My mother is turning 80 and it struck me that the best gift I can give her is to draw upon my words, infuse them with thought and feeling, and make them flow to a rhythm all my own.
But where do I begin?
How about my earliest memories — my mother’s laughter, her consistently cheery nature, her self-confidence, wit and smarts, my own stubborn desire to always tag along with her, often envying my brother for getting what I felt was more of her attention.
I could dwell on her life, rich and varied with a multitude of experiences that took her from the heights of happiness to very often the depths of sorrow.
Given my father’s scholarly nature, it was Mama who ushered in fun and drama in our lives. This took the form of movies and soaps on TV, card games and badminton, watching one-day cricket matches and Wimbledon tennis, listening to Hindi film songs and Radio Ceylon, car rides, shopping, and movie theatres
Or I could pick out the traits that make her who she is — practical, often impetuous, confident and self-assured and always up for a laugh.
To the more timid and sentimentally inclined people that my father and I tended to be, my doctor mum served as a natural foil.
Her outspoken nature meant that she would naturally assume the mantle of leader and spokesperson for our family. Wherever there was conflict, my mother’s skills would be called upon to resolve them.
All through my childhood and teenage years, there was movement, energy, conversation, song and laughter whenever my mother was around. The house would fall silent in her absence as my father retreated into his books and I to my study table.
For me, Mama also represented solutions, she was the family’s safety net, and I have never known her to back off in the face of attitudes that reeked of arrogance, rudeness and chauvinism.
My family found ourselves returning to a 1980s Kerala, where women with short hair, caused all heads to turn. So it was with my mother, with her short black hair and prominent white streaks not dissimilar to the then Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s hairdo.
A long stint abroad
Add to this the further accoutrement of a white Peugeot 305 saloon car with its steering wheel on the left — an albatross my parents brought back from their long stint abroad — and Thrissur town had something to talk about.
Given my father’s scholarly nature, it was Mama who ushered in fun and drama in our lives. This took the form of movies and soaps on TV, card games and badminton, watching one-day cricket matches and Wimbledon tennis, listening to Hindi film songs and Radio Ceylon, car rides, shopping, and movie theatres.
On the one hand she could be impatient and easily lose her temper when irritated, but on the other hand was patience personified when sewing or crafting a Mecrame pot holder. It was this patience that, though severely tested, would come to her aid in the 46 years that she spent doggedly looking after my brother.
We all have our life-defining experiences and relationships that serve to chip and chisel our character. My brother, who was diagnosed with epilepsy a day to the year from his birth, helped do that for Mama. In the time between his birth and death almost two years ago, few were the times that they spent apart.
Semblance of a normal life
With the gradual realisation that he would lifelong be a special child, Mama’s attention and energy turned towards doing whatever was in her power to help create a semblance of a normal life for him. Everything else became secondary.
In the beginning of this year when I looked forward to celebrating Mama’s 80th birthday, little did I know that we would mark the day against the backdrop of a pandemic.
Even as the death toll from Covid-19 climbs, I sometimes catch myself thinking how easily we forget that each of those was a human being with unique lives and personalities, singular talents and special skills now lost to the world.
Even as we spend the greater part of our lives getting to know our families once again, it’s worth reflecting that we, each of us, may not be among the famous and celebrated and yet our lives matter.
Without having to look forever outside, we can be assured that the lives of our loved ones offer so much inspiration laced as they are with the grit, determination and grace of the human spirit in the face of adversity.
Happy birthday Mama.
Maria Elizabeth Kallukaren is a freelance journalist based in Dubai