Wednesday, June 13, 2012


 22 years ago Kamala left this world. She has been remembered as a wife, a mother, a grandmother, a sister, a friend. Today I want to remember Kamala the woman. She deserves her place in history.
I hope this letter brings the closure we all need.

Dear Mama

I do not know why I am writing today of all the days. Maybe it is because I sense my time is short and just like you one day scribbled haphazard thoughts in an old diary, I feel the need of talking to you.
Or is it because of that very diary as it revealed an image of you so remote from the one you had carefully crafted and nurtured over the almost 40 years we lived together, the one you wanted me to know. Then why those hurriedly scribbled lines Ma, the ones that destroyed the image of an ever smiling mother to replace it with that of a sad unhappy lonely woman?

Maybe it is because tonight of all nights the heady smell of the jasmine papa planted for you is redolent of memories of you, or perhaps it is because in these twilight years I feel the need to tell you whether I was worth that incredible decision you made many years back: that of accepting a life as an old maid rather than give birth to a slave child.

I could have addressed these words to an unborn child, waiting to see the light in a now ageing independent India. Sixty years, I guess is long enough to assess whether we did fulfil the dreams people like you cherished, but that would be letting you down.

It is difficult to assess one’s one self, as one tends to be harsh and inflexible. We shy away from revealing our bare self when our interlocutor is someone who has the skills and ability to react and hence sit in judgment. At those times truth gets clouded; we find it necessary to add ‘meat’ so as to make ourselves more palatable. 

When I discovered your diary mama, I was at a moment of my life when I had finally done something that I could dare think would make you proud. For many years I tried in vain to find the India you had so lovingly engraved in my heart. Then one day, just as you stumble on love, I found myself in a place so remote from what I had experienced. To many it is simply brushed away as a dirty slum, but to one who can see with her heart it was a melting pot of all that makes India what she is. And in that haven I tried to pick up the threads where you had left them almost sixty years ago to marry my father.

Over the last two years, I have written about my experiences, shared my anger and pride, despair and joy in what is the modern version of a diary and is called a blog! Had you lived today you would have been a great blogger!

Let my words speak for me, so that someone, maybe your grand daughter can one day be the one to decide whether your sacrifice was worth it.

Over and above the freedom heroes that have been applauded, there were many like you who made innumerable albeit invisible sacrifices, setting benchmarks we can never reach.

I cannot begin to imagine the hurt and humiliation you endured in those difficult times when you fought the oppressor in your own inimitable ways. The long nights you slept hungry, the envy in your little eyes when you saw your rich relatives gorge on sweets and other delicacies that you could not have, or wear pretty and soft clothes as your ungainly ones chafed your delicate skin. Children do sometimes long for things they cannot have, however brave they are.

You shared many childhood moments with me over the years, in bits and pieces, letting them sink in and weave their way into the deep recesses of my memory to lie their quietly till the time they would spring up as answers to many questions, more so after you had left.

Were you fulfilling the role of the perfect mother, who ensures that she is still around, long after her mortal remains have been scattered in the wind.

I must confess Ma, that after you left me on that June night, Pa filled the void in such a way that I almost forgot your existence. You had played your role to such perfection that you had even mastered the art of becoming invisible. So the years that followed your exit were filled with the presence of my flamboyant father who seemed to have hogged all the place.

 And as I mourned him in more ways than one, you somehow receded behind that huge smile of yours that met my eyes each time I entered the house.

Unsung hero that you were, you perfected the art of remaining unseen, even when you did not need to. Maybe you had the last word as in our times visibility has too many strings attached.
Come to think of it mama, you always had the last word as Ram could fill the space when everything was right, but the day my life turned upside down he did not have the answers. Pa who had been so present when life was right seemed to crumble when things went astray.

And as your child lay hurting and broken it was you who were the one to come forward. Strange that as I write these words, suddenly you seem to be the one who was always there, though I could not see you.
I have mellowed over the years ma, I am no more your impetuous child whose every whim had to be fulfilled and the reason is that there is no one to fulfil them anymore; no one to run to or hide behind, no one to lessen the blows of life or apply a healing touch.
As I look back upon my life, I see it replete with moments when you were the only one to pick the broken pieces, as somehow my dazzling dad managed to sneak out each time.

A few weeks back, my world came crashing when my all grown up children sat in judgment and assessed my worth as a mother. I was left broken and alone and the emptiness within me was so deep that it threatened to devour me. I knew I had to fill it in some way or the other. I set about cleaning the house and looking at many boxes that had sat in the attic, replete with things from the past.
There were many, and for those few days time took on another dimension travelling to and fro at the speed of light and bringing back memories long forgotten. Pictures of you and me spanning almost four decades; I must say that it was a soothing experience. Your smile never leaving your beautiful face! 

As I looked at those snapshots now yellowed, I realized how well you had built my existence, always making me believe that you were happy and content.

You were a master at knowing when to say things, share moments of your past ensuring that they became steppingstones in mine. And even the harshest stories were narrated without bitterness, all an intrinsic part of what you had made me believe to be your greatest dream: that of giving life to a child in free India. I remember how you used to say that you had wanted many children, but that was not to be as your son was taken away from you and only I remained to fulfil the destiny you had picked for me.

I have often wondered what you must have thought when you made such a decision. You would have been in your late teens, as that is the age when young girls were wedded. How deeply you must have hurt as a child not to want to have one that would have to experience the pain you felt. I have only recently understood the magnitude of that decision. One that seeped slowly in me as I grew up and crossed different milestones.

As I rummaged through the yellowed pictures, I became more and more aware of the terrible void that nothing had been able to fill. To the world I may be seem to be successful and complete, but I am not and the blow I received vindicated my vulnerability. And you were not there to hold my hand and steer me back on course. 

I searched for answers ma, in the snapshots of the past, looking beyond what I saw for some light, some sign and that is when, my eyes strayed on an innocuous looking diary that lay amidst the heap of pictures. Where had it come from, and how come I had not seen it earlier, I do not know. It was there, egging me to pick it up and somehow it filled all the space.

I knew almost intuitively that my world would change the moment I opened the diary, but I was far from imagining how. How could I envisage that what I was about to read would reveal another side of you, one that would shatter the happy ménage a trois picture that had cradled my life till then. One that would put an incredible load on my now tired shoulders, as I would have to answer whether I had been worthy of your sacrifice and had fully vindicated it.

You see ma as long as I could believe that you had been happy, my existence was second fiddle, but the moment I was made aware of the fact that your seeming happiness was a conscious decision aimed at making my life complete, then I became the core of everything you stood for. So here I am ma, faced with the most difficult task of my life, but one I cannot evade. 

To answer this essential and existential dilemma I am simply going to follow your diary and build in my answers around them, answers that will go far beyond me as the child in free India you dreamt of, to all those children that live or survive in this complex land. And I will ask myself the same question you did long ago: would I today, bring into this world another child based on what I have seen and experienced.

