My mother is 81. She turned 81 a day before Prime Minister Modi announced a total nationwide lockdown. We already had a lockdown in place in Maharashtra on her birthday. She was most disappointed we couldn’t go out for her birthday lunch as planned. “God knows if I will be around next year to celebrate.”
Mom, like most moms, is the guilt tripping that keeps giving.
On the day of her birthday I went over with some supplies and vegetables. The lockdown announced by our Chief Minister in Maharashtra, Uddhav Thackeray after Sunday’s Janta Curfew had meant the streets were rather deserted on Monday when I decided to take a shot at getting some supplies across to her and wishing her a happy birthday in person. There were no auto rickshaws available. I managed to get an Ola after a considerable amount of time of waiting and cancellations. The driver, his mask firmly in place, was chatty. “So many requests for outstation trips, but I’m not taking anything. The border is already sealed, god knows what will happen by the end of the day today. Aap bhi jaldi ghar laut jaye, madam,” he said kindly.
I nodded. I intended to stay till the evening. Mamma lives alone. She’s a feisty one. Barely three months ago I finally managed to convince her to hire a maid to do the vessels and the sweeping swabbing. She was doing it all on her own.
“It keeps me moving,” she would insist. “If I don’t do anything, my bones will get jammed.”
I would order groceries and vegetables for her from online stores. She would call me when she received delivery to grumble about how expensive they were, and so wilted and stale, and why did I want to waste my money ordering it when she could just walk down and choose fresh vegetables from the vendor. I suspect it was the joy of getting out of the house and walking around the neighbourhood that she missed and not necessarily the quality of the vegetables. You’re not stepping out, I warned her direly, using the sternest tone I could summon. Let me know what you need, I’ll get it delivered. Wash your hands after taking the package and wear a mask when opening the door.
“But I still have to go to Church for Good Friday and Easter mass!”
“Mom, the Archbishop has called off all church masses.”
“How can we not have mass?”
She refused to believe me and I had to show her the press report. She probably still believes I photoshopped the newspaper.
I returned home on Monday afternoon. On Monday evening we had curfew imposed in Maharashtra. I had no clue how I could get anything delivered to her now.
“Don’t worry about me,” she insisted. “I’m fine.”
She’s fine, I know. She’s hardy. She’s weathered a childhood straight out of Charles Dickens and a life that was peppered with so much challenge, that I wouldn’t need to look too far for inspiration if I needed to write an emotional drama of grit and survival. She’s fine. But I’m not. I worry. The tiles are slippery. The sugar levels are high. The blood pressure yo yos to its own pleasure. Then there is that other monster, the loneliness. There’s only so much television you can watch, there’s only so much WhatsApp forwards you can read.
“Baby,” she called the other evening. “Stay home at 11.40 pm tonight, they’re going to spray disinfectant to kill corona.”
I sputtered for a good five minutes about how she needed to stop believing all the rubbish she reads on WhatsApp. I don’t think she was paying heed.
“Baby,” she called yesterday, “Say the Lord’s prayer at 4.15 pm today, the Pope is going to say it and we all have to say it together to end corona.”
Now religion and me have a very fraught relationship, and I’m happy to leave it at a passing acquaintance right now.
“No Mamma, I’m not going to say it. It won’t work if I don’t believe in it. You say an extra one for me.”
“What goes of yours to just say it. Say it, I’m telling you to do it. Do it.”
I laughed. That line stopped working on me when I got out of my teens. I have a teenager now.
“You say it, Mamma. It will work better than me saying it.” I told her about the kind soul in her neighbourhood who had volunteered to keep an eye out for her. To get her stuff she needed when she ran out of things. She listened quietly. “I’m okay, I have everything I need. I just need bread.”
My heart broke. Sitting just a suburb away. Helpless to even get a packet of bread across to my mother. “Make rotis,” I told her, my tone gruff. “When we can get deliveries across I’ll get bread delivered to you.”
She’s fine, she’s keeping well. But I had the comfort of knowing I was ten minutes away from her if she needed me. I am still ten minutes away from her in case of an emergency. My heart goes out for those far away from their parents—in different cities, countries, continents, the hope of a quick bus, train journey, being a flight away also shut down by a virus. The uncertainty of knowing whether or not they’ve been exposed to a carrier, and how it will affect them in their immuno-compromised states thanks to their age and the illnesses they inevitably have. Perhaps I will say that Our Father. And a Hail Mary. Or two. For all of us, all our parents. May they stay safe and strong until these lockdowns go down, and beyond that. May we stay strong while we are away from them. And may we see them through this and be the parents they need now us to be.