My Mom Combs My Hair When I’m Sad

There has been a lot of talk about my dad on this blog, which makes sense, considering all that we’ve been through recently. But this made me think about how you guys don’t really know my mom as well, and I want to change that.

My mom is an extraordinary person.

She is so brave and with a keen, discerning eye for things that make life better. She’s not very good at expressing emotions verbally, so she tends to show them instead. I don’t mean hugs or kisses; the last time my mom hugged me was last Wednesday, the 29th of June, right after finding out I’d graduated. This was the first hug in several months, and one of the only other times she’d initiated physical contact was after I discovered I’d made it through to university three years ago.

She may not be keen on the whole touching thing, but, as I’ve discovered over the years, mom has her own ways of showing her love.

Some of them are obvious, like when she buys me a gift, but some of the more subtle ones I hadn’t even noticed until now. As much for my daily dose of feels as yours, here are some of them:

#1 She braids my hair when I’m sad

Often, my mom will insist on oiling my hair, combing it out and then braiding it neatly in two separate ‘kola’ (or banana) braids down my shoulders. This happens especially right after we’ve had a fight, or I’ve come back from somewhere in a very bad mood. My mom asks me what’s wrong, and just listens to me in silence, and then ten minutes later shows up with the implements.

When I was a kid, and by that I mean even three or so years ago, I couldn’t figure out why she did this. I hated having my hair oiled and tightly wound, I thought she pressed too hard with the comb and I’d get upset with her for trying to control my appearance.

Years later, I figured it out. This was my mom’s way of caring, of letting me know she was there, she was listening and she was sorry.

In fact, if there is one thing in the world that could persuade me to grow my hair again, it would be this memory of what it felt like to have her comb it.

In front of Mysore Palace, in May 2011

#2 She silently buys the things I complain about forgetting to buy for months

The other day I was grumbling about forgetting to buy earbuds. I am allergic to most kajal brands and I need to wipe it from my eyes with a cleanser every day. This is nearly impossible to do without them. After three days of red-eyed pain and general surliness, I happened to mention to my mom that I kept forgetting to buy them. I then promptly forgot about telling her that I’d forgotten to buy them.

This morning, there they were on the corner of my dresser.

This keeps happening with other things. At some point I’ll casually mention I’m craving some jam and then the next day that will show up in the fridge. Sometimes, I don’t even notice that I’m out of shampoo or conditioner and then suddenly I’ll find them one day just when I need them.

I think it’s that quality of listening that sets apart those you love from others; you listen to them and you know them so well, you’ll know what they want before they do. Am I like this? Will I be like this someday?

I sure hope so. Maybe then, I can give back to my mom all the hundreds of tiny little things she does for me that I don’t even notice.

Mudhumalai, May 2011

#3 Sometimes she cooks things she knows I like even though she HATES cooking

My mom loathes cooking. Like, with a capital l. She was never required to do it, she is not confident about it and she hates it when someone tries to tell her, ‘You should know how to cook because you’re a woman!!’

This is also the reason she would not buy me those ‘khelna-baati’ sets when I was a little girl. I’d see girls my age playing with them, tiny little toy utensils to play kitchen with, and I’d want them, but my mom was like, ‘Nope’. She brought me chess and ludo and building blocks instead.

This woman, who is so painfully conscious of the patriarchal function of cooking skills, sometimes will cook biriyani or Maggi or pasta for me when I’m sad. She’ll try to make scrambled eggs, and make them pretty damn well I might add, because she knows I’ll like them. She’ll conduct wild experiments with me, like that one time I tried to bake a cake and make pizza, and the first came out soggy in the middle and the second, too dry.

Get you a mom who does the thing she loathes because she knows it’ll make you happy. (That’s probably every mom out there, I think.)

Mom and Dad in Mysore, 2011

#4 She asks me to make tea for her in the evening

What is this doing in a how-my-mom-cares-about-me list, you wonder? Welcome to my relationship with my mom! Asking me to make tea in the evening is a ritual for our family, just as my dad used to make tea for me in the morning and now my mom does.

Every evening, around 6, I’ll go from mom’s room to dad’s room, asking if they want tea. They’ll say yes, and then I’ll heat the water, heat the milk, add the tea leaves, lovingly strain them, pour the tea into glasses with care and then serve it with two biscuits each. I do this every evening, sand, if on certain evenings I don’t, it means there is something wrong: either I’m upset, or my parents are, or dad is too ill or mom is too tired.

The evening tea together is a sacred time for my family, the one time we come together in the day. There are no quarrels. We simply sip our tea and savour each others’ presence, even in silence.

If, some day, I forget or take too long, my mom will call from her room, saying, ‘Toltolia, cha dibi?’ I love that call, and I relish this job. To me, it’s a sign that everything is okay.