Sadly the answer is no and I am relieved to see that you have been spared the agony of witnessing the way we have let our children down.

Before I begin this difficult journey, I would like to say mama that after reading that little blue diary, written somewhere in 1989, I had thought of destroying it and taking the secret of your real feelings to my grave. That would have kept the happy picture perfect theory intact. But later, as I mulled over it I realised that you deserved better and that your life could only be vindicated if what you wrote was shared

On the first page of that diary is a prayer – January 1 - to an unknown God, a desperate prayer which begins with your seeking more faith leaving me wondering whether, when and where you had lost yours. Where was the ever smiling woman who religiously celebrated each festival in its minutest ritual so that her child growing up in far away lands would never be alienated from the faith she was born in, lest she chose to follow it as you had also left all doors open to me.

What deep angst made you implore this unnamed God to strengthen your belief? Or what journey where you embarking on. Did you already know intuitively that it would topple your child’ s world and were you seeking for strength to be able to write all that was threatening to choke, as somehow you too knew that time was short. And why is it that this tiny sentence was enough to warn me of impending danger?

The next line strangely comforted me as it sounded like you as you sought blessings for those you loved and a peaceful end for yourself, one that would not burden your little family. But the comfort is short lived as the last lines of this prayer breaks the image once in for all as you ultimately ask for not having to beg for money, company, affection.

Mama you have set the stage, I know that the following pages will reveal a different you, one so remote from the happy, smiling, content mother I knew.

I have often wondered whether you held it against me to have been the one who lived in lieu of your son. I must confess, as it is confessing time, that I resented the almost obsessive references to my dead brother and felt that you used them to make me do many a thing I did not want. And yet all along those years I was with you, I always felt that you celebrated womanhood. Had you not defied every rule in the book: at a time when girls did not study you went to become a PHD, at a time when girls did not step out of their homes you lived alone and drove trucks around the countryside, at a time when girls were married when they were still children, you waited to be 30 and still found a husband.
You above all should have been the one to want a daughter and yet it is only on your death bed that you found the words that healed the terrible hurt I had endured all along my life. You did say that were you to be born again you would want a daughter like me rather than one thousand sons.
So I know that these hurriedly scribbled pages hold a hidden meaning, one that I am now trying to unravel as you are not one to subject pain to those you love without a larger objective, to destroy a carefully nurtured picture without replacing it with something better.

Maybe that is why you never said those words when you were alive, maybe your pathetic prayer was also to ensure that I stumble upon this diary when time was right, when I had mellowed enough to accept the terrible truth yet to be revealed. 

The image of a happy mother freed me of many responsibilities; an unhappy lonely one demanded its pound of flesh; that of living a life you would be proud of, of leaving a footstep that would vindicate your very existence.

The very next page destroys some more of  the happy picture as you rant about my father’s inordinate generosity with paltry funds, something both of you concealed so well as I always felt that you were more than comfortable. But your words are a far cry from that. What a blow you deal me ma when you share that you are willing to accept pa with another woman than losing my love as for you your child is everything and more. 

Ma, you leave me speechless as I search my mind for the times I may have hurt you, the times I may have left you alone to run after some silly dream. I never knew how much you loved me, for your love was perfect and never abusive as you never stood in my way or clouded my horizons.
As I sit here with tears streaming on my now aged face, I feel so inadequate and helpless as you are not there for me to tell you that I never stopped loving you. The only way I can show you how much I did love you is by accepting to bare myself even if I look ugly, and immortalise my feelings in this ode to you.

However allow me to say something that I hope will guide others; parents often feel the need to hide things from their children who then build impossible images that parents feel obliged to live up to. All this creates imbroglios one cannot quite get out of. Maybe parents do that to protect children but when reality appears it is often too late to heal. Children have stronger shoulders than you think and feel privileged to share the pain of the people who gave them life.

I say this in hindsight as I too have made the same error. I know the pain of seeing your children say things that hurt and yet are we not responsible for this very situation. The web of lies, or half-truths we use to give the illusion that all is well ultimately boomerangs back to you.

That is why before I address the question of whether I was worth your innumerable sacrifice, let us go through your diary together and let me answer your pain in the best way I can. I will just write the date of each entry, for clarity.

February 6th

Why did you not tell me you fell and hurt your knee? Why hide your pain again Ma. You did it way back when I was 6 and after a bad car crash as you sat with multiple fractures smiling so that your child would not be upset. But I am no more 6, and I would have liked you telling me of your pain and allowing me to help soothe it. Why always protect me? Is this something we always do for our children, try to keep them away from all that is bad? I am also guilty of that but then when the truth comes out or the child has the first taste of reality he is not able to take it and looks around for the now gone mother. 

I know I was leaving that day but maybe I could have just sat with you and held your hand and said all those unspoken words that often work miracles. But you preferred not to say anything, then why write it down. Strange situation when I do not know who is more guilty you for not saying or me for not having guessed. Maybe we both are. Motherhood is such a thankless task, one never gets a second chance or maybe these words I write are that second chance.

February 8th
I am so happy you took some time for yourself and went to the hairdresser. I must confess something today: as I grew up my memories of you often remain that of a woman sitting at her dressing table and grooming herself. A little push on my memory and I also remember all the names of the various hairdressers you had the world over, and in each picture that wait patiently in the marked boxes, your hair is always perfect. I never recall you dishevelled or without make up, even at the breakfast table you were always picture perfect. You feel better you write but then why again the mellow sadness that I can see in between the lines when you wish me and my kids well and long for the love of your son-in-law?

Why do we all build impossible dreams and why does society brand each and every relationship so that they are doomed to disaster before having a chance to grow. And then why do we, in spite of knowing these, insist on getting hurt. I know you carried that hurt to your pyre, a hurt that was deepened as maybe you had nursed it from the time you first saw my face, the dream of having my husband replace your dead and buried son. The decision as you made it was doomed Mama. In our imperfect world we are not the ones who decide, mores and norms and societal pressure label relationships well before they are conceived. And we carry the pain of things we have no control of.

As I read your words, I wonder whether I let you down and strangely things long forgotten suddenly flood my mind. I remember the day I made such a scene In Saigon – even the name of the city has changed – when you had tried on a kurta churidar of mine, one we had just bought in India. I was 12 and the outfit a bright green with some Kashmiri embroidery. I had thrown one of my well-known tantrums, one that are the special right of the only child breed. As I think back, my head hanging in shame, I wonder what it was that made me react that way. Was it the fact of seeing you standing in that outfit, you who was always clad with elegance in the folds of unique saris? Was it because for that instant you did not look like my mother? Even with whatever indulgence I can muster, I cannot forgive that act. More so because I have often dressed like my adult kids and never found it odd. That long forgotten incident never sprung in my mind when I went about borrowing something my girls had. And they never grudge me the fact.

