They looked like sisters. If I hadn't known that the one is my sister and the other my niece, I could have been fooled. Both were wearing jeans and tops, had stylishly cut short hair, dark glasses and ice cream cones in their hands!
As I watched them approach me, I thought how mothers today look younger... no, are younger! And young girls today are growing up faster, catching up with their mothers....
All around me I see mothers and daughters dressing similarly, often in the same size of clothes! I see mothers enjoying 'kiddie' foods like candy floss and daughters staidly opting for salads. I see 40-something mothers adopting new technology tools almost as quickly as their teenage daughters! And passing the book they've finished reading, to their daughters.
I see daughters graduating quickly from the childish 'dress-up' games, trying on their mothers' heels, to young women who raid their mothers' wardrobes for tops and scarves! I see them share reading materials with their mothers, and fashion tips, cosmetics, jewellery, and diet plans. I see many of them adopting mothers as their role models--more so among those who have working mothers--especially as they grow into their teens and start wondering about career choices.
It's not about patterning themselves on their mothers as clones; it's about patterning themselves on their mothers quite judiciously. So it is that a friend's daughter shares her mother's T-shirts, but not her saris, goes to salsa dance classes rather than the gym her mother frequents! But she shares her mother's interest in social causes, and though she believes these are best served through entrepreneurial work, not charity, she often accompanies her mother to her 'Teach for India' sessions.
I see mothers and daughters bonding, more like friends than in hierarchical relationships, out at restaurants, at movies, shopping at malls, exercising at yoga centres and at gyms, jogging along Mumbai's Marine Drive. They talk about the movies they like and the ones they don't, the books they have read --and dare to argue without self-consciousness over the parenting role.
Gone are the days when daughters were so much in awe of their mothers that they hesitated to talk to her about their fears and other feelings. Gone are the days of the adored mother in Little Women and even of Rahel and Ammu and their fraught, authority-centric relationship in The God of Small Things.
And gone are the days when a mother prided herself on being that authority figure. If she appears younger today, it is mainly because she has a younger outlook, not simply because she looks young! She is open to new ideas; she goes beyond the classics to read new literature and news magazines; she remembers what it was like to be a teen and empathises with her daughter as she deals with teenage issues.
Mothers are younger because they remain approachable, allow themselves to be vulnerable, to allow children to question them.
My daughter doesn't hesitate to question my opinions on various political and social news; we read the same newspapers and magazines, and discussions at breakfast or around the dining table are endless, often heated. She has an opinion on my judgement on many issues--social and personal. Her opinions and questions often make me think and rethink. I value that.
There's a freshness in her ideas that helps me to keep my thinking energised too. It keeps me in touch with the younger generation and its new ideas and creativity.
But, equally--or perhaps more--importantly, it helps me remember what it was like to be a teen myself. How the overconfidence with which I voiced opinions was so often a cover for deep uncertainties. That helps me to understand my daughter's feelings and to respond with respect.
That is when I realise that while we are friends, I am also the mother, the adult who has to be more responsible in this relationship.