Growing up, my mother and I were always at logger heads. I remember repeatedly telling her that I would never grow up to be a mother like her. I remember even more clearly her telling me to wait and watch, because I’m going to turn into her without even knowing it and I’ll thank her for it.
Here I am. As usual, she was right. She’s generally right about almost everything. She was right about the guy I thought was the love of my life at 16, who left at the drop of hat. She was right about not shaving my legs when I was 14 because I’d grow nasty stubble and ingrown hairs. She was right about friendships and the ones that lasted and the ones that didn’t. Well you get it. The woman is always right. You hate it, but it’s the truth.
Memories of her, of our relationship, come to me in fragments. I don’t even know how many of them I’ve conjured up and how many are real - they’ve all just moulded into the word, Mamma. I’ve slammed so many doors at her and sobbed through the night over words she said and then turned right back and hurt her even more with my own. As I grew out of those tumultuous teenage years, she became less of a torment and more of a security blanket. I realised then, having left the comforting cocoon of her care, just how protected and nurtured I was. I missed it, I sobbed again, and as always there she was - now on the phone or on Skype - mopping up my tears like I was a child. It’s frustrating to always be the child in front of your mother, no matter how old you are. It’s also relieving to know that at any age, you can always be a child while laying on her lap.
Some things are quintessential Mamma. Her Kochi accent that I’ve inherited unapologetically. Her long, beautiful fingers that toil - cut and scraped and mauled with all the different things she does with them (washing, cleaning, gardening, scrubbing) and yet look as delicate as they did when she was sixteen. Her shock of curls, unruly and dark yet perfectly framing her still-young face. Those earrings she wears and the combinations of colours in her wardrobe - she’s unconventionally beautiful, especially when she laughs. Her draw full of Homeo medicine for every illness imaginable. Mulberries hand-picked from the garden on a steel plate reserved for me. Her sinful kozhikotta and cloud-soft appams devoured in minutes on Easter mornings. Her flower arrangements - white carnations among cypress leaves, a lone gerebera in a clear vase, orchids all over the backyard wall - she made a fairytale garden that has now become my solace, my sanctuary every time I go home.
Her kitchen - or any kitchen - will always remind me of her. It’s the largest room in our house and it’s one of the most beautiful kitchens you’ll ever see. Flushed full with big windows and natural light. Pure white curtains and tiny money plants on the sill. An age-old stove that she refuses to throw away. Powders and spices of a million scents and colours lining the walls. Marble floors and granite counters cooling you in the tropical heat. The way she has no measurements or recipes, just a wild sense of what tastes amazing. And always, the smell of something mouth watering being stirred into existence by those magical hands.
My mother made a choice to be at home and raise my brother and I. We were and still are, the apple of her eye. She was meticulous in the way she raised us. She knew every ache, every smile. She gave up a lot to be this mother. She could have had a career, she could have made more money, she could have had more friends, she could have traveled. She chose instead to be the nurturer and for a long, long time, we never realised how much of a difference it made. She adapted to her life in ways only the very strong at heart can do. Learnt to swim and drive and speak English, all after she turned 26. She’s taken the worst of what life’s given her and made the best of it. It takes a special kind of resilience and a massive amount of determination to shine as beautifully as she does given all the things she’s been through.
So here I am. More adult than child and still calling my mother for every sadness, for all advice, for every weakness I have. From over-the-phone cooking lessons to career and relationship advice - she’s a woman with many masks. And I feel now, more than ever that I am my mother’s daughter. And it’s funny. Because I grew up so much of her opposite and often feeling like her enemy. Now I’m more like her than either she or I would like to admit.
I cook like her. I throw things into the pan and make them work. I taste and test and follow intuition. I clean up the counters exactly the way she does. I stretch the sheets over my bed every morning, just like she used to do for me. I wipe the bathroom floor after every bath. I smile at everyone, laugh with everyone. Everything I know about empathy and kindness, I’ve learnt from her. How to see life through someone’s eyes, how to talk to people irrespective of social class or gender or language. I dress like her, earthy colours and silver earrings dangling. I want to be a mother like her - caring, intuitive, unconditionally loving, forgiving and always, always willing to learn and adapt. And I find myself wishing she’d gotten the same opportunities and freedom and affection that she gave me. Maybe then, we’d have been even more alike.
I am my mother’s daughter. I brim with pride just saying it.