There he was, at it again. On his birthday, at his mother’s doorstep, head bowed, “getting blessed”. On Independence Day, invoking Bharat Mata and her “sacrifices”. On the Mangalyaan triumph, reminding us of the mission’s suspicious name and how “MOM” “never disappoints”. At Madison Square Garden, telling us about the other “maa” who has always been so giving, the Ganga. On October 2, reminding countrymen not to litter “Mother India”.
Thank god my son wasn’t watching any of it, at least live. At almost 14, he has “better” things to do. Never thought I would hear myself approve of that, but some things you have to be grateful for. One of them is that children actually outgrow their mothers, no matter how much Narendra Modi may tell us otherwise.
When he was just over four, my son gave me his first lesson in that. Sitting on the pot, swinging his legs and singing loudly to himself before school as I stood outside with steam coming out my ears — it wasn’t funny at the time — he told me: “My life doesn’t have to be like yours, you know. Always rushing, rushing.” I laughed, of course, and pushed it aside at the sound of that welcome flush.
Ten years later, this is how it goes. I get up around 5.30 am, walk groggy and grumpy into the kitchen, look crossly at my getting-out-for-a-morning walk husband — “Isn’t it canteen day?”, he says hopefully — and rustle up breakfast and tiffins pretending as if I wouldn’t rather be in bed. My son and daughter wake up and, in the mad rush, don’t throw me a second glance till I pointedly close the tiffins loudly. They know the drill and, sometimes, surprise me with the happy act they put up.
We walk to the bus stop, my son telling me to go back, and I walking along nevertheless.
Off to office, where they call asking for things to get. I know better now than to remonstrate. By the time I return and get back into the routine, there are other things my little busybodies have piled up for attention. My long-suffering husband tells me I should not let any of it affect me, even to sleep in at times, but then my daughter turns those gooey eyes towards me and asks for garlic bread the next day, and all those years of talk of the “giving mother” come flooding back.
Oh, I am far from the perfect mother, and my son is probably chuckling to himself this very minute. I get angry at illogical things, expect order, beseech obedience, demand love, fight constant guilt and still wonder how two socks worn by the same person landed up in two different corners of the house. Out of consideration, my son does sometimes leave them in one heap on the floor. I try to guilt them into helping out and regret at leisure later. I shut them out and then barge in. I crave, cuddle, contrive and conspire, anything to get through 18-hour days. My son wouldn’t call it giving, though my daughter, yet 9, can be coaxed into seeing it that way. The other day, the son hugged me and said, “Chill!”
Kristin Van Ogtrop, the author of Just Let Me Lie Down: Necessary Terms for the Half-Insane Working Mom, wrote about how the only thing she took away from a self-help book called How to Calm Down was an “awesome” photograph of her son reading it and laughing maniacally. Well, I don’t keep self-help books on my night table any more, though my husband nudges them along once in a while. But I do have the image of those swinging legs on the pot and me staring at that locked door to help me through most days.
The thing is, Mr Prime Minister, us moms are just normal people doing impossible things. Our best reward on most days is a goodnight hug in time to catch one episode of our favourite TV show. Don’t burden us with being a country, a planet, or a river — tempting as the thought may be. Tell us it’s enough to be none.
Meanwhile, my mother is on the line awaiting instructions on when to arrive at my house to babysit. Could the Modi government be listening in?