Then what made me act in that impossible manner? Was I also victim of the stereotype syndrome where mothers are meant to look, behave and be a certain way? Once that stamp is stuck on your head you are meant to play a part the lines of which were never written or you.

I do not know why Mama, but just these few febrile and fragile pages I have read seem to conceal a question that may never be asked: do we have to sacrifice our self esteem and identity at the altar of motherhood. Does bringing a child into this world mean that your life will be judged on its success or failure?

This diary seems to be your last attempt at stating who you are beyond R’s wife and A’s mother. Why are not father’s assessed in the same manner? Is it because motherhood means a nine-month ordeal that ends in pain before a life is born as opposed to the few seconds a male needs to engender his offspring? Is the responsibility of failure proportionate to the time spent?

It is true that history and fiction are replete with examples of the mother having to bear the blame of a child gone wrong, but is it her fault. Being a mother is a performance where no second takes exist and of course there are no rehearsals. Just a show that ends when one of the protagonists leaves this planet, and if god forbid it is the child that goes first, then the blame is again put on the mother.
You had to suffer that to mama, when fate took your son away when he was barely a few moments old. You never knew that child barring the nine months you carried him while building dreams and the pain you endured bringing him into this world. But you never forgot him; I am witness to that as most of my life was spent in trying to fill that space. How many times I changed directions in my life just by hearing the “if my son was alive..” you often uttered.
But let us go on

February 9th

Strange entry. You mention hearing I have reached back safely but in the next line speaks of your concern at not being able to adjust to our coming back. 

 Yet in every letter you wrote you talked about living for the day we would be back. What made you write that I wonder? Had the two years spent alone turned you into a recluse? That was so unlike you, who had always been the social one, even the gregarious ones. And what was even more upsetting in your words was the reference to the children, as they had always been so important to you.

I sat and pondered about this brief entry. Was it your way of preparing yourself for the ultimate send off? Your way of moving away from all the emotional bonds that tied you to our world, your way of asserting your identity in the most unusual way possible.

I know you knew that one day I would find this diary and read it. I can feel that the words were meant to be shared and I also know that nothing you wrote in this desperate and ultimate cry was fortuitous.
What are you trying to tell me Kamala? Are you helping me deal with my present situation or are you showing me the way to walk the last leg of my life. So many questions and no answers but the words that follow.

February 10th
Another short entry where your physical pain heralds the far deeper seated emotional agony. Papa’s temper and your muteness, the loneliness of retirement when times hangs heavy and money is short, things that punctuate with obsessive regularity this swan song of yours. 

Looks like papa and you are two solitudes living side by side, each in their own orbit, dying to reach out to each other but not knowing how to as you have lost all the rule books. Each one of you is digging their heels hoping the other would take the first step. 

Are these the things that hurt you most, is it full circle for you, from a childhood marked with want and hunger to an old age where they appear again. Are you trying to tell me that these are plagues of life that have to be handled in whatever way one can find. Or are you giving me hope by saying that life does come full circle.

I watch my husband fighting a lonely battle to fulfil a thirty old year dream, digging into his meagre reserves as everyone around claims his pound of flesh. Here again the stereotypes, the hackneyed images of the ideal son, ideal whatever where the other forgets to play his part altogether.
So I will accept the full circle theory as it suits me at this moment and hope that my life too will come full circle, and plenty will overcome these times of want.

Come of think of it, these moments of privation have one plus point: they are great indicators of your real friends as you see the others disappear slowly from your firmament. Maybe that is what they are made for.

February 13th  

Four premonitory lines, as if you could see the future just at the time when I would unearth this diary and not about the children, or me but about my husband, the one that you often prevaricated about, the one you had built impossible dreams around. A sort of intuitive flash as you express a terrible fear about his being hurt and let down by those he loves; an ominous and terrible insight about a reality that did happen and a barely whispered thought about its inevitability.

Is it that we feel for the loved ones of those we love, or was it that you did love him but did not find ways of expressing it as you were an unwilling captive of your unfulfilled dreams of seeing a son, where actually there was only a son-in-law?

Those four febrile lines show the immense unexpressed and unrequited love you had for the man I chose to share my life with. Something you opted never to express while you lived.
Is this not something that happens more often than we think, and we never quite gather the courage to say the words that almost choke us and hence find ways of tucking them away somewhere in the hope that they would reach their ultimate destination.

You did write them and I did read them at a time when your premonition has come true. I showed them to him and once again the time was right as he accepted them and was touched in his own way bringing an unfulfilled relationship to a quiet closure.

February 18th

No entries on the previous days as you battle your hurting knee but your sister’s visit breaks the spell. M was always a sibling you felt for deeply. Maybe it was because she was the least attractive though the most educated. Maybe it was because she had to endure a failed marriage? Or was it because of the way she took charge of her life and of her daughter with dignity and rare courage?
Over the years I used to watch the way you kept aside a nice handbag, an attractive sari or even slid a few rupees in an envelope for her; the way you defended her when others said nasty things or praised her tiniest achievement.

I also with time realized that to all your siblings you were more a mother than an elder sister and hence ready to forgive them their mistakes and sometimes aberrations.
Was it because you had chosen to marry late and were still at home at an age when your peers were already mothers-to-many! 

This unconditional love of yours for your siblings was never accepted by papa’s possessiveness and his attitude hurt you beyond words as I found out in the pages of what is to me your final cri de coeur. Yes through those pages it is your true identity that is revealed in its raw essence, where you bare yourself to the bones not seeking kudos, bravos and least of all encores!

February 19th

Now comes the counterpoint of your poignant almost Wagnerian symphony: your reaction to the ways of papa with his family. You mention the visit of his brother and wife with a palpable yet unexpressed sarcasm as you relate their lack of form somewhat echoing papa’s way of reacting to your kin. 

It was a game you both played over the years and that I did not quite understand then, as if you were guided by a malevolent spirit urging you to hurt each other, and you got so caught in it the maze, that you never found your way out.

This entry is one of the lighter moments of this sombre account when you recount the way you played a zany game of changing sheets from one to bed to another to accommodate your sister as his brother kept dropping in without notice.

Mama this is a game we all play when we react to a hurt given by the other; we replicate the same scenario till we get caught in a web. 

In some ways I have been lucky that I managed to find the way out of this choking pastime and call the bluff before it was too late.

I know you never could, though let me tell you that in your last moments with us your husband had accepted your kin with an open heart as he ran helter-skelter to meet your impossible demands and ease the pain you were in, while you lay painfully unaware. Hope you are listening!

February 22nd

Your physical pain seems to be getting the better of you, or is it your way of not having to write as you watch the ballet of relatives flitting in and out of your house, one after the other adding nothing of value to your woeful existence.

You do mention an aunt and her strange behaviour that you cannot quite explain and that leaves you perplexed. You were always endowed with perspicacity and could discern the tiniest of change in others. But somehow and unlike you, you say nothing more. 

