I have said and done a lot of hurtful things to my mother for which I am repenting today, will repent forever. But so has everyone else. My father, my sister. Such is life, we fight, we make up, nobody is perfect. Sometimes we say sorry, sometimes we don’t speak for days and then cook something special for the person we hurt and move on. The thing I cannot tolerate anymore is my eight and half years younger sister assuming a morally superior position and trying to judge me in order to defend dad. This is a mistake, an injustice, a plain wrong we have done to our mother years after years. Mom was always the villain, dad the victim, we the judge and jury. It was only towards the end of her life that I learned my mistake and tried my best not to interfere between mom and dad. Now my sister is doing it to me. She is dad’s good quiet peaceful well mannered daughter. I am the loud mouthed ill mannered abusive bad daughter. It’s another matter that in her attempt to defend dad from my misbehavior today she said, “I do have to worry because if something happens to dad you would come and live in my house.” She yelled at me because I should be stopped from yelling at dad because that would affect his health and indirectly it’s actually a worry for me because her fear is that I will be a burden on her after dad. She said this in front of dad. But it never occurred to dad that she should be told to not forget I am her elder sister. In 40 years not once my parents told her that no, you shouldn’t talk back at your elder sister.
It’s only fair that I am getting a taste of my own medicine.
My relationship with my remaining family, father and sister, was already going from bad to worse. After mom, its like just over. I don’t know where did we go so horribly wrong. What happened to us? Am I to be blamed for everything alone? A lot happened over the years about which i have a lot to write. Bottom line is that I am my parent’s bad daughter and my sister is good daughter. She is well behaved, soft spoken, respectful. I am ill-mannered, loud mouthed, obscenely ill-tempered and abusive. I live with them, constantly fight with them. My sister lives away, visits occasionally and becomes the good daughter they long to be with. So far so good, we fight we make up, but all hell break lose when my sister tries to assume a position of moral superiority and judges me and tries to defend dad by yelling at me. She yells at me to stop me from yelling at dad or mom. She achieves nothing by doing this except adding fuel to the fire. I have no idea why she keeps doing this, why she is not ready to understand and accept that when dad and I are arguing or bickering it is not a great idea to interfere.
She comes as the judge and jury who wants to save dad. She tells me that I need to be told that I cannot do this to dad. She wants to me teach me a lesson. She thinks something great is being achieved by this. But it only adds to my anger. I am not saying my anger is justified. My only question is how is she helping? Once she jumps in, to win the fight, to win over me, she says the most vile things. Last night when I said please do not interfere this is between me and dad, she said she has to worry about me yelling at dad because if something happens to dad because of all this I would go and live with her. So it is her botheration in the end.
I mean, really. She is 8 years 9 months younger than me. I grew up imagining she is like my daughter, whom I loved but also scolded like a mother. Today her worry is that I will be a burden on her family after dad would be gone. I have nothing else left to say.
I don’t know whose fault all this is, who is to be blamed, maybe I am to be blamed for everything. But my version of the truth is that my sister over and over again is ruining my relationship with my parents, now only one of them is left. When she interferes, she achieves nothing positive. Only pushes me further and further away from my parents. Few days before my mother’s hospitalization around 10-12 March the same thing happened and I decided to leave home. I told her that I want her family and our parents to be a happy healthy functioning family unit and I want to be out of it. I wanted to live away, travel etc. I thought that way my parents would be in safe hands. They will always have the support they need. So I spoke to a friend for rented place, and was about to move to an accommodation in Chattarpur. But mom was hospitalized and everything changed. Now before we can even complete her last rites it has happened again.
I just wish my sister understood what she is doing. Wish she learned to accept things the way they are and not try to change me or teach me any lesson. I am not perfect, but what she is doing to us is not helping anybody.
