Read the original feature on : The Purple Fig
“You look just like Munnoo!”said my grandma several years ago. She always called my mom using her childhood nickname. I was standing in my mom’s kitchen, with my back facing her. “Really?” I laughed in surprise. It was probably the way my hair was done that day; tied up on my head, showing off a meek looking neck that begged for respite from the raging Lahore summers. I never thought I resembled my mama much. Her beauty and ability to look good in anything, her grace and skill, her judgement and critique, her determination and confidence, her kindness and wrath. Who was to know?My grandmother’s statement would often make me wonder in the future.
I was an insufferable part of the corporate sector before I got married. Whenever I got back from work, I’d melt into the living room couch like an overzealous ice cream cone working hard under the sun. House work? Yeah, right. That was never my thing. My mama worked too. Almost all of her life really. But my brother and I never felt her absence. Nor do I remember many times where she was preoccupied more with her work than her family.My little ones sometimes miss me even when I’m sitting right in front of them. Because well, when I write, I forget everything else. Strange, now that I think of it. It seems almost unreal to be present fully in both demanding worlds. But that’s what mama has been always known to do. The impossible. A cliché for many, but one of my biggest truths.
There’s no way to explain her overpowering and protective presence throughout my life. Wiping away my tears and telling me to chin up on my failed cupid adventures. Giving me freedom but always hovering at the background, making sure I didn’t mess up diabolically. Serving me delicious food at my study table during my final exams in high school. Peeking in often, caressing my hair and face lovingly, telling me I’d do great in the exams. She made a huge deal out of it all. It was serious business. I was to study undisturbed, in the comfort of an air-conditioned room, while the rest of the house had to endure the heat. She understood where she had to let go, though. So I was allowed to watch ‘The X-files’ that was aired on the satellite dish every Wednesday night. Even this timid teenager would have lashed out on account of a missed date with David Duchovny. Fortunately, we understood each other. Well, mostly.
When I got married, the entire process passed by like a storm. Leaving us all exhilarated, tired, angry and relieved, all at the same time. This was one time when mama and I didn’t see eye to eye on certain matters. I even disagreed with my dad on a few things. That’s when I realized how parents are not always right or sure of what they are doing. But they do it anyway. They don’t have the luxury to sit back or procrastinate. That’s when I realized how parents too are humans who err and lose their way sometimes. And that no matter what happens, I know that they’ve got my back.
I moved across town from my parents. I secretly yearned to find similarities between my new kitchen and my mama’s. The way all her kitchen counters would sparkle and shine within minutes of cooking up a delicious storm. If it were the cook in charge, he’d be forced to do just as mama pleased, or he’d never hear the end of it. Everything was always in its rightful place. From the oft-used rolling pin to the coriander powder spice jar. And why wouldn’t it be? It was my mama’s kitchen. All this time, I wondered if I’d ever be able to keep it all together like mama. I wondered when some of her magic would trickle down the hereditary ladder. I still do.
A year later, I had a baby boy. The first month I felt like a child lost in the jungle. Forever on the verge of tears, and always choking with delight when mama came to the rescue. She fed me healthy and strange concoctions that were apparently a necessity for a new mother’s ravaged body. Turmeric and almonds with hot milk. And a few spoonfuls of ‘Panjeeri’, a medley of delicious nuts and fancy things(I can barely pronounce) cooked with clarified butter to ease my bones. I never thought she was truly conventional or dated in her beliefs. But she knew the important things to pluck from the ancestral tree. Setting up a warm bath to sooth my stinging stitches. Putting an anxious baby to bed, while I snored away. In those few weeks staying with my mama, I felt like a queen. By the time my daughter was born, I didn’t feel as Alice-in-wonderlandish lost as before.
Years later, I moved to Canada with my husband and two children. When it was time to set up my kitchen, I thought I’d be clueless. But then I felt myself moving about my kitchen as she might have. She gave me a hand-written a small cook. I wanted to preserve some of her taste in my cooking. I had my entire life ahead to fall back on Google for recipes. Though I’m still struggling and nothing’s perfect, I just hope I’ve not fallen too far from the tree.
Mama used to tell me how she was as emotional, trusting and vulnerable in her younger years as I was. But then real life happened to her. And that’s how a person hardens with time. Something that she hinted would happen with me too. I don’t think I’m there yet or ever will be. Because of her I have lived a beautiful life, and continue to do so. Because of her, I continue to revel in my safe bubble, where in my head no harm can come. It’s all because of her. And you know what? I don’t agree with her here. Sure life can deal you a hard blow now and then. Yet it can’t change your soul. Because all it takes is an injured bird at the doorstep and voila, you see the little girl that my mama once was.
My parents are visiting us this June. I am pregnant with my third child. I am hormonal and already hyperventilating. I have to clean, scrub, organize and arrange. But you know what my mama will say when she enters my home for the first time? “You didn’t have to tire yourself in this condition, beta ( loving name for son or daughter). Relax! House work can always be done later.”
I may not be like you, but I am my mama’s daughter.