February 23rd
A lighter entry as you share papa’s all clear from the doctor. You are quite excited, as your 75-year-old husband has decided to run for his country and even smile at his ludicrous idea of winning. But was he not the young mile champion of his tiny island and somehow the title of the race: run for my country is close to your heart as you did many things for your country.

But the sombre mood soon returns as you once again start questioning the lack of lustre in your life. You were never a housewife mama, even when you tried to be one. You always needed to shine, be it in the way you dressed or the coloured Sobrani cocktail cigarettes that matched your sari that you chose to puff away at. 

A strange one you were deciding to learn French as a birthday present for your Francophile man, or the many courses you signed for with glee. In all my memories I cannot not remember you in the kitchen, that was papa’s domain, you shone in the table dressing or ikebana arrangements or the complex calligraphies of your place cards.

So how could you spend your twilight years getting dust off the many artefacts collected during your nomadic life? Inactivity or useless activity stultified you and hence the leitmotiv – I must do something – pierced through all barriers, be they physical pain or domestic chores.

As I read your words I have a feeling that somewhere you long to free yourself, your spirit, your soul and are desperately looking for the combination or the key that unlocks the door to disenthrallment. And as I see, you veer between emotions and memories, I can sense a deep anger waiting to be released. 

But mama, are not the keys to the locks of freedom hidden beneath that very anger and unless you rid yourself of it, you cannot set yourself free. Is not freedom imprisoned under the airs of bravado we are forced to sport in order to live the badly written scripts of our lives, where individuality and identity are hijacked in the name of the virtuous labels we are made to wear and that bear names, motherhood being the most deceptive of all!

And the game becomes more sinister as we are led to believe that under these labels lies happiness. Is not happiness a great wanderer that comes and goes, and hence for each happy moment we have to pay a heavy tithe!

As little girls we are told that marriage will bring the elusive bliss we seek, when marriage does not quite begin the way we wanted, we are told that motherhood will set it all on course, and once we become a mommy, why is it that we feel more like its homonym mummy, whose very essence has been ceremonially removed.

I am sorry if these words sound harsh and pitiless, but it is true that by the time we are finished being mommies, nothing much is left of our original self, as we watch it lying in chunks on the ground, too bruised to pick up, if not decayed. Many of us prefer to make peace with the new being we have been forced to turn into, some even make friends with it, but there are some, like you and I mama, who have to pick the pieces up and try as best we can, to bring the lost identity back to life, even if it is excruciatingly painful.

February 24th

I can feel your pain mama and understand why some of the pages in this diary are just those of an old lady’s daily journal replete with senseless occurrences. So you mention visits of friends and acquaintances, innuendos like references to a TV soap, or the renewal of a fixed deposit, simple things that bring some quietude. But I know this is just the calm before a storm that awaits in the pages to come.
February 26th

The storm was closer than I had thought for what starts with a simple visit with a friend to her empty house in need of repairs is the trigger for a terrible outburst. 

Once again you reveal the financial reality that papa and you had concealed from me. You beat yourself for not having saved for a rainy day and spent on useless things that mock you as you look around. And if that was not enough you go on making futile calculations interspersed with ifs and buts that add up to astronomical delusory numbers. But you stop yourself almost admonishing your flight of fantasy and start counting your blessings, which pathetically are summed up in one word: your child.

Did you realise mama what an albatross you were hanging around my neck the day I read these words. 

Millions of question flooded my mind as I wondered if I had been able to vindicate your whole existence. Why did my life, which seemed at least bearable, seem so inconsequent suddenly, as everything I had achieved till this instant paled in front of your almost intolerable statement?

Strange that this issue should come up now, as I battle the question of the right of parents on the lives of their children, and ask myself where do you draw the line and is it a one way street.

For many years I thought it was, where the parent gave unconditionally and the child received. But that came to an end when the equation became so tilted that it was impossible to bear. 

February 27th 

Thanks heaven your next entry is easier as you share your views on the outside world. The ongoing lawyers strike makes you angry as you feel they are rich enough and should be content. I can hear the freedom fighter’s daughter assert her voice as you fulminate about the new garb of politics as a moneymaking enterprise. 

Your outburst is understandable as the images of the past are still alive in your mind, of days when politics was honourable and strikes purposeful. 

What would you say of today mama, when the social fabric has become so eroded that anyone who dares to be honest is branded as a fool.

Even I, who never knew pre-independence days as you had, feel saddened and lost in this world where only money is the measure of success and where the institutions so carefully and lovingly crafted by those like you are hijacked and held hostage.

What kills me is the hopelessness of the situation as those who could make a difference have sunk into a convenient state of indifference. 

February 28th
Finally an entry that takes you out of the walls of the house, which were turning claustrophobic. You talk about picking up my glasses and then making the long journey to Connaught Place to purchase some videocassettes for us. 

Those were the days where videocassettes were not available at the corner market and they were our lifelines in communist Prague. Your younger brother was to bring them to us and you worry about his reluctance to make that trip. Is it because he felt that he would not be welcome? You need not have worried mamma, because you had brought me up well, and above all I knew how much you cared for this brother though once again we were faced with the issue of lopsided equations when one gave and the other took unabashedly.

But that was your cross to bear, I just watched you hurt and sighed helplessly.

March 1st

More of the same as you hear about the shocking behaviour of your nephew who does not go to the side of your favourite brother but prefers to stay with his pals.

For you this is unforgivable as you were always the perfect daughter. You rant and rave but come to think about it, we as parents are responsible for the way our children behave.
We forgive them all and then wonder why they treat us with such disrespect. But then it is too late; the harm is done and irrevocable. 

Just like life ends in death, parenthood too has to come to a closure, one we resist and are weary to accept. 

Once again you veer back to what seems to have become your bête noire: the futility of your existence. And you wonder in a poignant manner about your worth.

March 2nd

Thanks heavens an article in the newspaper rekindles your fire, and there you are again vociferating about the plight of women.

It is nice to see the mother I admired, the one whose stories were the inspiration of my life. For were you not the one who accepted working for the enemy to help hapless war widows in remote villages. So how can you sit in silence when you read of women being raped by policemen? For you this happens because from the instant they are born, women are treated as property to be used and discarded. And here you lay the blame on mothers who you feel do not love their daughters the way they should. Who do not give them education or teach them self-respect. 

Nothing has changed mama, maybe the ways are more refined but the abuse is still there and I blame the women themselves.

March 3rd

The visit of a niece who has found occupation even in a small town sets you again on your favourite subject. Women are made to think that they are there to please men: father, brother husband and so on, and that is something a woman of substance like you is loathe to accept.

A woman daring to be different is condemned not only by men, but by women too and you impute this to the age-old traditions of a patriarchal society.

But things are changing mama, and maybe it will appease you a little to know that your own child is trying to do her bit. 

March 4th

Holi and more of the Wagnerian symphony, or rather more of your grim chasse-croise where you resent papa not having allowed you to call me, assigning it to your brother’s presence in Prague. Oh how we revel in hurting each other in life! Strange but I too have done much of this in the better part of my married existence. 