Mom and Dad in the Ellora Caves, 2007

#5 Every single time there’s a Satyajit Ray film on, we’ll watch it together

My mom and I have many favourite films we tend to watch together: Golpo Holeyo Shotti, Anand, Patal Ghar, Kahaani, Aandhi and Khoobsurat being some of them. It’s an eclectic list and I’m not sure how we drew it up, except that some of them were from Mom’s childhood and youth and some from mine, and we mixed and matched to create this.

But the one person whose films both of us are enormous fans of is Ray. Satyajit Ray is a god in our household; I wouldn’t be exaggerating if I said he has literally held our home together on certain occasions.

It started with Shonar Kella, which was mom’s favourite when she was young, probably triggered by my fondness for Bombaier Bombete, the film by Sandip Ray, which was released when I was in class 3. Mom and I memorised the dialogues of both the films- not on purpose!- because we watched them so often. At the time, we lived in Mumbai, so it was also a way for us to connect with our heritage and with Bengal, which we both missed desperately.

Soon, we ran through Ray’s entire oeuvre and started all over again. Seemabaddha was then my favourite, in class 7, soon rivalled by Nayak. Our collection of Ray’s CDs was one of our proudest possessions, and it travelled with us from Mumbai to Bangalore and then to Kolkata, gifting us many afternoons of laughter and memories on the way.

Mom in Kanyakumari, August 2010

#6 She’s the most nostalgic person I know and reminds me of things I forget

My mom remembers e v e r y t h i n g, and I mean everything: birthdays, anniversaries, random things you may have said at some point, random things you wore that caught her eye. She has a habit of reminding me of these from time to time: silly comments I made when I was younger, or funny things my friends said that made her laugh.

This one time, a friend came to our flat in Mumbai, looked at a pack of cake that had been sitting on our table for a few months and asked, ‘Aren’t you going to bake this before it expires?!’ My mom laughed for ten minutes and then sent him a slice of the cake the very next day. She still brings this up whenever we eat cake and we just cackle together every time.

I don’t really know why this habit is so comforting for me. It’s just this: there’s a great deal of happiness in knowing that my mom and I share these memories that are just ours, in very special ways, and for as long as she’s around, we’ll share them together. The memories themselves are beautiful, but this certainty is priceless.

June 2014, marking 100 Happy Days with me

#7 She’s my most enthusiastic supporter for every wild decision I make… no matter what the cost

For my entire childhood, my mom allowed me to stay immersed in what I liked- reading and creating stories- and never pressurized me to be different. When I took my class ten boards, she allowed me to appear without the help of a single tutor, even in my worst subjects, because she believed me when I said I hated having to go. And boy, did I do badly in them! But today, those marks have not made a difference, while she saved me a lot of grief and heartache by not forcing me to go to tutorials I would have deeply disliked.

Even in the midst of the science-craze, mom fully supported my decision to take up humanities and eventually become a writer and a journalist, never even considering anything else. When I said I wanted to move to Kolkata, an impulse decision I’m still not sure if we regret, mom did everything she could to help me, and my father, carry out this plan.

Years later, I realised I had a mom who not only guided me but allowed herself to be guided by me. She took pride in my talents, whatever I had, and never undermined them, and she helped both of us travel in the direction they took me.

How cool is that?

I’ve modelled myself on my mother since I was 5, or possibly even younger.

She was never a journalist, but I decided she was one when I was four and discovered she had an MA in Journalism (she gave up on correcting me around the time I turned 8). Immediately, I knew that I wanted to be that too, and when in class filled with six year olds, amidst a sea of would-be doctors and teachers, I stood up and said, ‘I want to be a journalist!’, I still remember the gasps and stares I drew.

It’s amazing the forces that can change you and shape you. My mother has been that force in my life.

This is not to say that the room-shaking arguments we’ve had in the past are matters of no consequence. I think she can be too controlling at times, and she thinks I have too little regard for anybody else. We’re both right,  because we know each other far too well to be wrong.

But this year has been transformative in many senses, and one of them was in my perspective of my mom.

She’s not just a figure any more for me, a one-dimensional idea of what a mom is and should be. She’s a person and a friend. I’m still her daughter, but somehow, we’re equals now.

My mother is an extraordinary woman.

She’s been through hell and beyond and she’s still standing, breathing, living, thriving, giving everything and doing everything she can to make life worth it, for me, and for my dad.

She’s still the woman who taught me my ABCs and the Bengali alphabet, who took me to libraries and painting and dance and elocution classes and gave me the voice to sing. My mother was responsible for my entire cultural education. And yet, there’s a warrior in her I’d never known anything about, before this.

So tonight, I celebrate my mother.

I celebrate her strength and love and the knowledge that she’s here, with me. I celebrate her will to keep living on.

Thanks for everything, mom. You are one hell of a woman, and I’m proud to know you.

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