– May 7, 2004
Today was a special day. Indira, my two and a half year old daughter, received a parcel from Nagoya in Japan. The parcel contained three sweaters with matching caps, hand-knitted for her by the grandmother of Tomi, a little boy who is Indira’s best friend.
Tomi and his mother Fujiko’s becoming a part of our lives has been one of the nicer things that has happened to Indira and me recently. When we met them six months ago at the children’s park in the village we live in, the children took to each other right away while for Fujiko and me, each trying to make a life in a country so distant and different from her own, it has been a real blessing to find each other. So while our toddlers play, we have lots to talk about –the benefits of Japanese seaweed and Indian turmeric; our experience of being older mothers; the inevitable comparisons we both make between Asian values and traditions and Western culture, such as the differences in child-rearing practices; and much else besides.
The sweaters we received today are a gesture of thanks from Fujiko’s family. Some time ago, when my husband made a business trip to Tokyo, she had requested him to bring back a large supply of rice crackers for Tomi and miso paste for her Japanese recipes, because these are things that she doesn’t find here easily. He didn’t take the money for these things from her, so the sweaters are her mother’s way of thanking him on Fujiko’s behalf.
I am overwhelmed by this generosity and plan to call Fujiko’s mother tomorrow, when it is daytime in Japan, to thank her. But in the meanwhile I have made another call. This one was to my own mother because I knew that she would be as delighted by this gift for Indira as my husband and I.
As I got off the phone, I was struck anew by the realization of how much more often I talk to my mother, now that I am one myself. There are some weeks when I call her twice, to share news of Indira’s latest exploits. For I know that my mother takes as much pleasure as I do in all
the little milestones and achievements that mark Indira’s life and indeed in her very being.
It hasn’t always been like this. I spent most of my teenage years and then most of my twenties trying to chart a path quite different from the one that my parents wanted for me. One of the things that drove me was a determination to live my life differently than my mother has done hers. With the benefit of hindsight, and some grown up chats with her, I see that some of her story, of opportunities missed and roads not taken, was born of compromises made in the interest of the family.
But during those rebellious years, my communication with my parents suffered because I was intent upon not allowing them to tell me what to do. Even when we talked, it mostly led to argument.
But these days I talk to my mother more often. I find myself turning instinctively to her in a way that I never did before, for advice and support through all the little crises of parenting. This sometimes makes my mother laugh. Like the fact that though I have always resisted her traditional remedies for my own ailments, they are my preferred form of treatment for Indira’s; a contradiction and a turnaround I could never have believed possible when I was younger.
I suppose I am finally learning to appreciate that what she has to offer is informed by the wisdom of the ages. For instance, she has always stressed the virtues of ghee, claiming it is good for the brain. I used to dismiss the idea, arguing that it contributes only to obesity and heart disease. But after Indira was born and I began to read about childhood nutrition, I found that Western science says too that cholesterol is essential for the development of the brain and the neural system. This discovery, coupled with a growing interest over the years in the science of nutrition and in the Ayurvedic tradition, has led me to acknowledge that there indeed may be something to those traditional remedies. One of the stories my mother now likes to tell about me is of the time she developed a cold when she was visiting me some years ago. She was very amused that I made “besan ki leti” -a very thin halwa made with chick pea flour, ghee, sugar and water which she fed my brother and me through all our childhood bouts with the common cold – and insisted she eat that for relief.
There have been other occasions recently when I have noticed that I am beginning to do a lot of things like my mother. Like the day some weeks ago when, as I was attempting to get off the exercise mat, I heard myself say “Hari Om” in reaction to my aching muscles. That really
startled me. Not only is that something my mother says very often, but I have clear memories of her mother saying this too, while bending or lifting.
So am I becoming my mother? Or is it just that I am getting older?
But I know there is more to this than ageing bones when I find myself rushing around the house, trying to tidy up as the hour that my husband comes back from work approaches. I do this not because of any expectation on my husband’s part, but because it is what I always saw
my mother doing; so that I think I grew up having absorbed a belief that men should be able to come back to a tidy house. I know that my husband – an easy-going soul and the “evolved” kind of male – would laugh if I explained this to him. But there it is.
Then there was the time right after Indira was born. A couple of minutes after the midwife handed her to me, I found myself whispering the Gayatri Mantra to her, as a benediction and as a prayer of thanks to God. I have never been very religious but this is the one prayer I have always heard my mother recite, in times of both great happiness and despair. And in those first moments when I held my daughter, the words came of their own from a place within me I hadn’t known existed.
I knew, too, that I was turning into my mother when I found myself starting work some months ago on a small tapestry to add to the decorations in my little niece’s room. Growing up, I never applied myself seriously when my mother tried to interest me in needlecraft. But I see
now how something like that is often really a labor of love. Like the exquisitely detailed tapestry depicting a bouquet of roses that she embroidered for me, which has hung in my kitchen for years. It is the first decoration I put up every time I move to a new apartment because it has come to be a comforting reminder of her and sometimes when I look up at it, I can almost feel her arm around my shoulder.
As I undergo changes physical and existential that make me into the person that I once thought I never could or wanted to be, I am also beginning to see just how much my parents have always been there for me – regardless of what they may have thought of my choices, though I did not appreciate this as much at the time – and all the ways , big and small, in which I had their unreserved love and support.
That is the kind of love that eventually allowed me to become who I am, though this is something I did not notice when I was busy being a rebel.
Such love is also in the reason that Tomi’s grandmother, as Fujiko explained, made the sweaters for Indira. She said, “My mother is just so happy for us that we have found good friends in you and your family”.
Only a parent feels such pleasure in another’s happiness or shows it in quite this way.
For always standing by me; for showing me the way in so many things and so often for letting me find my own way; for all that I have learned from you; Ma, this one is for you.