The you did this to me retorted by a but what about what you did eons of days ago, a game where there is no winner or loser as there is no end, like those ghastly videogames that keep going on with increased levels of difficulty.

How simple it would have been if the call had been made, and both of you could have spoken to us. We did sit there waiting you know. Those were still the days when calls were booked and put through by impersonal ladies, but how we loved their voice as they heralded those we longed to hear.
That day we were all deprived of a happy memory simply because two adults insisted on playing childish games.

There is another jarring note that comes back like a leitmotiv in your diary. Papa’s anger, bad humour and today you even add bad manners. 

These are difficult images for me as like every daughter papa was for many years my prince charming: the suave portly impeccably dressed Ambassador, who swept me off my feet many times as he taught me the art of living. Where were the poor manners you talk about hidden or let me guess where they reserved for your kin only?

But mama don’t you see it was his silly possessive way of loving you. We all fall victim to this illusion that husbands should love like fairy tale princes. But they are not capable of it and they each have their quirky ways that we alas, recognise much too late.

As I read your words my heart goes out the two people who gave me life and who did not know how to love each other, as they grew old. But there is not an iota of doubt in my mind that both of you cared deeply for the other, and even if in these moments of self assertion you chose to think otherwise, your love for him is present under every word you write, and more than that in the regularity with which he appears in your entries.

March 5th
Once again you refer to papa’s bad temper. I have a feeling that it has become essential for you to find a reason for his behaviour, one that will allow the healing to begin. You say you avoid speaking with him as much as possible. For you it is his way of being and feeling superior, something you cannot understand. 

We do look for ways to whitewash those we love. Maybe your silence was one such way. Do not give him the chance to shout, just build a wall of silence.
I did that for many years till I could not hold it anymore, and when I could not take another hit because my self-respect was at stake, I let out a huge yell that broke the deafening silence and re-established communication.

It is a pity that you could not do so.

Anyway you were writing these words firm with the knowledge that this was to be your last year. How right you were as you passed away exactly a year after your last coherent entry.
You died more than once mama, the first being when you left your independent workingwoman status. You reinvented your self as a diplomat’s wife and wrote a script you played well. But then with this diary you infused life again in that Kamala none of us knew and left this imprint. You knew time was short but I think even you could not have imagined what lay ahead. A few days after the last entry you lost your mind or part of it and that is the day you truly crossed the great divide.
Your broken body will take one more year to go, but by then your sprit had moved on.

March 6th

Money is power you say in the next page. Money has always been important to you. I guess the little girl who lived in extreme penury never grew up. The horror of days of deprivation are deeply seeded in your mind and come to the fore in outbursts of incomprehensible acts like your life long habit of hiding money in unimaginable places.

But your obsession with money is a far cry from the one we see these days when it has become the benchmark of social acceptability and success.

You fear for us as you watch the largess of heart of my life partner, strangely reminiscent of papa’s. You were so right as that day is upon us. But once again it is one of those ruthless realities were there is no going back. I just stand and watch the man I love facing with rare dignity the fate that has hit us.

As you go on veering between your concern for money and your feeling of gratitude for what you have, you reveal a part of your life you had never even hinted at.
Your restless mind travels back to those early days of your life and once again you leave me speechless as you candidly share about another decision you took as a child: to work and always keep a little on the side.

Mama how proud I am as I read about how as a young student you sold pencils made in India for the swadeshi movement, keeping your tiny commission in a box. They were but a few paise you say but seemed like a king’s ransom. And as if that was not enough, you floor me when you say that as a working woman you gave 50rs a month to your father as rent because you loved him and could not stand his suffering because of lack of money.

March 8th
The money blues continues as you despair about all those you care for, and their lack of concern about saving. Be it papa, or your son-in-law but your seething anger and frustration is directed towards me, and my spending ways. 

As usual your rare ability to find the right image to substantiate what you preach comes to the fore as you talk of a poet without family or responsibility or Mahatma Gandhi who had millions to look after him, as the ones who can afford the luxury of being paupers. But when you are one in a million you have to learn the value of saving. This is something you desperately want me to learn. 

You tried mama, and you failed. I never learnt it and maybe am paying for my foolishness. But could I have when both papa and you brought me up in such abundance. How could I have learnt when from the time I came into your waiting arms you ensured that every wish of mine was met and more than that gave me so much love that I never felt in need?

March 9th
A political bandh gets your attention today and you vociferate about the state of politics. Again it is your humane side that finds voice. A bandh is not a solution you cry, as you become the advocate of the poor. The daily wager will return hungry while the politician will treat himself to a hot bath and a good meal. And the politician will share the highlights of the day with his wife, while the poor will vent his frustration while he watches his children sleep hungry by beating his wife.

You feel let down and I can understand why. You will helpless and I sense the depth of your emotions.

March 10th
Your youngest sibling is back with a letter from me and you allow the two images to fuse as you reminisce about him as the one hour baby you held against your breast feeling and discovering the first manifestation of your maternal instinct. Yes mama you were a mother to him as your harried mother welcomed that respite. 

Then you got married and had your child and your love had to be divided as you set upon different courses, weathering many a storm. 

Papa’s intransigent attitude towards your kin comes up again, something you never could fit in your life’s puzzle. Why did he despise your family? It never made sense. Why did he hurt and humiliate them?
Papa was a good man, you are the one that says so, then why this behaviour.

I may not have been able to answer this question earlier but maybe today I can try and hope that it will heal your hurt. His aversion for your family was not a mean trait. As I see it today it was actually a reflection of a deep-seated insecurity and funnily an expression of his love for you.

Men are at a disadvantage in our patriarchal society that has robbed them of their right to shed tears, appear weak and feel insecure. There was this man with labels stuck on his face, each proclaiming his grandeur and strength: lawyer, judge, mile runner, diplomat, connoisseur, linguist. And he married a woman of substance spirited, intelligent and with a hidden beauty that grew with each passing day. He had to ensure that she remain by him and with him and the only way he knew was by removing everything that stood on the way.

And his worst foe was your family that was so important to you as unlike other girls you had become a woman in its fold when others leave still in their teens. A good and honest man does not know how to play games; he did not understand that the best way to your heart was by including your family in his. Men remain children all their lives and he just felt that by being nasty and impossible he would frighten them away, just like the lion roars to protect his own.

I do not think he ever realised how deeply he hurt you. He did not realise that the more he pushed them away, the more he shoved them into your arms as you felt they needed to be protected.
Mama papa loved you, maybe he loved you badly but he did. I also want you to know that thanks to your diary I have been able to rescue my relationship in the nick of time.
So mama let go of that hurt, I think it is time now.

March 11th

Another sibling takes centre stage in this entry one you whose poor health worries you. Your reactions are often misplaced as you cannot see him as an adult and you want his family to behave the way you think right.

