At 9.30 p.m., on a Saturday, I told my mother, “The mass tomorrow is at 7 a.m. We will leave at 6.45 a.m. Don’t awaken me at 5.30 a.m.”
My mother nodded.
The next morning, at 5.30 a.m. my mother opened my bedroom door. I was lying on my back, in a T-shirt and Bermuda shorts, my eyes closed. She stood at the door for a couple of seconds.
Then she came up, peered at me and said, “Shev….lin.”
Her voice cracked at the lin.
It was a chilly morning in Kochi. It had rained furiously the previous night. Maybe my mother felt the cold. Her tone reflected this.
“It is 5.30 a.m., don’t we have to go to Mass?” she said.
“Mum, the mass is at 7 a.m. We have to leave at 6.45 a.m. There is more than an hour left,” I said, still keeping my eyes closed.
The 86-year-old mother stared at her middle-aged son, and said, “Okay.”
She turned and walked back to her room. But she forgot to close the door.
Now the light streamed in from the dining room. I could see sunshine behind my closed lids. Lazy to get up and close the door, I turned on my stomach and drifted off to sleep.
When I am middle-aged, I speak to my mother with my eyes closed. But when I was in kindergarten, I would be bright-eyed when I returned from school. My mother was there to take me in her arms. Through the nine months of the pregnancy, she nurtured me in her womb. She ate well and walked carefully so that she could deliver me safely. She was always there through the vital years of my childhood.
Now I am impatient with her.
In the early morning, I sit at the dining table, reading the newspaper with a cup of tea.
My mother sits in the living room and reads the paper, too.
It is a time of the morning when I like to be silent.
But my mother will say, “There is a sale coming up. The discount is 50 percent.”
Depending on my mood, I will say, “Ah, okay.”
At other times, I have said, “Give me two minutes. I will rush to the shop and buy the stuff.”
My mother would give a short laugh, knowing I am being sarcastic.
Sometimes, she will say, “Did you see the photo in the newspaper?”
“Yes,” I would lie.
I just don’t want to have a conversation this early.
My mother moved in with me when my father passed away last year. I discovered a trait I never knew she had: an intense stubbornness.
If she did not want to eat something, nothing or nobody could force her to change her mind. That was the case when she felt she did not want to have a bath on a particular day.
So, we are learning to adjust.
But this much I know about my mother. She has hurt no one in her entire life. To a large extent, I am like her.
She also gave me certain habits.
She told me many stories during my childhood and teenage years. I would listen enthralled. There is no doubt I became a storyteller because of her.
When I was a baby, my mother would place me against her body, on an armchair, and read the newspaper. So, I began looking at print from the beginning of my life. I continue to look at print with joy, peace and happiness. Every day, I read for hours on paper, on my mobile, or laptop.
My mother seemed to love to read newspapers. She told me when she was a child, she would go for morning mass. After mass, she would race her brother home to see who could get the newspaper first.
My mother is in the autumn of her life. Like my father, she has been blessed with good health: no high blood pressure, no cholesterol, no sugar, no diabetes. I touch wood as I write this.
Her siblings are ageing like her. Three of them have passed away. Two were younger than her.
How do I sum up my mother?
Once I met an elderly man at a family function. His parents were family friends of my mother’s parents in their hometown of Muvattupuzha.
He said, “In our youth, we called your mother, ‘Pretty Ritty’.”
That’s a nice epithet for my mother: pretty in so many ways.