I remember being 18 or so and at Joby’s Mall. It was the first time I had been at a mall, I think. I remember being heady on adolescence and looking at a young boy just so. He was a strapping lad, younger than I was, hanging about the mall with his friends, cheerful of face and handsome of body. My mother chided me as soon as we left the place. I was smug, still, remembering how he had looked at me. The next day, he turned up at our home, ringing the door-bell with confidence, a smile pasted on his face. I was rather shaken, having not expected that to happen, and quickly vacated the premises. Vacating the premises would eventually turn into a recurring theme of my life. However, back then, all I remember is my mother going to him, and ever-so-gently turning him away. Later, she had strong words for me. “Don’t look at what you don’t want!” she told me. I can’t say I took her advice immediately. It led me to many scrapes over the next few years, but I learnt eventually. The lesson is important, but what struck me the most back then was how gentle she had been to that hopeful boy who had come knocking at her door, lured by her daughter’s mischief.
She was kinder to my friends than I had been, most of the time. She was definitely kinder to strangers than I had been, all of the time. There is only one exception, but I prefer to discount it given the horrible time it had been for her. The hyacinth was as protective of me as my mother was, and it often led to interesting perpendicular views of opinions and actions.
My mother serves as the translator between the world she lives in and her daughter. It is a difficult, unpaid, thankless job.
Things have changed. I matured rather unexpectedly, over the years, learning to be grounded in myself, learning to be better than I had thought I could be, growing into a level-headed woman capable of acts of compassion and generosity – nobody thought that would happen, except for two women – my mother and the hyacinth. I am grateful to them both, for their conviction. They made me want to be a better person though it would be a creative stretch to say that they made me a better person.
“You need to stop thinking of others. You need to only make yourself happy,” my mother had told me once.
She was right, not that I had been convinced of it then. I learnt my lessons the hard way, on my own, through trial and error. I chafed, still chafe, at the thought of accepting another person’s words on faith. I had to do it for myself, I had to see it for myself, I had to prove it to myself – such a worthy descendant of doubting Thomas I make.
We still disagree. She wishes I’d comb my hair, that I’d be plumper, that I’d dress better, that I’d bring home a respectable son-in-law for her, and a hundred other things. She lets it all be, however, most of the time. I wish she’d get out more, that she’d take care of her health, that she’d be less stubborn, and a hundred other things. I let it all be, however, most of the time.
This business of marriage has been stressful on both of us recently. She is plagued by the question wherever she goes these days, celebration or cremation, church or colony meeting. Often, it gets bad enough, and she comes home to plague me for a while on the subject. I can’t say that speaking about it with me eases her mind any, given my stand on the subject. She copes, I think.
Leaving was good for me. I don’t miss the partly malicious teasing (“Oh, you can write? Haha, is it any good?”, “Oh, you can play? What a family of musicians!”, “Oh, you can do well in entrance exams!”). I don’t miss the chauvinism that creeps into most interactions, the slight disbelief when you do better than the current best male specimen. I don’t miss the female jealousy or the snide comments that come my way when I get male attention though I don’t spend time before a mirror. I don’t miss the conversations that ranted on about arrogance (headweight in the local parlance) and how I would come to a bitter end because of that, despite my temporary achievements (‘She’ll do badly in her SSLC, she’ll elope, she’ll never make through the entrance exams, she’ll grow fat and ugly sitting on her arse all day and studying, she’ll never get a job, she’ll never stay at the job, she’ll never get a guy, she’ll never keep a guy’). Leaving solved much of that. Leaving was difficult on my mother, but I think, over the years, she has come to understand that it was good for me. I think it was perhaps fortunate that I was willful, and it carried me through so far, though not without consequences I didn’t care for.
People hate what is different, what they can’t understand, and I think I fell prey to that hate often when younger. I still don’t do a good job of adapting, of blending in. Perhaps I never will be able to. My mother can fit in wonderfully. She wished that I could do the same. I think she has grown to wish it less frequently over the years, however.
I don’t think I harbour maternal aspirations on most days. Yesterday, I was at a colleague’s home, and was playing with his kids. He remarked that the look on my face when I saw his kids was proof that I am cut out to be a good mother. Like most things in my life, I suspect I’ll adapt to the situation when it arises, if it arises, and do a good job at it, but I also know with certainty that I am not cut out to seek joy in pain, suffering or discomfort. My mother loves children, loves all the good and the bad that comes of pregnancy and child-rearing, and feels that it is a life-purpose as a woman. That is yet another thing that I think we will never be aligned on.
The art of balance is something that I am striving to learn. I hurt myself recently giving too much, trusting too much, changing myself too much for someone else. My mother was rather aghast when I detailed the circumstances and the consequences. She hadn’t thought me capable of such folly, I think. Yet, it is strange that it is not the first time I have done so. I have found myself, more than once in my life, capable of great love (though so many who think they know me would claim that impossible), overwhelming me enough to change for the loved one and ending up damaging myself. The problem with loving so few and loving so rarely is that you end up loving more intensely and impractically beyond what most think possible. My natural resilience helps often to bounce back, but it may not continue indefinitely and it is important that I change the pattern myself. The fine line between compassion towards others and compassion towards self is important to learn and a lesson I haven’t learned yet. Perhaps this year.