I know that your discretion and upbringing stop you just in time, but the harm is done as it affects you
Mama don’t we each have our destiny and need to fulfil it. Ifs and buts are there, but all they do is vitiate the air of everyone till one is suffocated.

It all boils down to the ‘perfect’ one, but who determines the criteria to be applied. And then we all do our best or at least try to, but our qualities pale as our shortcomings are viewed through 

magnifying lenses. Such is life!

March 12th
Why did you think of me today? Wanting me near you but accepting the separation as you sense me happy in my nuclear family miles away.
Once again you see into the future as your fear for my sanity and life. You did have cause to worry because things were not easy and yes your daughter was never as strong as you. But it was not my life that was at stake, but my spirit and my self esteem that I almost lost.

You brought me up to be sensitive and taught me values that perhaps were not quite the right ones in this world we live in. I took many blows but withstood them because somewhere it is your blood that flows in my veins. 

You are right the hurt given by those you love are the harshest because they leave you stunned. But they are the ones you have to react to as otherwise you lose your very identity.

And sometimes you take them to protect those you cherish not knowing that they are the ones who sense them well before the bruises appear. Your diary is ample proof to that.

But unlike you I did not have siblings or extended families, and somehow God played his cards in such a way that soon after papa left everyone’s true colours came to light leaving me alone. Having no one to play charades for, I could revive my dying spirit and have it soar again.

To say that the problems have vanishes would be a lie, it is just that they do not affect me anymore. As for the sensitive side, it too has found its moorings in the work I do. 

You end the day’s entry by once again referring to the emptiness of your existence comparing it to our dog Furiya’s  : eat, sleep and go for walks.

Was life so unbearable?

March 13th

You have set the stage for the next entry. Something I knew would come. Your unfilled dreams were choking you, hidden behind the numerous allusions to your boredom, your wasted life, the feeling of ennui that was threatening to kill you. You needed to voice them and make them live at least in the pages of this diary. They took sometime coming. Maybe because you felt that were someone to read them, they would deride you and dismiss them as the rants of an almost senile woman.
But these dreams had lived on, and weathered every storm of your life. And today they came pouring out without restrain: you reveal you wanted to be a Marie Curie, a scientist but in those days science was not taught to girls. You wanted to be a writer and still hoped to be able to do so, anything to get out of this rut of eating and sleeping. 

I remember many years back, when I was a little girl, you use to write stories under a pen name and mail them to magazines. I also remember how you waited for the diplomatic bag and the letters from India, hoping to get one saying your story was accepted. I now understand why many a times you looked so crestfallen.

You share something you never did earlier. Wonder why, as it is probably one of the most remarkable anecdote I have read. As a young girl you disclose having published a hand written magazine for eight whole months and send it to your friends. You appropriately called it kamalapatri or Kamala’s paper. You recount this candidly but I cannot begin to imagine what effort it was to do so, I presume after you had finished your chores and sat in the flickering light of a hurricane lamp. What effort it must have been to write these copies one after the other painstakingly in your beautiful penmanship I so envied. 

Mama, just that one creation of yours sets you in a different league. How I wish I could hold a copy of this priceless creation and imbibe all that it represents.

How can you go an saying that you are useless mama, you were one of a kind, only no one saw it as people slowly consumed up your space leaving you barely enough air to breathe.

Is that why when I began my first halting steps on my road to self discovery I too published a magazine of which two issues hit the stand. And though I thought it was a great achievement, it fades into insignificance compared to your effort. 

March 15th
I have a feeling that somehow you sense that time is short. In this entry it is once more kamala the surrogate mother to her six siblings that appears. You express your irritation about K your brother bringing his own lunch everyday. 

But far from delving on the issue, you travel back to the times when he was a boy and you carried him away from the house so that your mother could cook the meal and clean the home. You mention with tenderness how he held on to your plait so that he would not fall. You loved him, you say, but reveal candidly that you loved all your siblings even the one that hurt you and you yearn to see him and hold him and heal this pain, but are stopped by your righteousness as you remember the ugly and mean words he uttered against your parents.

Mama god must have forgiven him as he died a painless death, but his family suffers even today as that is often the way the gods make one pay.

Forgiving is healing, something we often do not learn in time. And sometimes even if we know this to be true, we fall short of doing it as the pain endured does not let you do so.

March 16th

One more game is revealed in the fight between papa and you. As your sister and you decide to go out, papa asks you to do some work for him. For you it is his egocentrism that makes him behave in such a way but to me it is again one of those cries for help that go unheard.

As I had mentioned earlier, it his is way of saying he cares and I am sure he was not proud of this behaviour but just as a child he knew no better.

And I know that by this time you had stop communicating, you had locked yourself in an impenetrable fortress of silence, and he turned around it banging on the padded doors hoping you would hear!

March 17th

Your demons refuse to leave you and you can feel that time is not on your side. Your loneliness and barren life now weigh like a rock threatening to smother you. It seems as part of you is dying to enable another one to be born. You even feel the need of locking yourself in a room for 24 hours to find out what it is and are ready to share with papa, something unheard of till then. 

You are willing to face the fight and ensuing humiliation because you feel it will bring peace to your soul. In an ultimate entreaty you just want something in which you can drown and that will submerge you.

But you never say what and never will as your entry ends with a futile: it is a big question,
I must confess that I could not wait and gleaned over the next pages hoping to find what repressed dream you had that caused you so much angst. 

But I found nothing, you carried that to your grave with you. It was too important to share lest anyone of us would have not understood and derided you.

March 18th

Somehow you take a pause and in the next entries just recall your day-to-day life. You talks about the movies you watch on TV and make a passing allusion to a retired diplomat’s diner you went to.
Life seems to follow a gentle pattern.

March 21st

Some excitement as you get a phone call from UNICEF to staff one of their small meets. One may wonder where that comes from. Simply one more touching act of a doting mother: you tried as best you could to keep my little ‘business’ enterprise of conference consultancy going. 

I know you are the only one who knew how difficult it was for me to leave Delhi for Prague, as it meant a big closure for me. I was weary of leaving my professional woman’s identity to become just a plain housewife, something that was almost anathema to me. True that I had been married for over a decade and was mother to two children, but all through those years I had kept on working. Now the time had come to put an end that, or at least to put it on hold. 

As usual you had found the right words to make my decision easier and kept the show going and looking back in the light of what your diary reveals, it was probably god sent for you too.
But can you ever give yourself a break, a letter from me sets you off again on all that worries you about me. 

You had often guarded me against my foolish ways of wanting to please everyone, and the danger of bending backwards as ultimately you snapped. But like every child I had to learn the hard way. Your maternal instinct was not able to protect me and that is cross that you had to bear alone.
March 22nd

You are happy: you have the conference and get busy with my friend A organising it. It is comforting to see that you had those moments when at least you felt ‘useful’.

Why is it that many a times when we try to travel inwards seeking answers we obliterate the positive to delve on our failures and shortcomings?

