The lady who lives on the ground floor is a malicious gossip. She runs a tiny little salon and hires young girls for shameful salaries under the pretence of teaching them the tricks of the trade. Most of her girls would stay a few months before seeking work elsewhere, I never got to know any of them, until Aarti showed up.
I heard about Aarti before I met her. I was at the salon to have my eyebrows shaped and the lady was talking to one of her regular customers about “the new girl”.
“She ran away from her house with her boyfriend when she was 14,” she said breathlessly, the sad reality of this being her source of excitement was quite apparent, “They got married, had a child and now he has passed on. She’s only 21. She’s going around everywhere desperately looking for work… I thought I should help.”
“You are nice person,” her friend responded, “No one is as helpful these days. These girls today don’t understand, this is what happens when you do what you want and run after love.”
This eventually devolved into a conversation about all the single women who live in my neighborhood and all the shameful activities we partake in.
I paid and left.
A few weeks later, my mother was visiting. Being the highly social creature that she is, while I was at work, she took the opportunity to mingle with the people in my building. It annoys me, her lack of boundaries, but when it is directed at other people I find it rather, cute. In the evening, when I came home one such day, she asked me, “Is the salon lady crazy?”
I knew this would happen if they ever met, I couldn’t wait for it actually, and my mother isn’t as tolerant as me. If involved in gossip, she will not only retort but make sure she shuts it down.
“What happened?” I asked her.
“She’s telling me stories about the girl who works for her and her family,” she said looking sad, “She’s clever she dresses it up like she is so helpful in the scenario but all she does gossips. Has she no shame?”
“She does that with everyone mom,” I replied knowing this conversation would carry on well into the night, “Don’t let it bother you so much.”
“How can I not let it bother me?” she says now obviously angry with me, “She tried to talk to me about you! Dressed it up in concern but I knew she was really trying to tell me about the men you have over and all your late nights.”
“How does it matter? Especially since you already know all these things?” I asked her trying desperately to put an end to the inanity.
“Oh it matters, the audacity!” she said launching into full life-lecture mode, “She has no right to malign someone’s kids, let alone mine.”
“What did you do D?” I asked her realizing she had been building up to a revelation.
“I told her that if she ever tried to sneak on my kids again, she’d have to answer to me…” she started, “And, also, I got Aarti a much better paying job at an another salon.”
How had my mother gotten a semi-skilled worker a better job at a different salon in half a day?
No one needs to know.
That’s my mother; she gets things done.
He was a sloth of a man with the tongue of a charming sociopath. My mother’s boyfriend. The last of them. Almost a decade, they were together. He came into our lives and spent time at our house. I respected my mother’s right to love him, I had my reasons. For many years they were happy together, until one day, they weren’t.
That’s when the fighting started. They fought over their respective spouses and neglect. They fought over alleged emotional abuse. They broke up regularly and got back together suspiciously in the wee hours of the night.
One day, I came home late in the evening to find my mother’s door locked. I knocked and knocked but she wouldn’t open the door. I could hear her inside; crying and smashing things to bits.
Ultimately I dug up the spare key to her bedroom and opened the door myself.
Everything in her room that was once on shelves, tables, cupboards lay on the floor. She was sitting in the corner of the room; one hand bleeding and the other clutching a fistful of sedatives. I walked to her and took the pills from her.
“What are you doing?” I asked her.
“I am so helpless, I didn’t know what else do to,” she said showing me the hundreds of little cuts on her palm, “He comes, he goes… I don’t know.”
She alternately threw things and cried for another hour. The next day, they were back together.
That’s my mother; crazy in love.
My uncle (my mom’s brother) was a colourful and highly ambitious man. He had helped raise me when I was a child and my father wasn’t always around. The earliest memory I have of him is him teaching me to write the number 8. I have no idea why, but I refused to do it right. Or, more likely, I couldn’t do it right. He locked me out on the terrace until I learnt how to form the number 8 properly. It took me hours, I think. But when I finally did it he told me that is how much mother had taught him to form the number 8. He, apparently, had had just as much trouble with it as I did.
Many years later, I was in the 12th grade and I had just returned from my morning swim on a Sunday. My mother and I had been fighting, and I was sitting in the living room studying when the phone rang. She answered the phone. She talked in a worried tone.
“What has happened? Tell me,”she said urgently to whoever was on the other line. She dropped the phone and burst into tears. I ran over to her and asked what had happened. She told me in the midst of her emotional outburst, that her brother had died. Alone in a remote town while on a business trip.
