By Deepa Kumar:Â
As I gradually grew from being the infant whose brain could not record any memory to becoming a toddler who started recognising faces and places, there were only two people who were registered by my brain, only two people who I vividly remembered – my grandmother and my mother.
The social circle of life broadened. More relationships got attached – uncle, aunt, cousin, so on and so forth. Everything seemed normal to me till then; till the day I started going to school. Now, unlike many of my friends who would love to return to their ‘golden’ school days, I have personally never felt so nostalgic about it for a variety of reasons. As humans we attach feelings with experiences – a good experience always triggers a positive feeling, one that liberates whereas a bad experience always triggers feelings that can bog you down, one that holds you back.
There are some experiences that get etched very strongly in our memories, and I still remember those first few months of going to school – mothers and fathers dropping my classmates off in the morning, many mothers of my classmates coming during recess to meet them and mothers and fathers coming to pick my classmates up after school. Of course I’m generalising here; some cases had exceptions, and one of those was mine. I would be dropped off by my mother before she would go to office, rarely be visited (if at all, then by my grandmother) during recess because she would anyway have to be the one picking me up after school. In these small daily happenings of life, as an extremely young girl, I experienced a tidal wave of confusion. It was only once I started going to school that I realised perhaps something was missing in my life. That the picture wasn’t perfect.
Who was that other figure who came with all my classmates in the morning? He generally drove the car, seemed like the one to be in greater hurry about reaching office on time and held my classmates in his arms till he seated them inside. Neither did I see such a figure back at home, nor did I see such a figure come drop me off at school. Soon after, the first open day happened. All my classmates sat between two figures – one male and one female. But that’s not how my picture looked when I sat in front of my class teacher. And I kept wondering why.Â All I knew was walking to class, holding my mother’s hand, as she quickly disappeared for office, till we met again around dinner time. And in my frame on the open day, there was me and one female sitting right next to me. Why was it so in my case? I had no idea at all.
Soon in school, we started studying more about relationships, and as importantly as the word ‘mother’ was taught, so was the word ‘father’. My 4-5 year old brain did not know how to comprehend this. Apparently, ‘father’ was the one who would wear shirt and trousers, go to office every morning, work hard for the family, bring money home at the beginning of every month, take the family out on weekends and special occasions and get angry when you made mistakes. It was turning out to be a struggle; this confusion, cause everything that was taught to me in school as the makings of a ‘father’, I witnessed these in the person I called ‘mother’.
A few more years of living with confusion, and at the age of 7, I decided it was time for confrontation. I made the courage to go up to my mother and ask her, ‘Why do all my friends have someone called a father? Why don’t I have one? Where is mine?‘ In two simple statements, what my mother said back then, still remains one of the biggest truisms of my life. All she said was, ‘Why do you need one? What is it that your friend’s father does that I don’t do and what is it that your friend’s mother does that Paatti (grandmother in Tamil) doesn’t do?‘ Just there, in binary, I learnt more than I ever could have in any textbook of school. The terms ‘father’ and ‘mother’ grew beyond being rigid identities of man-woman, husband-wife, officeman-housewife etc. They had now assumed the form of figures – of clay – to be moulded in any way to suit one’s own situation, not something that society taught via schools and families. From feeling isolated and let down about being the exception, I instead started revelling in the fact that I was the exception.
It’s a different thing that all realities could not be moulded in the way in which we liked them. I grew older – from the 7 and 8s to the 11 and 12s, and being the exception didn’t always seem as hunky dory. Around this time, I learnt about another term – ‘social stigma’. What was it about single-working mothers that didn’t always seem acceptable in our society? To look back at those days, I feel tragic about knowing people who thought that a family’s respect is lesser and their place in society is smaller because it’s a family wherein a single mother is out winning the bread for the house. Our situation was an example in itself; only that it took an understanding mind to ascribe the correct adjective to the example. And herein came another lesson, that only circumstances could have taught me; neither any textbook nor any class teacher – that stepping away from the norm, doing something that faces criticism and challenges is doable only by people of extremely strong fibre. These unspoken lessons coming from my mother held far more value than anything education had given me thus far.
It was a transient period thereafter, for the society and for us. In my 14 and 15s, I heard more of the ‘two-salaries make a home‘ concept, that now both parents needed to earn in order to lead a comfortable lifestyle. I read about that in papers and heard about that in some of my mother’s ramblings. She reiterated: that we were indeed a family where only one member earned for all of us. Was that enough? Who knew? We had one thing established by then, that as a duo; we had a flare for survival. And it would only be realistic to say that we had our days where we had to ask ourselves to believe less is more. But we still grew, from strength to strength.
A more naÃ¯ve version of me used to be very upset with my mother back in school days cause she travelled for almost 15-20 days of the month, leaving me with my Paatti. Today, as a 23-year-old daughter to that mother (and increasingly now, mother to her as my daughter), all I can feel, is grateful. It takes courage and very deep routed compassion to be able to make all decisions of life keeping that one person and her happiness and comfort in mind. Somewhere, it’s genetic lottery to be born to a mother who is capable of that.
Someone recently told me that it’s extremely sad that I don’t have a father. And of course I beg to disagree.Â In drawing class at school, I never sketched out a home by the lake, the sunrise and tick-shaped birds adorning the sky, and a man-woman and child standing by the door of the house. This drawing would seem like a perfect picture to many, many people. But not to me.
My perfection actually lies in my apparent imperfection, as does my happiness.
May be I don’t have a father, but I have more. I have a figure – my mother – and I’d take that over the perfect picture, any day.