When I see you lamenting about what you call a barren life, I wonder why you cannot see all the extra-ordinary things you actually packed in your seven decades!

Were you not the one who took momentous decisions about your life in days when girls were barely allowed to think? Refusing marriage as you wanted your child to be free, accumulating degrees at a time when girls were barely taught to count, cook and sing religious litanies? Driving trucks in remote areas when women were still veiled and locked in? Living alone in a big city at an age when you should have been a mother of many and looked old beyond your years. Making the transition from freedom fighter’s small town lass, to poised diplomat’s spouse? Learning French as a surprise gift for your beloved’s birthday? The list is endless...

Yet when you finally decide to take journey inwards where you need to fight with yourself to finally make peace and heal, you come out a loser!

March 24th

You are excited and happy as you finally get to organise the local ladies meet in your home. Must have been a hell of a tussle with papa who must have sulked like a 4 year old seeing his space invaded by a posse of ladies.
I am glad it occurred. You did deserve these moments when you took centre stage. 

March 25th

Life goes on for you as you set out redoing papa’s study. I know you are irked as there are more important things to do in the house, but you give in, as one does to a child. Maybe because you are tired of arguing with a man who never sees reason, maybe because you feel that he too deserves some positive stroking.

Men always remain big children and crumple in the face of adversity. Most of the time one needs to boost their ego and I agree it is exhausting. Guess it is because they are not able to handle retirement and the sudden excess of time on their hands.
So with workers in the house you keep busy but also irritated you as they never seem to deliver. 

March 29th

Glad to see you went out to see a ballet! But can your demons leave you, what could have been a summary of your thoughts on art and music – were you not at the Uday Shankar School in Almora for a whole year – turns out once more to be a homily on loneliness. Going out you say with childlike honesty, keeps you alive, but wonder where to go as you recently discovered that you had no friends left.

A far cry from the khillo bibi   a sobriquet you had earned because of your happy nature. I was recently collecting a series of pictures for a digital story about you aptly called remembering mother, pictures that spanned over 4 decades and froze your beautiful face, and was amused by the fact that I could not find one when you were not smiling!

I am glad no one took pictures of those last months, as I want to remember you happy!

Another myth is destroyed when you admit that for the first 25 years of your life you could not make friends as that was something your parents resented.

I do not know why, when you reminisced about your life in stolen moments as I grew up, I had conjured an image of a gregarious girl with host of friends.

Strange for one that had lived in a hostel in Benares? I hope you at least had some secret friends as knowing you lonely in those years,  makes me immensely sad. 

March 30th

There is no respite as something as trivial as a malfunctioning pen sets you off again. I can almost feel a sense of maudlin self-pity as you say that nothing works for you. But knowing you I can affirm that you are not the sentimental lachrymose kind and that this diary is not meant to be an ode to your misery. Right through the 38 years I knew you, you never let any obstacle defeat you. These words were meant for me. But why show me such despondency?
To me you needed to make this terrible journey because you had to have your swan song. I am convinced that you are trying to tell me to hold on to my dreams, however impossible they may seem, to rekindle my spirit even if it seems almost extinct, and to assert my true self.

I am trying mama; it is not easy.

You do not give up as you recount a dinner party where no one talked to you and beat yourself some more. Is it because of your lack of intelligence, your ageing face, your inability to impress people. An ideal moment to get at papa again who you blame for having crushed your personality and moulded it into something and someone you cannot recognise or accept, let alone make friends with.

March 31st

You need to comfort your troubled spirit so you hold on to the one thing you think is yours. Me! You write a long letter as you did often but what a master you were at hiding your agony. Your letters were filled with tender words and amusing anecdotes; never did I suspect that you were dying!
True that to make peace with one’s self one has to accept to jump without a parachute and try to lift one’s self again, to battle all the demons that we have so carefully nurtured over the years for a variety of reasons that we forget, remodel a face that though ours has become unfamiliar and even dangerous. Delve deep within for the remnants of what was truly us, and bring it to the fore ensuring that one covers the cracks that have appeared with time.

April 4th

My birthday, and a short entry remembering me with oodles of maternal love!
Then a deafening silence as I flip the next 40 pages. Not a single word, just bland yellowed paper that stares at me.
What happened mama, why did you stop writing?
Had you completed your journey inwards, had you made peace with all that ailed you, had you finished writing all that you wanted me to know? Then why do I feel there is more to come?
Has your travel in a time warp been too painful. Did you have to take a pause?
Was your health failing you or was the intuitive feeling that a closure was to come weighing on you? Did you know that end was near, if not of the body at least of the mind and spirit.

May 6th

Your pick up your pen again but as I read the words I feel something has changed. There is a weariness in your phrases that disturbs me. You seem to have given up and accept the inevitability of your miserable – an adjective you chose – existence. The heat is getting at you. Where is the woman who use to sashay about in her crisp cotton sari pooh-poohing our complaints on the unbearable weather and sett to make cooling drinks for all of us? Were you not the one who used to say that every season was a divine gift to be enjoyed and that summer too had its charm?
You seem to have given up.

This was a time when I was there for a few days to prepare our return. Why did I not see your pain? Was I always the selfish daughter who took but never could give when needed. I beat myself up today!
When did you write these words where you talk of your abject misery as you use all your will power to put up a great show? And what a show it was.

My mind travels back to the day when we had that terrible accident in Germany. Many cars were involved and many persons hurt, but you kept smiling so that I would not get scared. It was only later that we realised that you had sustained multiple fractures.
You could fool your child be she 4 or 44!

But on this day, the pain is so much that you want me to leave and go back to my children.
May 9th

I am a cyclone you chide gently in this entry and always was and my departure brings some respite. But you miss your child as is revealed in the most touching testimony when you say that you look for me at night in the bed next to yours and find it empty.
Another diplomatic party brings again to the fore your loneliness and desolation. You admit to finding it difficult to making new friends blaming the different set of values that prevail and that you cannot accept. You prefer locking yourself up. And you did a great job ultimately, when you shut all of us out of your life.

May 10th

The first signs of the terrifying ordeal that awaits you are in this entry. You complain of dizziness and breathlessness. Your world is moving towards that fateful day when time will stop as I softly lose my mother.
You implore God to give you back your health; it was a prayer he did not hear. The heat is unbearable. Gone are the crisp saris and cooling sherbets. 

May 12th

Your health is failing, and you assign this to your barren life. You fight it as best you can: going for walks, watching TV, and waiting for my letters.
Yes those were still the good old postman days, fixed time, no letters on holidays a far cry from today’s world. I am sure you would have loved Internet and taken to it like a fish to water and maybe it would have helped alleviate your feeling of abject solitude.

May 14th

A quick entry where you talk about a folk music concert at an embassy that you attended. What stands out is your compassion for the performers doing their best.
That was another side of you not many knew: your sense of compassion, your sensitivity to the feeling of others, as if you could get under their skin.
You always abhorred when someone was taken for granted, when feelings were not respected, you hated when people performed and others did not appreciate.
In the four lines your write, I can sense that something disturbed you that evening. Wonder what it could have been.

