On our trips back to India, I believe both my kids rediscover their mother, or at least they look at me with a new eye. They get to hear stories of their mother when she was their age! ‘Mom!!!! Our age???’ Here, at home, mom is an entity, looking after them, scolding them, constantly reminding them to pick up their book bags, behave well in school, clean their rooms, taking them to practices and play dates, kissing their hurts away, holding them close in a sudden bear hug. I don’t think they regard me as a separate individual, I am more of an extension of them. I am taken for granted, except, maybe on Mother’s Day! But when we go back, they actually pause a bit to look at me, as a separate person with a life where they didn’t belong for a while. That thought is a little unreal for them. They see my baby pictures, my school certificates, my college photos, several memories of the girl – me, the young me that my parents have saved like cherished treasures. Just like I save my children’s baby teeth, their little hand prints, their pre school artwork, with the hope that I will hold on to their babyhood, at least in my memories and relive these days when they are grown and gone! My parents even saved my kindergarten artwork, much to my children’s amusement!
It was a very hot summer morning in Kolkata. Sahana couldn’t wait to get going. We were going to visit my university. She wanted to see my university and I needed to get my transcripts so I decided to take her. The trip started inauspiciously, as we witnessed a relatively harmless auto accident. I could tell she was shaken up a bit. It was a short bus ride to the college yet the girl was drenched in sweat and red in the face. We got off and entered the gate! I was immediately transported back twenty years. It was almost surreal that I was there at my alma mater not as an eighteen year old but as a mother! I could almost see the twenty year old me with dangling earrings, long hair tied in a plait, maroon t-shirt, blue jeans sitting on the steps with friends contemplating whether it was alright to cut the next class and go to the canteen instead! The young people going around us in groups talking, laughing, teasing each other was us, about twenty years ago!
To be honest, I was so lost in my memories, didn’t pay attention to the fact that Sahana was very quiet. I started showing her where I hung out with friends, our building, the grounds, the bridges, the canteens, the pond the library, the auditorium. I was oblivious that she didn’t utter a single word still but just walked next to me and kept up. Finally, I asked her what she thought. She stayed silent for a few more seconds and said, ‘It’s…..nice, mom!’ My sweet, polite girl! I then looked around and saw my school through her eyes. She had seen the campuses of Harvard and Tufts University, her father being from Tufts and aunt from Harvard. My campus, I don’t think, quite measured up.
I could tell the heat was getting to her. We sat under a tree in the shade and looked at the huge field, where some stray dogs were gambolling around in the shimmering heat. Men and women walked by us, so young and full of hope and promise. There, I told her stories. Stories of when I first crossed the threshold of the huge campus, my nervous heart beating fast, leaving behind my sheltered life at an all girl’s school, my dreams and aspirations as an eighteen year old, stories of the laughter I shared, my fears that I faced, the mistakes I made, the thoughts that I learnt to think, the books that I read, the friends that I found and kept for life. I showed her the building where her grandfather, my father, came to study Engineering, as a young man. He walked the same paths as I did, frequented the same canteens as I, made friends, laughed a bit, gave his heart, got his heart-broken, just like I did. My ten-year old listened quietly. There was no impatience, no eye rolls, no exasperated sighs. It was a beautiful moment of bonding between us. I think the place became meaningful to her as her eyes swept through the moldy yet grand buildings, the greenish brown fields with burnt grass, the mangy stray dogs and the trash littered across.
I finished my work at the office and we took an auto home, but not before she took my camera and shot pictures of me in front of places which she heard were meaningful to me in the stories I told her.
Best of all, last year when we went back, she asked her six-year-old brother to come along to see mommy’s school. The brother was excited. He, too, like his sister, was melting in the heat on our way. He walked along with us, playing with the toy soldier he had in his hand. Never paid any attention to anything I said, or any building I pointed out. He only looked up with interest at some boys playing soccer on a field and showed some enthusiasm when I pointed out where his grand father played cricket. I think he was trying to visualize his heavy-set grand father, as an athletic young man, playing a sport. The circle of life.
I didn’t think the experience could be complete without riding a rickety public bus back home. Sahana feared that every time the bus rattled the floor would give away. Ryan noticed, with obvious glee, that he could see the road underneath through the floor of the bus. They were fantastic and uncomplaining about the heat, the dust, the walk, the bus. We treated ourselves to ice cream before going home!