From her choice of saree to her cooking, there wasn’t much Niharika appreciated about Ma. Her mother’s natural way of being friendly with everyone and her efforts to please one and all, were traits Niharika wanted to avoid at all costs. Ma had patience that was so unreal that it made her almost throw up at times.
One memory of her childhood etched in Niharika’s mind was when as a five-year-old, she had tried hard to evoke a response from her young 21-year-old mother. Every time Ma squeezed water out of the laundry and kept it aside to dry on a cold winter afternoon, Niharika would dip it back in the bucket of water and then giggle.
Ma would look back at her, smile a little and calmly go back to squeezing out the water again. She must have repeated her “funny” act at least ten times that day but not for once did Ma show any signs of getting perturbed.
Growing up, there were so many instances when Ma could have shouted at her, stop talking to her or even hit her, but no, nothing unsettled her in the least. Papa was always the serious kind and maintained the fine balance between family and work life. Niharika had never seen or heard them argue loudly. Their love was exceptional, not because it lacked passion, but because it was way too gentle.
One particular night, she heard some noise downstairs and was excited about the prospect of witnessing some action finally. But unfortunately and to her utter embarrassment, she witnessed another kind of “action” in the dark. Action, not many children are keen on even thinking about, when it comes to their parents.
But Ma’s composure was seriously hard to miss, especially during the toughest of times. Like when Nanu passed away or when a neighbor barged into our house to abuse and physically hurt Papa over a misunderstanding. Or when Ma’s younger sister who she was closest to, died after battling cancer for ten years. Niharika could never understand this calmness and what was the source of it all. She strongly believed that one must respond with passion to any kind of emotional experience, be it positive or negative.
Her feminist ideals had taught her that women are conditioned by the society to act demure and timid, while suppressing their true feelings. But Ma wasn’t any of this and yet, she had never seen her react in extremes.
Did she not feel empowered enough as a housewife to react naturally to situations? Did she train herself to just accept everything that came her way with a smile? The impassioned daughter never wanted to be like her mother. She had promised herself to remain the fervent girl who knew how to respond to her innermost feelings.
A violent and abusive marriage, her career as a marketing executive coming to a standstill and a 2-year-old to take care of – a lot had happened in Niharika’s life in the last four years. Today, as she sat on the edge of her bed, while the toddler played with her LEGO, she felt lost.
Where did she go wrong? Will she ever feel like her old self again? As her daughter tried to hold her to stand upright and hug her for the 20th time since morning, she gave a violent jerk and slapped the little girl hard. The daughter was crying in an instant. But instead of soothing her, Niharika ran inside the bathroom, locked herself up and looked at her reflection in the mirror.
“Why can I not be more like you Ma?”
It took her 15 more minutes to gain composure as the toddler banged on the bathroom door incessantly.