|Mama and I Algeria 1966|
Tonight of all nights the heady smell of the jasmine papa planted for you is redolent of memories of you, and it should be so as tomorrow is your birthday. You would have been 97, but you left 24 years ago, at the age of 72, barely 10 years older than I am today. We were only blessed with 38 years of togetherness, but how magical and fulfilling they were, only you and I know. I cannot begin to fathom who was the winner in this incredible relationship: you who had accepted the life of an old maid rather than give birth to a slave child or I who was given the gift of a freedom you fought for in a silent but poignant way. All I can say is that my life is replete with memories of you, each laced with your special brand of love.
As every year I ferreted through boxes of pictures to find the 'right' picture and this year I chose one of the two of us in Algeria when I must have been 14 or so. The reason is that today I heard that a young girl who celebrates her birthday tomorrow and is very dear to my heart was slapped by her mother for a trivial reason, a typical example of mothers who take out their frustrations on their children. Sadly it happens far too often in slums in India where women are given a raw deal even after seven decades of freedom. This young girl celebrates her 14th birthday tomorrow. I held her in my arms when she was 2 days old.
I remember you telling me about the beatings you got from your young mother whose brand of parenthood was to beat the eldest child, you, and you would then take care of your siblings. I am not one to judge my Nani as I know how much you loved her and how you never seemed to hold any grudge against her. The only thing that you told me was that you had sworn never to raise your hand against your child and you never did. I do not even remember you scolding me, that was left to Papa! My earliest memory of you is that of a friend I could share any and everything with, and we did, didn't we. You set the bar of motherhood incredibly high. I was never able to meet it, however hard I tried.
In all my years with you, I always felt that you placed my on a pedestal just like in the picture. For you motherhood was to place your child on your shoulders so that she could see further than you and aim at the stars. If you could, you would have plucked the moon and laid it on my lap.
But that is not all. Mama, you wove a fascinating web of lessons each wise and humane that I am still unravelling today. Your legacy is daunting and even though I try hard, I do not feel I have been able to come up to your expectations. I hope that you will guide me and steer me in the right direction so that I can fulfil your dreams.
I miss you Mama