  16. Mummy made me realize when I had my first crush. She told me so!
  17. Mummy had terrible issues with PMS. I learned that term when I was three, but thankfully had to experience it only in my 20s.
  18. Mummy had terrible headaches, which my sister seems to have inherited. She taught me to massage her head and every time I did it, she would say, “Tara jevu toh bhagwan be nai,” which means, “Even God isn’t as nice as you.”
  19. Apparently, I took her care of her one time when she contracted Malaria. It is said that I stayed up a couple of nights putting cold towels on her forehead. She never forgot that. She kept telling me about it when she began to get sick. She said no one cared for her like I did. (She is wrong – my father and my sister did, and still do!)
  20. She always stressed on the importance of education. She didn’t care if we didn’t top our class, but always wanted us to do reasonably well. She would say that we didn’t have brothers to support us, so we would need to educate ourselves so that we could get jobs and stand on our two feet.
  21. My mom was a terrible singer as am I. A complete contrast to my dad and sister. She consoled me when people asked me to stop singing. She would say, “Somebody needs to be in the audience. We will do that for them.”
  22. Mummy used to bite her nails. Once one of my teachers tried to complain to her that I bit my nails a bit too much, and stopped mid-sentence when she saw mum biting her nails as she sat listening in rapt attention to the rant.
  23. Mummy was very passionate about our long hair. She would soak herbs (aamla and areetha) for a few days and then wash our hair on Sunday with it.
  24. Mummy had mostly black hair, but a patch of white hair in the front. She had burnt it while experimenting with a new shampoo or hair colour, or some such thing. She stopped colouring that hair and said it looked distinguished on her. Very confident lady, that woman!
  25. She had a passion for alternative treatments. She would use mud packs (Multani mitti) and soak dried black grapes overnight. All this to get great skin.
  26. She had a huge birthmark on her left cheek. She used to say, “It’s a luck mark.”
  27. For some reason, she was very adamant that my sister and I learned to swim. She used to take us a great distance to learn swimming. I am very grateful, but cannot understand the vehemence.
  28. My mom wanted me to be a distinguished woman. She encouraged me to pursue more un-ladylike interests and almost pushed me to learn the tabla.
  29. She encouraged me to write and often collected the loose sheets of paper on which I would scribble some childish verse.
  30. She also traumatized me by slapping me hard for lying about some inane thing to my peers. She slapped me again when I told her I was scared to cross the busy main road outside our home. (For years after that, crossing the street would make me sweat, and my heart skip a beat!)
  31. Her favourite games to play were standing kho-kho in a large group and Antakshari in big groups and small.
  32. Mummy was a decent rummy player. Neither my sister nor I inherited the patience or the skill for it.
  33. When I was about six, we went on a family picnic with her extended family to a huge park. I got lost. She was very proud of me because I did what she had taught me. Find an adult and ask them to help you.
  34. She was a bundle of contradictions. She encouraged me to play sports and even get rough, but hated it when I hurt myself. She always taunted me saying my legs were going to be full of marks from injuries and I would never be able to wear short skirts.
  35. When I told her I wanted to wax as a 15-year old, she advised me not to. She said I barely had any hair. I should have listened to her. I really didn’t have any hair. Neither did she. Barely any, especially on her arms!
  36. She taught me to catch and release cockroaches – her Jain beliefs in action here. She would be horrified when I would kill them. Important life skill, I say!
  37. She learned to sew and made clothes for us when we were young. I have this romantic notion that I will too, one day!
  38. One Christmas, she made us choose presents and then put them in our stocking and said Santa came and put them there. WHAT? How stupid did she think we were?! HA HA. I still remember what I chose. It was a giant tube of Gems (like M&Ms).

(Wow. I got 59! But seriously have nothing more!)

  1. I had wanted to become a psychiatrist when I was younger. She had said becoming a clinical psychologist might be better suited for my personality. Spot on. My parents were not academically oriented. I hadn’t even heard of TISS, eventually my alma mater. One morning, in 2002, I woke up from a dream where my mom said, “You should go to Tata Institute.” Crazy!
  2. She gave tuitions on the side to earn a little extra cash. Money was tight. But I didn’t know it. She never let us ever feel the pinch.
  3. She organized the funnest birthday parties. She got Tiru Uncle to bring monitor lizards and cobras for show-n-tell to our birthdays. Another time, she organized a picnic at Sundarvan, a nature-themed park.
  4. She told me my nose was like Monalisa’s and to wear closed and tight shoes so that my feet would be petite (and they are – impossible to find a shoe that is the perfect size!)
  5. She wore these photochromatic glasses – clear in the shade and turned dark in the sun. I decided to get them for myself last year and Sid said I look like an old lady. Dyam, she never looked old in them!
  6. She predicted that she would, “die just like her mother did, at a very young age.” Her mom died when she was 51. Mummy was 49.

(Thank you for reading. This has to be the hardest thing I have done in a long time. But I am glad I did. It was nice to remember her like she was. The image in my head is distorted. I really wish, I could paint a better picture of who she really was. The truth is, I struggle to know who she really was.)

Happy 65th Mummy!

 

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Posted in: memoirs