Mother8 mins 225 8 mins 225
The nine-month Qaiser carried her daughter had seemed like an eternity. Qaiser even joked that she might have entered a space-time limbo where the period of gestation will never come to an end. So, when it did finally come to an end on a terrible cold day in a small north Indian town, Qaiser was unbelievably relieved. It didn’t matter to her that the nurse had left her without a blanket or that her extremities after considerable blood loss and sixteen hours labor had become practically numb. All Qaiser cared was that her daughter- although she never wanted a daughter- has been born. Qaiser pledged to never again put herself through this ordeal for the remaining of her life.
When they handed her over to Qaiser and she held her for the first time Qaiser did not feel the way she had prepared herself to feel. Qaiser felt joy, yes, but more than that she felt accomplished. This miniature human had been manufactured in her uterus after all and although the entire process was the doing of the Creator, Qaiser stole some credit and congratulated herself.
Another strange and unexpected thing happened as Qaiser held her new-born daughter. She discovered in herself a compulsion to revisit her relationship with her own mother. It was not possible to see herself as a mother without acknowledging herself as a daughter first.
At the time of her death from heart failure Qaiser’s mother was forty-seven years of age and Qaiser was seven. Qaiser suspected her parents had never really intended to have her and she had arrived their life in either as an accident or as an after-thought - not fully desirable but not completely avoidable either. Although Qaiser knew that her mother had a small mole on her left cheek and a vertical stitch scar in the middle of her forehead Qaiser wasn’t sure if she knew those details through memory alone or was it because Qaiser had regularly seen them in her photographs. What Qaiser remembered without any artificial assistance though was the house in which they lived then. Qaiser remember its grey floor and its pockmarked door painted with thick bright yellow paint, at once feminine and masculine. Unlatching it whenever the bell rang used to be one of her great accomplishments in those days. The second accomplishment was pouring water out of the steel jug without letting it spill out. And the third and most important accomplishment which was in fact more of life skill, was maneuvering her way around her almost always irritated and worked up mother. Qaiser assumed now that her mother’s days must have started much before Qaiser woke up and got ready for school with her father’s help.
She doesn’t remember her mother ever helping her with uniform or shoes. She made her tiffin, it must have been her because Qaiser can’t imagine her father or grandmother doing that. And she definitely helped her with her home-work. Qaiser must have been a terrible disappointment on that front because she doesn’t remember it as a pleasant affair at all. Up against her adamancy to learn had been her mother’s determination to make me learn. Since Qaiser was here, in this world and in her life, wanted or unwanted Qaiser might as well make her proud by accomplishing something in life. Or was it the other way round? Was Qaiser here so that her mother might fix on her wings and make her fly to the heights that she had herself not been allowed to explore? This might have been the case; Qaiser had no way to ascertain.
From what Qaiser came to know about her, years after her death she had been a fiercely intelligent and ambitious woman, incapable of restricting herself to the role of wife, mother and daughter-in-law but unable to shun them altogether either. Qaiser bet if she had the opportunity, she would have chosen to fly solo, minus the baggage that impended her flight. But that was the option she probably never had, so she chose the next available option – to cook, clean, wash, serve her in-laws at home and strive in her career at the university. It must have been a hard life made harder by her highly temperamental grandmother and Qaiser’s refusal to turn up to be the accomplished kid her mother had wanted her to be. Qaiser did not know how her life would have shaped up had her mother’s not ended so abruptly. Would she have kept pushing her beyond her capability zone or would she have given up on her? Resigned, dejected, exasperated and thoroughly sorry to have an heir like Qaiser who would totally un-carry her legacy. Even though Qaiser had been just seven she had often wished her mother had got a better daughter. Someone who could place the punctuations at the right places in a sentence and successfully keep her colors within the confines of the outline.
From what Qaiser remembered of her and what Qaiser had heard her mother hadn’t been one to give up, least of all on her own daughter. She would probably have kept pushing her till Qaiser had snapped at some point during her teenage or perhaps a little later and effectively shut her out of her life. Could Qaiser really have done that? Perhaps not but she would have certainly wanted to do just that. That was just what she had wanted to do whenever she remembered those early years of her life. Qaiser had wanted to shut her mother out of her memories because only then would Qaiser be able to shut out the fact that she had been a severe disappointment to her mother. It isn’t easy being a disappointment. The burden never lessens and the back doesn’t get any stronger. It breaks and when Qaiser thought of how her mother’s expectations would have wrecked her had she lived longer, Qaiser felt almost thankful for her early exit from her life. That’s was shame and a confirmation of her cowardice.
The more Qaiser thought of her relationship with her mother and the harder Qaiser tried to free herself from its painful confines the more she got tangled up. It hadn’t been possible to free herself from her mother without being a disappointment – although in this case merely to herself. Many years ago, when Qaiserwas still a teenager- lanky, bespectacled with a face full of pimples and a mind full of self-doubts Qaiser had at a friend’s advice visited a counselor. After talking to her for twenty minutes she had advised her to change the lenses with which she saw herself.
All Qaiser had to do was shed her lenses, shift her perspective. Why on earth had she not done that earlier. Why had Qaiser insisted on seeing herself from her mother’s point of view? Did Qaiser enjoy inflicting pain on herself? Or had Qaiser inherited from her mother that trait that made her a compulsive boundary pusher? Whatever the case, the counseling sessions significantly unburdened her. After removing her mother from the equation Qaiser saw herself as a person worthy of love even without academic or professional accomplishments. And that was when Qaiser had begun to hate her mother more than ever. Qaiser had held her responsible for driving her to a point where she needed professional help to live a normal life.
In Qaiser’s mind it was her mother who had made her life miserable all those years by loading her with expectations rather than love. Qaiser had started to see her mother in a truly negative light, as a villain, bereft of all good. It must have been then that Qaiser pushed to the rarely accessed recesses of her mind all good memories of her mother, all acts of love, kindness and generosity that pockmarked the memories of her days spent with her mother. Qaiser had chosen to forget how her mother would feed her halwa when she hungry in the middle of the night, how she hugged her to sleep every evening after coming back from the university. Qaiser had chosen to forget also how her mother would call her a piece of her heart all too often and how she made her sleep along with her on her hospital bed after a major surgery because so that Qaiser doesn’t feel neglected.
And now when Qaiser thought of it, with her own daughter bundled up in her arms those moments come rushing back to me. It was almost as if a pearl necklace had broken and one after the other the pearls fell out. Now that Qaiser remembered she was surprised how she had forgotten so many incidents.
Now she recalled one incident particularly. That of the saintly man, with a white flowing beard showing up on their doorstep on a sunny day when Qaiser and her mother had been alone in the house. At the door step a conversation had taken place between him and her mother, that Qaiser had been not been able to follow even then. What Qaiser remembered though was the last thing that her mother had said to him before he went away.
‘What kind of family will my daughter get? Will you pray for her that she gets married in a family of kind hearted people?’ her mother had said to the saintly old man. Qaiser remembered that conversation mainly because of the edge of desperation she had noticed in her mother’s voice then.
‘She will marry among very good people. Do not worry,’ the saintly man had replied before walking away.
It hadn’t surprised her then but now it did. Her mother hadn’t asked him to pray for her grade or professional success or accomplishments that may adorn the walls of their drawing room. In that candid moment she had wished for her not an enviable but a beautiful life. Was that it then? Had everything been about her after all?
Qaiser looked at her newborn girl bundled in the crook of her arm and started on a new journey – of understanding her long-gone mother a little better.