There are numerous ways in which my mother and I differ from each other. She dislikes wearing jewellery of the minimal kind. Stacked up rings, hooped earrings, and slivers of chains-all that she’s accumulated over the years are now worn by me.
We’re different, not in our emotional capacities to give but to see the world for all its perfections and shortcomings. I see the world as a canvas craving for a stroke of my brush while Mumma somehow feels as if we’re running out of time.
For her, the world exists as a consequence of her actions; actions that must always reflect jarring practicality. She’s headstrong, combining equal parts warmth and assertiveness. Irresistible as she is in her ability to make everyone around her feel loved and yet seek out her approval. Me? I take decisions solely on the basis of how I feel, numb to future consequences or material results.
Being my mother’s daughter is like grappling with an agitated sort of freedom. My rebellion doesn’t accompany loud rebukes, slammed doors, or prolonged periods of silence, but rather a pragmatism that the world still holds space for.
Mumma has always been vividly aware and conscious of the choices I make. Talk about role reversal. She’s the one nudging me to think about why I want to devote my energy to a certain field while Dad is concerned about the kind of support I’d need, emotional or material.
For instance, I’ve always derived a peculiar sense of comfort and validation from clothes and seemingly materialistic things. I’ve devoted myself to attaching a substantive amount of worth to all things creative and visibly pretty.
Mumma, however, has always distanced herself from anything that solely relies on appearance. An inherent sense of fear creeps up on me whenever I think of switching fields and devoting myself entirely to the world of fashion. Despite her vivid awareness about the world as it is, with its diverse options in every possible field, a government job still seems like a reputable option.
As a girl, I must choose the safest option. The option that would potentially reduce all chances of my dependence on anyone but myself. For Mumma, a career in fashion is far away from that choice. “I just don’t want you to live in a khayali-pulao world,” she tells me. Mumma coaxes me to view every decision in terms of the effort I put in rather than a mere verbal expression of it.
I am still utterly unaware of the place I desire to occupy in this ever-expanding world. But, when I am hit with questions like “what’s your five-year plan”, from someone who’s not a potential employer, I am faced with a whirlwind of thinking and pending self-work.
My fondness for clothes, jewellery, appearance, fashion as a potential career choice is often a resolvable point of contention between Mumma and me. The contention being my inability to fathom her inhibitions, the resolvability being a reassurance from my side that I’ll be the absolute best at what I do.
But, what if I am not the best at what I do? What if certain expectations are never met? Will I be judged on the same parameters as so many others? I don’t know if I can be the best, let alone promise that.
The failure of a woman is stark. It is what garners centre stage as qualities like resilience and perseverance shadow away behind the lines.
She wants me to choose better. She wants me to be unabashed in the face of the routine adversities a woman has to face. Mumma is afraid that like her, I wouldn’t know better.
“I wasn’t smart enough, kaam handle ho jaata araam see,”(I could’ve easily handled my work) Mumma remarks as she recollects the instance when she left her job in the 90s to care of my elder brother.
I realise that Mumma has always been a little scared. Amidst her what-ifs and could haves, an aspect of her sacred doubt has transferred to me. She’s afraid that if I spend too much time writing about clothes and aspire to work in a related field, the chances of having an insecure profession would be very high.
She says she sees my potential and I often question her about it. It’s a potential that’s very much aligned with what she views as a stable profession. The problem is her perceptions are still unconsciously veiled by specific stereotypes associated with a woman caring about what she wears.
Through the amorphous and distorted realities of life, it becomes clear to me that it’s not exactly about the choice you make. It’s more about what you do after you’ve made that choice. Mumma went on to finish her Master’s degree with my brother’s comforting presence telling her to come to play with him once she’s done studying.
Mumma and I are similar in our perpetual state of self-doubt. We are similar in our ability to learn slowly and then all at once. We are similar in our quickness to judge and a realisation to unlearn it. We are similar in our need to aspire and in our need to struggle through those aspirations.
So when I fight with her, through lack of uncomfortable silences and a hefty amount of familiar bickering, I wish she remembers her surreal individuality and let me have mine.
Note: The author is part of the current batch of the Writer’s Training Program.