She still managed to arrange to have his body sent to his home, we drove to the place and as my mother watched me make phone calls to the members of our family to tell them what had happened, I watched her break down completely. She didn’t want me to tell his wife (or daughter) until we got there. I had seen my mother sad, depressed, angry, on the precipice of insanity but I had never seen her grief-stricken like that. Three times we stopped on the way because she was crying so violently, she physically couldn’t contain herself to the car. It scared my sister into silence.
When we got there, and she told his wife, she collapsed onto the floor and remained there for an hour. Late at night the body was delivered to the house and we laid it on a slab of ice in the living room. My mother and I slept in that room that night. She hugged me and cried silently all night.
The next day, after we cremated him, she came to me and said, “Aal is my daughter too now, she’s your sister and B (his wife) is my brother.” I know people say such things in the grips of grief, but within the one month she spent in their home she arranged for them to move into our house, she got Aal mid-session admission into the best school in the city and almost instantaneously, we all began to call the same place home.
She loves everyone in his family in the insane, over-zealous and sometimes emotionally abusive manner in which she loves us all.
That’s my mother; emotional, compassionate and determined.
“I’m going to kill that crazy man,” she said one hot afternoon storming into the house.
“What’s wrong?” I asked her. She had been in court that morning. No she isn’t a felon, though she has always said it is her lifelong dream to be a smuggler, but there was a technical issue with the renewal of my sister’s passport that required her to get a stamp from a judge on a piece of paper proving..something.
Right behind her, strode in one of her friends she had taken to court with her, she said, “Your mother almost got arrested in court for insulting the judge today.”
“I gave them all the documents they asked for,” she started still fuming, “And this crazy man kept telling me to prove my daughter is my daughter. She’s my bloody daughter.”
“It’s a legal thing, mom,” I said, “It’s not emotional or personal.”
“You shut up,” she said, “Some peon or lawyer told me later that if I want to get my paper signed I should pay this much money and it’ll be done. That is when I got pissed.”
“And she stormed into his courtroom and told him that she would not pay him instead she would expose his dirty misdeeds and he will damn well sign her paper without being paid,” said her friend.
“I said that privately, I didn’t shout or scream and he did stamp the paper,” she justified, “Still he told me to leave or else he’ll have to have me arrested. He was scared.”
I’ll give her this; she really did try to have him exposed. She even befriended judges and lawyers in her quest, but such is the judicial system that you have to be damn sure before you start messing with it.
That’s my mother; brazen and goal-oriented, but not always quite the finisher.
She hates the psychotherapist; but has no problem with the psychiatrist. He’s got the good stuff. The good stuff she’s been inhaling since she was about, 32. Genetic predisposition to depressive behavior is what he told her finally enabling her to gorge on the antidepressants and sedatives to the point where they served no purpose but to feed her addiction. They didn’t lift her out of a pit of anything, but they definitely exposed her monster.
“Your mother is crazy,” my father said one day as I came back from tennis and they were having at it in the living room, “She wants to leave, please talk to her.”
In my family, we don’t stop fighting, we just transfer the fight from person to person. I went to her and asked what had happened. She launched into the familiar tirade of accusations levied upon each one of us for destroying her life.
She concluded that she had been blamed for everything wrong that happened in the family, and insulted by each one of us on myriad separate occasions. There was no talking to her in that state. She launched into silent treatment mode as she sat crying on the couch clutching her purse. She got up and started to pack her suitcase; we all knew she wasn’t going to leave but she liked the threat hanging over our head all the same.
My father begged her not to leave and I gave her my well-worn speech about how much she mattered and how much we all valued her. She screamed and hurled abuses at us. We all knew we were playing parts, yet, we were all determined to play them to the end. Hurt each other as much as we could in the process. Finally, she decided to stay (based on certain conditions, of course). For the next week or so, everyone was scared to cross her path and getting her way was as easy as she liked it. The next week, we would repeat our pattern all over again. That’s why she kept her suitcase in her bedroom.
That’s my mother; emotionally manipulative and often unstable.
I have always seen her, over the years; I have come to understand her. Sometimes, I am able to remove my biases and objectively appreciate her for the amazing person she is. Others, I wish I was still estranged from her and free of the emotional baggage that came with the relationship.
Still, I know that on those dark days when I feel that the world is consuming me and the walls are closing around me, she’ll be there.
I can call her anytime and she’ll come running to my door and I’ll have her unconditional support until I need it.
That’s my mother.
But I never do.