The Peacock Mosaic

Ma


 

‘You should have asked? I don’t like anyone using my comb. I would have given you another one.’ I heard my voice shrill… needlessly, I knew.

My mother had never reproached me for anything. In fact, if I had ever asked for anything which she might have wanted to use herself, I never got to know of it…that’s what a mother’s for. To give you what you wanted; to keep nothing for herself if her baby wanted it.

Then why was I behaving so abominably? Mean, mean, mean. I hated myself for it.

‘Ma!’

I used to do it ever so often… call out to her, looking at my seven-year-old self in the mirror. I would want the reflection to, will it to look as beautiful as my mother. To see myself in her. She would slide behind me in response to my urgent cries and make my dream come true. For the moment…

She used to be lovely. Tall, graceful, with long lustrous hair that I loved playing with. I would spend long glorious moments with a comb, running it jaggedly through the hair, unknowing and unmindful of the pain it must have caused her. I learnt how to plait on her hair. She would beam at the long uneven braid that I ended up making and would twist around to peck my full cheeks in applause. And she’d ask me to run along and play with my friends.

She was love…loving, giving, dependable. Ma was a fairy, a fairy godmother who stood like a shield between my vulnerable self and the ugly mean old witch who terrorised my nights.

Ma was always there.

I fell down from my new bike and grazed my knees and let out a bawl. She was there to gather me in her arms and take me into the shelter of the house, to soothe my pains away with Dettol, song and halwa. She knew the magic combination. Soon, I would be back on the bike, unmindful of the ugly red uneven patch of dried blood on my knees.

She had honey in her voice. She had the habit of bursting into song, talking to me through them. When I burst into the house, after two hours of busy play with my colony friends, she’d enquire in song, ‘Haan, ab bolo kya khaoge, jalebi?’ What did I want to eat? Never a jalebi, which I never liked in any case but she always had some savouries ready…tikkis, samosas, bhel, chaat…

Remembering, my dormant senses are tickled. I wonder why I don’t pander to my tongue now. For one, I had never learnt how to make them. For two, I didn’t have the time to do it. My day long grind on the desk, left me with little more than the energy to drive back home and crawl into bed.

Now I couldn’t find time even for Ma. She was lined; no longer beautiful, no longer tall…I was a good four inches taller than her. The magic was gone. I no longer needed her. My life was full. Work, work, work, and more work through the week and party over the weekends.

When the doctor said that she needed to be cared for, that she needed to have company, dutifully, I locked up the bungalow on Bougainvillea Road in the small hill town where my mother had lived ever since Dad retired; alone since he died and got her to my posh city apartment.

Now why was I resentful of sharing my home, my life with her? My eye strayed to the grey hair hugging the sharp teeth of the comb…I felt the anger mounting and in spite of myself, my voice erupted harshly, “How could you, Ma?”

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