Friday, 6 May 2016

To You, Ma

(Backstory: There were a few requests to write letters on mother’s day  so I gave it an honest attempt. The problem became glaringly obvious when my mum and her anecdotes sneakily snuck into each one. So I gave up and decided to write one for her instead. Also, it is colossally hard to even attempt to describe how much you can love your mother without making a royal mess or a Hallmark card of it; here’s hoping I've done neither. This picture was taken after she came back from work. Her first question at ("50+  and not a day older") was, “is this for a hand modeling job?”.)

To You

You have a distinct knack of getting under my skin.
I think it’s because you made me, so you know all the secret passages, password protected doors and every emotional loophole in the contract.

What I’m trying to tell you today is that I love you, indescribably, inexplicably, inconsistently and insistently. Let me break that down:

I was five, seven, or nine (only in adulthood have I kept a meticulous track of my age almost willing it to stop) when you came home with four cages with birds and a strange man waiting outside our door, squatting. Your face was beaming with a plan as you hustled me outside. 

Squatted man, bhaiya, looked at us like we were screaming mad or his best cons of the day. Either or. I think my role being outside was only to add legitimacy to your plot.
Hi Bhaiya, look at my innocent daughter. I’m a mother which makes me sane and respectable.

You proceeded to buy ALL his birds and watched hawk-eyed as he transported the birdcages into our living room the window of which opened up to an expanse of sky and a car park below. After shoving inside each cage tiny containers of water and seed, you told me to pick out my favourite bird.

I picked the parrot and you said his name was, “Mithoo”, colloquial Indian name for friendly parrots who are dearly loved. I peered inside Mithoos cage and saw specks of blood and solemnly reported this to you, objectively and with no emotion, already showing promise of a future as a journalist. Quick inspection later you said that Mithoo had worn his beak thin and was bleeding, having pecked away at the wires of his cage. My eyes turned to liquid, watery discs enough to be a small-sized city swimming pool, but I had lost your attention. You turned to the cage and half-sang, half-cooed
Mithooo betaaa

Talking to the bird like it understood you, you somehow stuck your finger into the cage. Horrified, I was convinced in a second that your forefinger would be soon be an ornitho-french fry. Mithoo beta however, suck up that he was rubbed his fat, parrot-green belly against it. Slowly lifting my hand up, you unlocked with it Mithoos wire cage. I gasped and stumbled five steps back. Mithoo did not even blink. You told me to carry on with my 500-piece jigsaw puzzle and Mithoo would be ready, when he was ready. After an hour of watching intently with the corner of my right eye, I saw him tentatively put one claw out and then clumsily flap his wings and half fly, half fall out of his cage.

“Ma, it’s flying.”

I was told to please not to disturb him: did I like anyone watching me practice my Bharatnatyam steps? And soon enough, after flying, perching on a vase, flying and collapsing, excitedly pooping next to our TV remote, perching on the blades of our ceiling fan, flying, perching on the top of the never-dusted bookshelf he eventually flew out of the window and into the sky.
We hugged and clapped spent all afternoon freeing the remaining birds.
Our maid, the next morning, refused to clean what looked like the inside of a giant angry birds cage.

I don’t know why I remember that afternoon so well, of the countless others. You made me name all the birds before we freed them. Too tired to be imaginative I just went with 

Mitthoo 2
Mitthoo 3
Mitthoo 4
And so on.

Why do we have to name them all?
A name is a powerful thing, Kakul. Yours was chosen with love and you’ll carry it no matter where you are, or how old you are. It will set you apart and when someone tells you that it is lovely, tell them the story behind it.

You were 28 years old when you completed your Phd, married and had me a year later. Year28 accomplishments for me have been lying face down across my bed congratulating myself on surviving my commute and wondering how many friendships would continue if I never actually met the people involved because I had zero energy and I was a barely functioning adult.

I left home at 19 and only then did I decidedly conclude that you had probably been sneaking into my room at night like a Wiccan mixing the smell of you into my bones. What else would explain why I carry that smell inside the knots of my stomach when a day turns itself on its head and me with it?
For when I travelled, lived and worked in colder climates you were the sum of all those fat pink bottles of cold cream, cardamom in your morning tea and all the dog-eared old books that fell asleep on top of you, when you did. You were summer, winter, spring and monsoon in India, especially summer.
Why else when friends, heartache, studies, jobs didn’t work out did I crave to just be near you and bury my face into the side of your stomach knowing that no matter how old I got and how many almost failures or complete disasters I stacked up, you’d think I’m perfect and always have a shot at absolute and complete stardom?

They say you get your creativity and insecurities from your mother: but what I got most was your mind, your will and your optimism which was sometimes so deluded I think life gave in due to its sheer audacity.

Growing up you taught me the Latin names of plants while my friends were happy to point out gnarly trees as “the one that ghosts lived under”. Ficus Religiosa: Because my elder brother taught me that when you learn the ecosystem you’re a part of you really understand your place in the world, you’d say.
We learnt how to love plants, art, animals and each other because we couldn’t help it: we were of you. You worked yourself into our lives so seamlessly and cleverly that we don’t know how to function without. Just FYI you’re a microbiologist PhD which is not a real doctor and so your advice on antibiotics should be taken with a pinch of salt or not really at all. 

Yet, all I’ve ever known what to do whenever I’ve fallen sick is call you, report symptoms and wait for further instructions.

That’s how you took care of your father, when you were 19 and he was paralysed with cerebral thrombosis. You'd come home from school, sit by his bedside and read him Ghalib and Mir Taqi Mir while he wrote translations and meanings on a paper for you. That’s what you did, when a few years ago I was heart broken and crying in my room. You sent me an Iqbal poem on text saying:
Abhi sitaaron se aagey jahaan aur bhi hain.

Thank you ma for giving me my ridiculous, weird ideas of life. For teaching me with example that the only way to love a family is to give them space to grow into their own, for knowing so much about kitchen made face packs and having so much disdain about practical complications to achieving ridiculous personal dreams, for consistently talking about the importance of personal hygiene “because millions of microbes live everywhere”, for teaching us to laugh into the face of all paranoia and doing it for us when we couldn’t, for taking all our weird, sullen, ungainly, stubborn bits and turning us into a family.
For never knowing how to tell an anecdote and always starting from, “so back when I was in college, Anita and I,”, for being the girl who experimented with smoking with her brother and his friends and the mother who bragged about it to us years later, whose own heart got broken until she found my goofy (ridiculously cute and Prince Charming to the entire family) Pa, for never learning to keep account of money or keys in her bag, for being the voice in my head and for telling me definitively year after year, “I am telling you, fashion goes in circles. Flared pants will make a comeback.”
You’re right, they did.

With all our love,
Kakul & Mithoo Beta

(To You is a letter writing project I started because there are not enough letters and love going around. If you have something to say with love-- for your ex girlfriend, you current husband, pizza (promise not to make it cheesy), your landlord who let you skip rent or even Ryan Gosling-- I'll write that letter for you. The love letter can go with real names, back stories, as many pictures as you like, aliases and even super powers.
The final letter will be up on my blog and a copy will be handwritten and posted to you or to an intended recipient. Kisses on the envelope only on my discretion. Give me a shout at: )


  1. So very lovely, Kakul!
    Your mom sounds totally badass, btw :)

  2. What an incredibly beautiful ode to an incredibly beautiful mother! Loved reading the piece!

  3. I cried a little and then went and gave my mom a big fat kiss. :)