On Mother’s Day, reflection on an invisible mother

By Indira Laisram
Representational image. Photo by Bence Halmosi on Unsplash

Mother’s Day these days comes with so much of resonance. I wake up with my social media feeds swarmed by photos of mums with their children, children with their mums and to-be mums. And for someone who also looks for an opportunity for photograph to add to the fluff of social media, I do have a FOMO moment. But there’s joy in being able to reify what I saw in my mother and replacing photos with memories. This is just a fraction of those memories.

Where do I begin this story?

A daughter of a school headmaster, my mother did not falter academically except she got married right away after high school at the age of 18. My father, a government servant, fell in love with her straight black long hair when the proposal came. My mother, on the other hand, told me he was quite ‘dark and short’ at first glance. With a cow as her gift from her father (a story I love telling), she settled into my father’s village those initial years. And soon her love for my father was one of steadfast love and dignity.

With five children and constant stream of relatives and visitors, our house was always full. She was always occupied with the things normal housewives did – running errands, looking after us, and importantly, doing all the cooking.

One of my favourite pleasures was watching her cook. She could whip up anything. She even baked a cake in what I remember was the most ancient aluminium dish. It was the 1980s. Most times, she would shoo me away from the kitchen. “Go study, otherwise you will end up becoming a shopkeeper,” was her pet line. On the aside, I remember writing an essay in my primary school about my favourite dish where I wrote, “my mother is my best cooker”.

I didn’t know how to cook or even chop an onion till I turned, say, 23, when I left home for professional reasons. But the chatter of her mixing bowls, her use of the traditional mortar and pestle and the aroma of her cooking refuse to leave my senses to this day. She did not leave me any recipes; I draw them from the depths of those memories.

Whenever I cook, I remember my mother for whom good cooking was just not about developing flavours but cooking with love and feeding others. They hold true for me.

Beneath the face of my mother’s worry when I left home was whether I was eating well or whether I would ever settle down with a decent guy. Not a letter writer, she would take to the phone “This is your mama speaking”. And not well versed in English at all, she would have us in splits speaking random lines which she picked up watching “The Bold & The Beautiful”. She really had a right to her own unique humour—because everything was her fodder for humour. Everyone remembers her for the laughs she gave us. But  they also remember her kindness and generosity of heart.

I always thought it was a bit cruel that she left us so early. She woke up one morning, surveyed the gardens and suddenly felt uncomfortable. And just like that she was gone in a few minutes – without troubling anyone and in her own quiet dignity.

Few years ago before he dug deep into dementia, my still besotted father told me, “Your mother was very special”. He narrated an incident where he was singing while she was praying at the temple in the house. She later asked him to enter the temple and sing the whole song, which he did. When he came out, he saw her standing by the door. She told him, “It is not just the singer but the one who listens too who is blessed.”

When people are gone, all that is left are memories. Every time I think of my mother, I can smell her. It’s an inexplicable emotion, a sense of smell that is full of love and warmth where our comfort, our happiness and our dreams always came first in her life.

It is hard to square my mother’s life with the phenomenon and ubiquity of photos on Mother’s Day which comes once a year, but there’s a pleasure in giving you an inkling of my invisible mother. My own.

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