One advise everybody gives me is to take care of my father. Taking care of my father is an excruciatingly painful self-defeating soul crushing thankless job. Forty two years ago when my mother’s marriage was arranged with my father she was petrified. She was scared that her life would be the same as her mother’s at the hand of another violent man. She decided that if her husband, whom she didn’t meet untill the wedding day, turned out to be the same as her father, she would commit suicide. But soon after marriage she realized that my father was calm, patient and childlike, he was a 12 year old boy. She fell madly in love with my father for the sheer reason that he was nowhere in the same vicinity as her father.
But mother had her share of expectations from father, physical and emotional which weren’t always fulfilled.
My father has always been a lean bodied person weighing around 50-55kilos at 5 feet 4”. My mother was constantly worried about his health all her life. Mother always liked macho men. She hated her father for many reasons but he was a tall well-built handsome man and somewhere deep inside she admired that. Perhaps she wanted to mold my father in same physical image. She wanted my father to be physically stronger with bigger muscles and biceps. But father was perpetually frail. People would say, “Mita, bar ke kichu khaoas na naki (Mita, don’t you feed anything to your husband)?” Then I was born and until I entered teenage and got hypothyroid I too was frail. Mother had gained some weight by then. Then came the second child. At 2 years my sister was severely malnourished, but mother was moving towards being obese.
People were now asking her if she eats up all the food and not give anything to husband and children. This was a pain, humiliation and worry that my mother lived with till the last day of her life. Not being able to make her husband look ‘healthy.’ All her life, she imagined herself to be healthy and my father to be weak. She thought he needs to eat well. More proteins and vitamins. The irony of it all. “Poor Pankaj da, Mita take care of him, he is so weak.” My mother hated the over-sympathizing neighbours who also thought my mother is alright and father needs to be taken care of. Oh the irony of it all.
Till the moment she went into the ventilator, through her oxygen mask, she kept telling my dad to eat well. She told me to give him two boiled eggs and almonds and pistachio and dates with a glass of milk twice a day. She was dying but she couldn’t stand to see my father losing weight rapidly in the last one month.
The cultural mindset we have is that all lean people need to eat more and get healthy. All fat people need to lose weight and get healthy. And it is the woman’s job to make their husband’s healthy. If they are lean, feed them well. If they are obese cook for them in healthy oil and light salt etc.
My mother, like any woman with her level of control and dedication was paranoid about feeding my father well. And if there is one thing my father hates in this world it is to eat. I believe this comes from his childhood habits of always saving a little bit for the next meal. If you give two chapatis to my father, he would say, “I don’t need two, I will eat only one.” If you give three, he will eat two.
“Arektu nao (Take a little bit more),”
“Na, amar lagbe na, tumi khao (No I don’t need, you eat)”
Perhaps the two set of words most uttered by my parents in their life time. Mother believed my father does not know when he is hungry, so he needs to be forced fed most times. “Tor babar khide bodh nei, jor kore khaoate hoi.” At the same time she also always knew that father loves to eat good food and absolutely loved her cooking. To cut a long story short, cooking for and feeding him was my mother’s way of showing love and care while resisting to eat and keeping a default position of “I don’t need anything” was my father’s life -long habit.
The conflict would lead to a nasty scene 95% of the time. Mom would raise her voice and forefinger and scold him like a mother, “Sit down, finish your food,” she would say. Dad would throw his hands and shoulders around, frown and whine, “Bhalo lage na ar, ei bhabe otyachar bhalo lage na.” Days, months and years my father has used the word ‘otyachar’ (abuse) for mother’s habit of forcing him to eat well. For other people present in the house, this would be a very ugly scene and the only way it could be avoided was if my mother could be changed. “Leave him, let him be on his own, why are you forcing him?” they told her. “If I left him on his own from the day one, he would have disappeared by now,” she would say in anger.
This used to go on not just for food but everything else. Eat well. Dress well. Sleep well. Why are you wearing worn and dirty shirt? Why haven’t you changed the trouser in three days? Where is your jacket? Put on the muffler. Wear proper foot wear. My mother was the quintessential control freak Bengali mother to my father, the kinds who are stereotyped by standup comedians.
