My earliest memory of you is caged in the two-room apartment in north Kolkata. Standing on the balcony I am trying to shake off the tall railings with my little hands, and you smiling affectionately at my desperation. Those days I thought you looked like the Gulmohar outside, flooded with beautiful red blooms. Visible through the leafs, the flowers and the branches of the Gulmohar was a crowded, dirty market. People spoke loudly there, their expressions often brash and abusive. I frowned at them. You explained, every time there is a magnificent Gulmohar, there will also be a filthy market beside.
You explained, every time there is a magnificent Gulmohar, there will also be a filthy market beside.
By the time I was in school, I had grown mischievous. You allowed me to be. When classrooms taught the alphabet and numbers, I tried to look outside the window. The meadows, plush with yellow and green, bathed in the morning sun was inviting. And a road far away, which seemed always busy. The school church. Reprimanding voice of the teacher at students who were inattentive. It was peaceful. You seemed to be smiling through them all.
The year 1984. You probably had an accident. Or some other kind of mishap. You were injured. Your body was bruised and bleeding. For the first time I had seen the ever-active and loving mother fallen, a remote emptiness reverberating for days. Serious looking doctors said, “She’ll recover soon. Just a matter of time.” Strong doses of medicines left a bitter taste in mouth. Interfering relatives taunted, “How long would she pretend to be unwell now?” I was too small to comprehend those. I didn’t ask how have you been; like no one did. I just waited for you to recover and provide, like every mother should!
As I grew up, our relationship changed. I felt you have started differentiating between siblings. The younger sibling must have been your favourite. I think I had seen you passing more towards her, when no one was watching. Fiercely I started guarding things that were mine, from her, and perhaps even from you. I fought with her bitterly, suspecting your partiality. I had started having a mind of my own, about which you only passed a deep sigh. I grew more dominating, trying to decide what is right for me and for you.
The elders with heavier throats tried to calm us down with promises that they knew perfectly, what worked for the family! I fumed, so did the sibling.
What’s your problem with the neighbours, by the way? The other day I saw one of the elders scolding you. “Every other day the neighbours dump filth at our backyard. Why then did you have to go to their doors with Diwali sweets? They will eat the sweets and throw the packet at our backyard again.” You didn’t answer back. But I knew you were stubborn. You would still try.
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Dear mother, I know I haven’t been a good child. No, it has nothing to do with your vision in nursing me, nurturing me or providing me with ingredients that you felt would add to my health. I wasn’t raised to be a mere observer. I became one eventually, because the power of my body didn’t translate into my mind. I suffered that little corner allotted to me, the walls of which I couldn’t shatter because I never tried. You suffered with me. I don’t know what I can do today, to undo the shame I have brought to you over the years. But I can only say, that I still find you, mother, in the spread of the red Gulmohar of my childhood. Not in the dry red blood stains that has accumulated today at its roots.
You suffered with me. I don’t know what I can do today, to undo the shame I have brought to you over the years. But I can only say, that I still find you, mother, in the spread of the red Gulmohar of my childhood.
As I look back now, I realize I have always watched you and revered in your beauty from our fourth-floor balcony. I have never cared to climb down and water the roots.
One of your many daughters.
Koral Dasgupta is an author, professor and social entrepreneur. She tweets as @koraldasgupta