I See My Mom Again
Rupa Mahi and my two young cousins came to pick me up at the airport. Rupa Mahi and Dhon Moha lived in Guwahati with their children, and I was going to spend the night with them before leaving for Diphu in the morning.
Vinod was twelve and Abhay fourteen. They were both rather shy, even though they had chattered away nonstop on my last visit. Vinod was dark, thin and wore glasses. Abhay was chubby and I dearly wanted to pinch his cheeks, but I reminded myself that that wasn’t seemly, given that he was taller than I was. Rupa Mahi was still beautiful – more plump now, but she reached over and hugged me as she used to when I was a little girl, and I felt like a little girl again, and wished I could cry into her arms till my troubles drained out.
The air of Guwahati was stultifying. I always felt oddly lethargic and apathetic whenever I was there. It was beautifully green after the dry environs of Gurgaon, if you could ignore all the trash on the streets. I sat in front next to Mahi and looked eagerly around at how much the city had changed since my last visit. Vinod and Abhay lost some of their shyness and eagerly pointed out new malls and restaurants.
I had an early dinner and went to bed. I was in Abhay’s bed in the brothers’ room – he would sleep in the spare bed in the living room. It was only nine and not even Vinod’s bedtime yet. I called Raghav but we had only talked for a couple of minutes when Vinod came in a few minutes later and lay on his bed, just a few feet away from my own, so I said good night to Raghav.
At six the next morning, Dhon Moha and Rupa Mahi drove me to the bus stop. The kids were asleep, so I couldn’t say bye to them. I hugged my uncle and aunt and got on the bus to Diphu.
The way was beautiful. The trees by the side of the roads were dusty, but we passed dense green woods: rows of silvery eucalyptus trees and stretches of white flowers scattered on bushes like stars in the sky. I was so excited that I stayed awake throughout, even as the middle-aged woman next to me dozed on my shoulder.
We stopped at a dingy eatery for lunch, and I had greasy luchis and watery aloo bhaji with two tiny glasses of strong sweet tea.
We pulled into Diphu by late afternoon, and I looked out eagerly for the glimpse of my school on the way. The serene buildings looked just the same as always, lined by trees, and a silent nameless fear died in my heart.
I saw my mother before the bus stopped. She was craning her head to see if this was the right bus. I waited impatiently for the passengers before me to get down while she stood by the door and tried to look into the dark inside of the bus. And then I had grabbed my bags and I was down, holding on to her arms with both hands and pulling her away from the ongoing rush of people.
I hadn’t seen my mother for nearly two years. The last time I had come home had been on Bohag Bihu last year, when I had a week before starting my summer internship. We had got a couple of days off for Diwali, when most of my classmates had visited their hometowns, but four days wasn’t nearly enough for a visit to Diphu and I was too worried over the upcoming placement season to take a longer holiday. She had planned to visit me during the summer, when her college would be closed, but Dhon Moha had had a heart attack, and of course Ma had gone down to Guwahati to be with her sister. Dhon Moha had been in hospital for a couple of weeks, and Ma had, from what Rupa Mahi told me yesterday, done her best imitation of a tower of strength, nursing Dhon Moha, cooking and housekeeping and taking care of the boys, and keeping Rupa Mahi cheerful and encouraging her to go back to work a few days after Moha came home from the hospital.
By the time he was quite well again and Ma could leave them, the summer holidays were almost over.
I had thought, numerous times in the past six months, of taking a week off and going to see my mother. But I was new at my job, and I always had projects, and – most importantly, I didn’t have enough leave accumulated to go without having unpaid leave, and I didn’t think I could afford that. I was barely keeping my head above water, and I didn’t want to have to ask Ma for money. Yeah, she was my mother. I got my pride from her.
And there she was now, my mother, shorter and greyer than I remembered her, clad in a white sari with grey and blue flowers on it that made her look older than her fifty-one years, smiling up at me somewhat hesitantly, as if she wasn’t sure if I still liked her.
I hugged her, if only to hide my emotion.
“Don’t cry,” said Miki fiercely.
We drove home, my Ma and I. She even asked me if I would like to take the wheel: I shook my head. We had learned to drive at the same time. I had come home from college four years ago for my two-month-long summer holidays, and Ma had bought her first car (if you didn’t count the car my dad had had when I was little, the one he had died in). She also hired a driver called Abdul, who not only drove us around but also gave us both driving lessons every morning. Diphu was a small town and my mom’s workplace was a hundred metres from her house, but Abdul took us around the curves and slopes of the hill and to scenic spots and little villages around.
I spent two weeks in Diphu with my mom. I tried to forget all my worries of my life back in Gurgaon and live these two weeks just as her daughter, and fill in all those moments that I couldn’t get with her because I lived so far away.
My mother looked older, but she still had the same energy. She talked to me enthusiastically of her students. She drove me to the big park I used to clamour to go to when I was a kid. She made me food that I loved – khorisa, tenga, fluffy cream-coloured luchi with aloo bhaji, and perfect white globes of coconut laroo. We took long walks together, her pointing out a house nearby that someone new had moved into, a tree which had flowered beautifully last year. We stopped by ponds and watched ducks. Almost everyone we met stopped to greet her, invariably as ‘Principal baideu’.
Everyone commented on how much I looked like her. We had the same unruly hair – though hers was sprinkled with silver, the same narrow eyes and naturally thin eyebrows, the same thin mouths, the same thick strong hands. My sister took after my father, with her large wide-open eyes, thick eyebrows that she kept fashionably thin and arched, rosy pouting lips and small dainty ears. She was much prettier, but I was glad I took after my mom.
Surprise! It's up early this week!