May 16th

Your health is getting the better of you and your lonesomeness is devouring you. To add to your woes you encounter some silly people and are appalled at their behaviour.
But mama your benchmarks are too high.

May 18th

Your failing health has become an impediment as you battle to stay afloat. Your want to live long enough to see my kids grow, you pin your desperate hope on them but know that the opponent you confront is too strong for you.

May 19th
It is said that before dying a flame gives its brightest glow and this entry is probably the most incisive peace of maternal intuition possible.

You see almost to the T what awaits me and I will share this entry just as you wrote it:

“I write this story for Anu to read. 

There was a young beautiful girl; she got married and had children and spent all her time looking after her babies and her husband. Children were happy. The house was well run. Everything was almost picture perfect.
Then the children grew up. They did not need their mother. They resented her interference. Husband was busy in his work. The house ran beautifully. Time weighed heavy on her hands. She was miserable and tried joined a ladies’ club and playing cards. But it seemed too artificial. She was unhappy and her health started failing her. Something was amiss. She felt useless and unwanted.
One day an old school friend came to see her and she broke down and shared her despair. Her friend listened and promised to help.
A few days later she came and told her: I have a job for you, poorly paid but you will like it.
It was a job to teach poor kids. She began in earnest. The children were lovely, the called her ma’am and were took to her immediately.
Soon all her problems vanished: she was wanted, loved, respected and healed.”
 I read these words written almost 15 years ago in stunned silence. How could you have visualised my future: the hurt, the pain and above all the healing process.
The day I discovered these pages, much of what you had predicted had already happened: the pain, the resentment, the feeling of being let down by those you cared. And above all the solution and though you were a little off in this, as it was not a job I got but my own little project, over 600 children call me ma’am and my heart fills with pure unadulterated joy.
Of what steel were you made. I never saw you whole again. The woman I saw that fateful summer was already shattered. This will remain the last message from my mother.

May 23rd
Your wedding anniversary No one but one sibling remembered. It hurts you a lot but you take it with your now legendary resilience. 

May 27th
An article in the paper catches your imagination. It is one by Nehru and talks of the crisis of the human spirit.

The usual discourse on rights and obligations, where the later takes a back seat. This is exactly what is happening today mama, but obligation has not taken a back seat, it has simply vanished!

June 3rd
A concert you attend leads you to remember with longing your early days when music and poetry filled your life. This is the last entry. There will be one more but by them you have had your cerebral accident and have lost a part of your mind.

June to October

Much happened during those months. Many a world came crashing. 

Your usual annual check up and subsequent Paris holiday was to be very different this time. It began normally and then one a fateful evening you decided to call it quits. You had been told about your opacity on the lung and somehow you saw in a flash what awaited: operations, chemotherapy, long stays in hospitals, one humiliation after the other.
You were a strange one. As a bride you had extracted an impossible promise from papa: that of dying before him. And the man gave it to you, so much in love was he.
Then when you saw that the rational way was unacceptable to you when it came to dealing with your medical problem, and you knew that you could not combat all of us and bring us to your way of thinking, you just willed a cerebral accident that you even orchestrated to perfection. You sat laughing, a champagne glass in your hand in a Deauville garden and suddenly passed out. It took just a minute. 

When you came back, you were not the same, you had lost your memory or so it seemed and slipped into an etat second that you never came out of. 

You were supposed to come to see us in Prague but instead a call from papa asked me to come. I did mama. It was a warm August evening and you opened the door and greeted me. You seemed normal, a little tired, but something was amiss.

I looked at you trying to find the woman who had inspired me all through my life, the one who had taken momentous and life altering decisions that would mark her child’s life: not marrying before independence, speaking only in her mother tongue so that her child would imbibe it.
And in that instant I saw you before you hid again behind the mask you had chosen. Becoming a child in a woman’s body, a child who did not want her ruse to be caught, for after reading your diary I realised that you actually fooled us all. 

And what let you down Kamala, was your maternal side: for that nano moment you dropped the mask!

And in that nano moment I decided to enter you game. That was the only way worthy of you.
For the next few days we were together papa, you and me and we tried to relive the Paris years: walks in parks, meals at sunny cafes, croissants for breakfast and innumerable glasses of wine, each one of us drinking for a different reason!
Each one of us knowing that you were leaving!

You played your part well mama, you never dropped the mask again. I on the other had did not quite and today I seek for your forgiveness as I may have been unfair to you, but there were times when papa could not take it and I had to try and tell you.

You came to Prague but you soon realised that the children could not understand and were hurting. You had to put a stop to this so you dug deeper in your game forcing us all to accept your almost illogical desire to go back home.

You came back and played another great Act. You had to convince your siblings too and mama you surpassed yourself doggedly sitting in your sweater and shawl in front of the very house I sit in as I write these words, on that hot and humid, insisting this was not your home and refusing to go in.

That was when you had set all the pawns on the chessboard knowing that the final move would be yours.

This unquestionable fact becomes even more manifest when I unearth another diary, written a few months later, which ends exactly one month before your body gave up.
It is a chronicle of your last months on this planet written with monk like precision, where facts are recorded more by intellect than heart.

You wrote those at a time when you have practically lost recent memory and recorded your daily life. This had been yours and papa’s way of keeping from others the terrible loss you had suffered. I remember when people came by, after a few innuendoes you promptly went to your room to glean through the previous entry to be able to answer the expected questions.

That diary is replete with comings and goings of people, records of dishes eaten at various times and such mundane things.

What makes this diary so poignant is its leitmotiv. Each entry starts with: got up, brought flowers.
Every morning with religious regularity you plucked flowers from the garden for papa’s prayer.
Got up brought flowers is the diary of a childlike woman, whose memory has failed and who ambles along in a house filled with people, each aware of what awaits her. Gone are the loneliness and the angst. Gone is the feeling of uselessness. Gone is the spirit that fights the inevitable. Gone are the hidden messages for a hurting daughter. Gone is the abundance of love. Gone is the rebellion against an autocratic husband. What is left is a shadow of a woman who ambulates like a marionette, her strings held by a posse of people around her.

I was one of the posse, and held one of the strings. 

As I look back upon those months, I feel a sense of ruefulness at not having been kind enough, as I was totally unaware of the pain your spirit has suffered before it finally decide to melt away into oblivion.

I was only aware of your physical pain and angry at your illogical refusal of any painkiller.
Today I understand why. You had lost what was most important to you but wanted to be fully aware on to the last breath of life you would exude. It was a battle you had to win, whatever the cost.
I do not know why I feel your presence around me, urging to take a final look at my life, wanting me to dare to jump in the void without a parachute and see whether I have the wings needed to fly.
I entitled this piece of writing letter to a dead mother. It begins with a mother’s prayer and ends with a daughter’s.

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