March 18, 2011

Something like Love

They say that all women become like their mothers. And that, probably, is true. I’ve been around long enough to see quite a bit of my Grandma (or is it the other way around?). And the similarities between her and my mother are striking. It’s one of those things that are hard to explain. You can see it, but not place your finger on it. And yet, I think my mother was different. Very. And truth be told, in some ways I hope I don’t become like her…

As children, we trick ourselves into believing that what we see of our parents is who they really are. That they were born adults. That they’ve always been the way they are. That they’ve always thought the same way. That their lives were ever-so-boring and mundane. That they never understand what we feel.
And so we assume. We presume. We take for granted. We forget. We ignore. We neglect. We disobey. We rebel. We mock. We scorn. We misunderstand.

Rarely, if ever, do we get to know anything about who they were. Animated accounts of past incidents when (if) they share it, random things that grandparents, relatives or their friends say, snatches of their conversations with others…that’s about it. That’s how little we know of our parents. Our parents know us in and out because they see us from the time we’re born. And do you know what the irony is? We know them so little for the same reason.

I was someone who thought along the same lines. BUT, I did get to know more about my parents. Only that I wished it were under different circumstances…

You know how smug we all are. We lead planned lives, or so we think. We begin to imagine that we’re in control of our lives. Heck, it’s our lives! And smack, right then, something usually happens, and we’re left uncertain, shaken and clueless. In our case it was my mother’s cervical cancer.

As I look back, I don’t see the minutes, only the days and weeks – whooshing past in a quick blur. The constant visits to the doctor, the sickening hospital surroundings, the innumerable medicines, the radio- and chemo- therapies, my mother’s deteriorating health and her frail body. Things I’d rather not remember than try to forget.

The one distinct memory etched in my mind, though, would be of a conversation I had with her. It lasted a while. And it was during the period when her condition was beginning to get worse. I don’t know if she saw her end approaching her sooner than she liked. But she talked. Of things I didn’t know, nor could have imagined. Pauses were plenty, words were fewer. But she conveyed more than she could have, given the constraints on her physical condition. And that was the circumstance in which I realized that there was more to my mother than what I’d seen of her.

I vividly remember the considerable restraint she managed to maintain as she narrated bits from her past – a love affair that never saw its logical end, grandparents’ discontent and disapproval, a hasty arranged marriage, incomplete education, shattered ambitions… AND she told me of how she hadn’t really loved my father.

She told me how she couldn’t come to terms with her new life and how my father had patiently listened and accepted her past. About how he did not force her to take to the changes quickly. About how he had given her enough time and space to adjust. About how they consummated their marriage only after over a year… I listened, silent and wide-eyed, simply because I could not believe it.

I could not believe it because I had no reason to doubt. Our family was like was like any other - me, mother and father. I did not sense a lack of love, trust or belonging; or any under-currents of the contrary. These are things we don’t question or doubt, is it not? We don’t wonder whether our parents loved each other or if they still do. We don’t wonder whether our family is still together because it wants to, or because there really is no other choice… I was confused. I didn’t know what to think of it. Has she been living a lie all this while? Faking it? Putting up an appearance for my sake, for his sake?

But as she continued talking, it became clearer. I saw that she had immense respect for him, worshipped him even. He was the man who had taken her into his folds knowing very well that she was in a relationship that was severed abruptly; that he could not expect the same affection from her. And yet, he had loved her. With all his heart. For who she was. She had no reason not to like him, and that’s how she had begun accepting that this was her life forward, that he was the man in her life.

She had love staring at her face, but she could not see it or accept it because it did not look the way she wanted it to. Now you know what I meant earlier, about not wanting to be like my mother, don’t you?

Maybe she didn’t want me to make the same mistake. Maybe that’s why she finally told me all this. And I am grateful. It’s not that I did not love them earlier, but after this it only increased - my love and respect for both of them. I was glad that I got to know more about who they were, or rather are – it may not be much, but it still means a lot to me.

In the days that followed it was evident…the love, care, respect and devotion my father had for my mother. And I was certain that she loved him. Maybe she wasn’t sure, but I was. Because I could see it, whereas she still didn’t.

“Eva, are you done? Shall we go?”
That was my father, by the way.

The bunch of white lilies I had placed on her tombstone looked beautiful. White lilies were her favourite. It has been a year now, since she left us. But her words will remain forever in my heart.

I never told my father about this conversation I had with her. Not that my mother asked me not to. I didn’t feel the need. But I think he knew in any case. Especially after I told him that she had written the epitaph for her tombstone. I looked at it again.

Marsha Evelyn Thomson
Aug 30, 1955 – May 13, 1999
Here she lies,
Whom Love sought
When she least expected it
And when she least deserved it.

No special fonts, no golden lettering. Etched plainly onto a nondescript piece of stone.
“Nothing fancy, just like real love”, she had said.

Note: Thanks P for your suggestions in editing this. :-)

P.S. I've been told that some bits of the story resemble Mani Ratnam's Mouna Raagam, but the fact is that I don't watch Tamil movies, and didn't know of it. Similarities if any, I assure you, are coincidental! On a lighter note, I guess great minds think alike! :-D


Sameera said...

Beautiful Story! Very very well structured with the right statements coming in the right time giving enough gap to leave the reader thinking and give him/her time to understand the depth of the message conveyed!

Viji.. so planning to write a book someday?? ;) [Not joking!]

Vijitha said...

Thanks a lot Sam! Glad you liked it.

Book..err...I don't think so. But who knows?! :-D

Sameera said...

I think you should start thinking about it.

Think about it.