This evening, it struck me that I have become my mother. I am doing and saying exactly the same things my mother did worrying about my father. While having dinner I asked my sister to take out the sooji in the fridge and give it to dad. My dad yelled at me, “Na, amar lagbe na, tumi khao (No I don’t need, you eat).” I got upset. Asked, “Why would I eat then, if you won’t eat, let’s throw it away.” “Sure, throw away,” he said. The argument was heating up so to avoid an ugly scene other people in the house told me to leave him on his own.
My mother was married to my father. She had two daughters. She couldn’t leave. I can. I don’t want to live the same life my mother lived. Constantly worry about his health and be this nagging control freak obsessive crazy woman, a label my mother always carried in our eyes.
So no, now that my mother is dead I am not going to replace her and take care of my father. He is a big boy and he would be much too happy if I left him on his own. He doesn’t need me to carry on the same nagging mom did. He needs to live his life finally on his own, first time in 42 years, and I need to find my life. I want to be away from known faces. I want to go far away from every kind of relationship I have ever known. I want to run.
So many people came for her, praising her, so many flowers, such great food, her talent showcased on the wall, her poems being recited by others, her friends singing for her…I wish we did this when she was alive. Wish once we celebrated one of her birthday this way. I tell all you children, celebrate your parent’s lives while they are alive. Celebrate your own life every day. Beat your own drums, tell the world you are talented, showcase your work and bask in the accolades – while you are alive.
My mother’s last rites rituals were performed well and the shraddha event went on great. Mother’s best friend of over 45 years, saswati masi did Geeta path in impeccable Sanskrit. She said, both according to Hindu tradition and Christian the day mom died, third day of Easter, was a very auspicious day. The Uttarayan group sang a Rabindra Sangeet and Delhi’s little magazine Sahitya Argha’s former editor Anadi Biswas came with the last edition in which mom’s poem ‘Sonar Harin’ was published and recited the same as a tribute to her. If mother could see from somewhere, Uttarayan singing for her, Mamoni’s Geeta path, someone reciting her poem, this was probably her greatest day.
Mother had always followed the tradition of treating everybody who came her home to the best of delicacies that they would remember forever. So food was an important part of yesterday’s event and the caterer exceeded our expectations.
I decorated the walls with her photos and writing, arranged theme-wise, showcasing her identity as a poet, her sweet moments with dad, her elaborate cooking, her motherhood, friends and family.
When a pillar falls, the whole building shakes and eventually it crumbles. My mother’s death has shaken the family as I knew it. One of the reasons everything is falling apart is because allegedly I have been incapable of accepting new people into this family structure, my sister’s husband, her daughter and in-laws. She feels after our mother, there is nobody left in this home to extend the jamai adar samman for her husband and affection for her daughter. Last night she said she doesn’t want to spend a single moment in this home, and the only reason she is here because it doesn’t look good to not be present at mother’s last rites.
She maybe right, I am not a traditional person. Jamai adar, a very traditional concept among Bengalis which translates to special treatment for the family’s son-in-law has absolutely no significance for me. For me there is no difference between daughters and Jamais. Both my sister and her husband are much younger than me and I behave the same with them, good or bad. That I have to control myself certain times in front of jamai is something I don’t get. And I cannot change.
So that’s it. She is leaving for Dehradun today and won’t step in this house ever again. As a corollary to this, my father now believes that it is my misbehavior and lack of traditional family values which is to be blamed for the fall out, and now if he has to meet his daughter, grand-daughter, son-in-law he will have to visit Dehradun, she won’t come here, Rosa now has no nana nani ka ghar.
This is a burden which is not easy to live with for me. The only amicable solution I can offer is to leave my father, so that he can form a healthy functioning traditional family unit with his younger daughter. I have always imagined myself to be nomadic, bohemian, away from home and responsibilities, while my ageing parents are in the safe hands of my well settled firmly rooted traditional sister and her family. But mother didn’t even wait that long, now my only attachment is father but he has been pushing me away so much everyday…
Anyway, so Phd and some travel is what would keep me away from home. I missed the interview for Phd in TISS Mumbai because of mom’s hospitalization. Next plan is to apply for Hyderabad University.