Unconditional love |ənkənˈdiSH(ə)n(ə)l ləv|
(adj,n) 1. Amumma
Two years ago you were wheeled into an operating room to treat an acute stomach ache. I spent my 23-hour flight to Bombay thinking of how I would sit beside you, cook for you and entertain you when you were discharged from the hospital. Just like you did for 31 years of my life. But I never did get the chance.
I had never known of a life without you. The first person to hold me in the operating theater was you. Even before I could feel the sweaty warmth of my mother’s breast or the excited grasp of my father, I was enveloped by an overwhelming swathe of love & affection – you.
Memories of my first few years in this world are blurry. But I remember you were always around for me. You would let me braid your long hair, comb it, attach some very funny looking clips to it. You would play-act Rapunzel & Cinderella with me. And I could be Rapunzel & Cinderella ALL the time. You would be the wicked mother & the prince & the evil step-sisters. You learnt to read, write & speak English so that we could play out these stories.
You were a born rock star. Losing your mother at the age of 9 & then being sent to live with an aunt, could not have been easy. A woman completing her high-school education in early 20th century Kerala, was not a common occurrence in the circle you were raised in. Yet you strove to get the best out of life. Sharp & eager to learn, when your father decided to let you discontinue education, you took it in your stride. Like you always did, everything. You took a keen interest in learning Hindi. Another revolutionary move for a woman in that age & setting. You rallied in political campaigns. When the time came for you to marry a man 16 years your senior, you didn’t blink an eyelid. You were always game for the adventure called life.
And I am so terribly glad you did. He brought you to Bombay at the tender age of 16 & you embraced it with all your heart. You took to the buzzing city, making friends with your neighbors, speaking Marathi like a native. Bombay must have seemed like an antidote to your cloistered upbringing. Not that you ever thought that or even mentioned your upbringing negatively. You were always smiling & laughing when you spoke about your childhood and youth, chirkyana kutty. (laughing child, her childhood petname)
You made sure I had a smiling and laughing childhood, as well. When mummy yelled at me, you pampered me by giving me your undivided attention & made me feel like an adult while I recounted my grouses. When Mutachan scolded me, the folds of your saree were my shelter. When I was bored at home, you took me out to have bhel puri. When I wouldn’t get sleep at night, you patted me to sleep – patting me till I slept off, no matter how sleepy you were. I looked forward to night time with you. I would sit on the bed stead and tell you stories of my day, pull your leg & make up funny stories about you – you laughed and listened to everything I had to say. Even though you heard me say the same thing, every day. Then came my favorite part. The stories you used to tell. There were so many different ones. The mythological ones were my absolute favorite. Ramayana, Shakuntala and the one I made you repeat most often, the tale of Lord Krishna & Kujelan’s friendship. Which I think, taught me to value and respect my friends, especially those who were different from me.
You were always my closest confidante, my best friend, my protector, my savior. You ALWAYS, always had my back. Whether it was signing off teacher’s remarks on my calendar, hiding my vodka bottles, chattering along with my boyfriends or feeding my ravenous friends plate after plate of your legendary French fries, you did it all.
While there is so much I have learned from you – I think that what I value most today, is how progressive you were. You were so open-minded, more than a lot of ‘modern’ people I know. You accepted everyone into your home and into your heart, loving everybody for who they were. You were best friends with our maids, you didn’t think being gay was a big deal and even to the few who didn’t treat you right, you cheerfully inquired after them.
It is from you that Mom & I have inherited our love for adventure, our flair for language (Mom even turned it into her passion) and oh, our sweet tooth! It is from you that I have learnt the importance of being empathetic and of celebrating those who are different from me. You taught us not by repeatedly instructing or by scolding but just by being you. Every day I work on making myself the kind of person you were effortlessly: persistent, accepting and compassionate.
I love you, Amumma.
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