Mummy, Tell Me One More Story . . .
The greatest tribute to the dead is not grief but gratitude - Thornton Wilder *
Long before I became a storyteller, my mom used to tell us stories. Stories of a mighty king, and a sweet-faced queen who fell in love, who had a beautiful bonny girl, whose kingdom was invaded by marauding armies, by aliens, by vampires . . . stories that had me at age five, jumping up and down on the couch and asking with bated breath, “And, then, what happened?” My mom gave me the gift of stories, and I honor her memory by writing them. (Read my latest published story here: http://moonmagazine.org/anoop-judge-fury-2019-05-04/ )
My mom was always stylish, elegant in the saris she wrapped around her lissome figure, and the tasteful jewelry that adorned her neck and ears—a string of pearls, tiny diamond studs, thin gold bangles on each of her wrists. Thumbing through old albums after she passed away, I come across a black-and-white picture of my mom and dad when they lived in Scotland for the first five years after their marriage. In it, my mom wears a cape with large, round buttons over a sari. Her hair is pulled back at the nape of her slender neck, her hands folded one over the other in her lap, while her eyes smile at the world in wonder. Delighted, I show it to my Dad. His weathered face breaks into a gentle smile, and he squeezes my hand. “People would stop and ask your mom if she was Indira Gandhi,” he says with a twinkle in his eye. From my mom, I learned that high fashion can be achieved on a modest budget.
My mom would pack a school lunch for me and my brothers every day. While other kids would bring in rotis and subzi cooked by a maid-servant, I would open my tiffin box and find small, crustless salami or cucumber sandwiches on thinly-sliced buttered white bread. Much before I emigrated to the United States, I learned to appreciate the delicate fresh flavors of an afternoon cup of Darjeeling tea with a dark moist slice of marble cake baked by my mom. “Aah, yes,” my Dad remembers, with a fond look on his face when I bring up this memory. “Your Mummy attended cooking classes at the YMCA in Edinburgh in the daytime when I went to work,” he remarks.
Even though they returned to India and set up their household in New Delhi, my mom kept up a monthly subscription to the magazine, Good Housekeeping for years. “It’s my guilty pleasure,” I heard her say to friends who would marvel at her easy glamour and her command over the English language. Years ago, at the conclusion of a case that involved back-to-back depositions, and a daily dose of court appearances, my opposing counsel asked me, “Girl, where do you get your style?” Shuffling legal papers into my overstuffed briefcase, I paused for a beat and responded, “My mom.” Smiling to myself, I stored the compliment in my heart to tell my mom when I next saw her face across the table at breakfast.
I was a rebellious teenager, and my mom had to put up with me wearing short skirts and heavy eye make-up that made me look like a raccoon. I did many other things that she never imagined her daughter doing. Finally, one day after a bitter fight, she turned pleading eyes to me and said, “Get married, daughter, so that I can stop worrying about you.” That’s when the penny dropped. She was so hard on me because she was afraid for me. Growing up in a middle-class household in the urban sprawl of New Delhi she wanted to protect me from the ‘eve-teasing’ (an Indian euphemism for molestation) in the crowded commuter buses and other public places. For the same reason, my mom never allowed a male domestic servant to work in our home while I was growing up for fear that some harm may befall me. That memory will forever be the lump in my throat.
Mummy, you are the reason for all the happy and timeless memories that I have of my childhood. If I am half the mother, you were, I would consider myself blessed.
*My mom passed away on April 18, 2019. It was sudden, untimely, and has left me with a gaping wound. One way I am honoring her memory is by writing about the life we shared, and taking continuing joy in the reminiscences from the past.