July 18th was my mother’s birthday. Every year it rolls around and every year I think of her. She was a major influence in my life and today I think I have the strength to post the eulogy I wrote for her. I wasn’t able to attend her funeral or her memorial service, so my sister read this out to the scores of people who came to pay their respects to her.
TO MY MOTHER
“Woman, behold thy son, behold thy mother.” That was one of my mother’s favourite quotations from the Bible. For son, I think we can all read ‘child’. The other was the Good Friday hymn, ‘At the cross her station keeping, stood the mother gently weeping’. For her these were like guiding lights. And, she was above all else a mother, as fiercely maternal as a Bengal tigress. I think she would have liked the metaphor – no, she’d correct me, that’s a simile. And, although many of us in our family were at the receiving end of her particularly well-honed tongue, I think I can confidently say that we had all also been at the receiving end of her maternal care. She has comforted, helped, taught and just plain ‘been there’ for more people than I think I’ll ever know. A little thing could move her from being a towering inferno to a tower of strength. And only ma could get away with combining both.
Speaking for myself, she taught me everything, from school lessons to the big one about life. Not so much by what she said as by her actions. From as far back as I can remember she embodied what today people would call ‘feminism’. She didn’t hang a name on it. She just went out there and did it. I’ve seen her playing squash in a sari. I believe she played a deft game of tennis and badminton too. She swam, unembarrassed, in a swimming pool at a time when we rarely saw other women even get into the water. She drove a car long before we saw other ladies drive, at any rate in some places in India places like Bangalore and Jamnagar way back in the 1950s. She was a strong woman with very definite views and we secretly nicknamed her sergeant major.
Thanks to her, we had boyfriends and broken hearts and she was always, I now recall, not obtrusively there, but there; with her ‘there’s many more fish in the sea’ wisdom. Afraid as we often were of her, we knew that we had no stronger champion when it came to doing something new, different and perhaps not popular with the older generation of my time. I remember her interest in theatre. She took part in a play for which I helped her learn her lines but I wondered how she could stand up in front of all those people. She gave me an interest in Art, and took us to dozens of art exhibition that we enjoyed and they weren’t school trips. Books, we shared. I recall my mother giggling out loud over a book called Aunty Mame and then laughing over it myself. Poetry. And with the passing years I’ve found myself digging around in the garden finally coming to her enjoyment of plants and the regeneration that they represent.
Today, more than anything else, that’s what she would like us to celebrate: the regeneration of her love. Growing, and like the earth, giving forth of its bounty, where our tears are merely the rain which makes flowers called Smiles, Laughter and that most beautiful rose of all, the one that’s called Remembrance.