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My Dad Says I'm Turning Into My Mother - And Nothing Could Make Me Prouder

08/05/2016 8:14 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:26 AM IST
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Girl (3-4) standing on pair of red high heels, low section

"A longing to wander tears my heart when I hear trees rustling in the wind at evening. If one listens to them silently for a long time, this longing reveals its kernel, its meaning. It is not so much a matter of escaping from one's suffering, though it may seem to be so. It is a longing for home, for a memory of the mother, for new metaphors for life. It leads home. Every path leads homeward, every step is birth, every step is death, every grave is mother." - Herman Hesse

Growing up in the 1970s as a film buff, I watched Bollywood's favourite "Maa", Nirupa Roy, cry endlessly, sacrifice endlessly and dote on her son endlessly. She would invariably be dressed in a crumpled white sari with a huge sindoor tikka on her forehead. That I guess was the symbolic patriarchal take on the ideal mother and motherhood.

I would then return home to a very un-"Maa"-like mother.

She was beautiful with flashing eyes and jet black hair till her knees. She was also the first woman engineer of my home state Odisha...

My mother had two daughters and didn't keep trying for a son. She was not fair-skinned, and smiled at her mother-in-law's waspish barbs ("this sari will look better on my other bahu, she is so fair... you take the other one"). She was the perfect wife of a stylish and absolutely alpha male IPS officer, and also a great hostess. She was beautiful with flashing eyes and jet black hair till her knees. She was also the first woman engineer of my home state Odisha, with a degree in electronic engineering from the iconic Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore. And boy, she played badminton and table tennis with such dexterity and fierceness that my dad and his cronies, hopelessly thrammed at the game , had to hurriedly switch over to billiards or chess to save face!

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Only after my sister and I grew up did she set up her own electronics industry in Bhubaneswar which became the face of both industrial progress and women's empowerment in the state. My mother insisted on employing a largely female workforce, reaching out to those girls/women who had been abandoned by their husbands and resultantly by their families for fear of stigma.

She insisted that I wear six-inch heels and red lipstick. She played Frank Sinatra as my lullabies. She also made me recite the Vishnu Shahasranam every day.

My mother taught me to bake the perfect cake. She insisted that I wear six-inch heels and red lipstick. She played Frank Sinatra as my lullabies. She also made me recite the Vishnu Shahasranam every day. She told me that chocolate will fix heartbreak. She also told me that there would be an imperfectly perfect man for the perfectly imperfect me. She accepted that I didn't have a genius, scientific brain like hers and smiled when I read Neruda to her. Most importantly, she taught her two daughters never to apologize for who they are and never to stop their eyes from shining. We learnt from her in practical terms that...

... "this life will hit you, hard, in the face, wait for you to get back up so it can kick you in the stomach. But getting the wind knocked out of you is the only way to remind your lungs how much they like the taste of air... to see the world through the underside of a glass bottom boat, to look through a magnifying glass at the galaxies that exist on the pin point of a human mind." -Sarah Kay

My mother is 75 years old today. I marvel at the panache with which she has handled both her personal as well as professional life. I look at myself and my friends and how we are perpetually whining about coping with the home front and work! How were you so damn classy and tough-as-nails Ma? I think a tad enviously!

The hair is platinum now and cropped short. The fire in the eyes is a soft glow now.... The Kanjeevarams, Paithnis, Banarasis sit heavily on the frail frame.

But age has caught up with her now physically. I tenderly watch the little and big changes in her. The hair is platinum now and cropped short. The fire in the eyes is a soft glow now. The walk is steadied by a walking stick (a very stylish one with a carved, bejewelled head though!).The Kanjeevarams, Paithnis, Banarasis sit heavily on the frail frame.

There is an amplification of sweetness and dissonance, simultaneously. I feel exhausted sometimes with her irrational outbursts. I get away from her then... and feel terribly guilty about it. My emotions run the gamut of rawness.

And when I return, I see the understanding on her face. She never says sorry! She always had a pathological hatred for the word! She laughs and tells me to toughen up. I grit my teeth but my heart bursts with pride at that indomitable spirit and fierce intelligence.

Dear Ma, your husband and my Dad tells me that I become a bit more like you every day... I couldn't be prouder. I so hope it is true.

Happy Mother's Day, Ma!

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