My Father’s (And Mother’s) Girl

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Feb 4, 2016

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Amma, are you planning to come sometime today? I have waited for 45 minutes!”

“I am just leaving. On my way down.”

“That is what you said 10 minutes back! You could have given me a better time frame than, ‘We can leave now.’ I would have done other things in this time.”

“I said I am coming down. If you don’t want to come, then don’t!”

“Fine. I won’t.”

That was my mother and me, and just another day for us. She finally did go shopping, but with her friend, while I huffed at home. She and her friend discussed insensitive and impatient daughters, and I called a friend and both of us vented about inconsiderate mothers. An hour later, my mother stopped by to give me what she bought for me, and I handed her what I had bought for her the previous evening. We hugged and laughed and went our separate ways.

My mother and I are practically neighbours — I live two floors below my parents — and it is eventful, if nothing else. Some days are warm and fuzzy, when my mother makes and brings me food I like. Other days are not, like the day she practically dragged the quilt we had borrowed from her off our bed while we were still in it. (Well, perhaps that’s an exaggeration. But she did nag me to death about returning it, and came personally to collect it.)

This goes both ways. The other day I harassed her meaninglessly about returning the bottle of asafetida that her cook borrowed from me, or yesterday, when I inconsiderately drove off in her car without even checking if she needed it. Of course, she needed it. In her thinner days, we used to fight over clothes, me picking up her salwar or kameez or dupatta, or she accidentally wearing and stretching my shirts. We have thankfully passed that phase now, but the drama in some form or another continues.

For most of my life, I have been called my father’s girl. My father and I are much closer to one another, in personality and taste (which were perhaps shaped by him), and to that extent, we share a special bond. My father was permissive, while my mother was restrictive. It is easier to be the baby of the permissive parent. But this changed when I went to the US for college. Away from home, control became moot, and my relationship with my mother evolved. I was living in an apartment with roommates, cooking for myself, cleaning up after the constant stream of visiting friends, and felt many of the frustrations my mother must have felt towards me when I was living at home.

My mother, for her part, had started interacting more with people my age who volunteered at her organization. During those years, both of us were coincidentally studying many of the same things, I as a part of my undergraduate curriculum, and she as a part of a course in special education. Our worlds moved closer and I realized I was a lot more like her than I had imagined. Our relationship transformed into something of a sibling bond, with all of the associated fun and bickering.

In the years since, we have bonded and squabbled through many life changes: my wedding, her health, her profession, my business, the death of my grandmother, and, most recently, the birth of my baby. We have travelled together, often shopped together, bitched and gossiped about our neighbours together, and commiserated when we each fought with our husbands. And even though I have known her all my life, I am still surprised by the things I continue to learn about her. My mother’s avatar as a successful fundraiser for her organization is something she was evolving toward for a while, but I only see it now. The more we gossip, I uncover that my mother is a fantastic storyteller. Her stories are unhurried and detailed and very funny. Often, very persistent as well. Recently, she narrated the story of a Tamil film, Enthiran-Robot, scene by scene, completely ignoring all my attempts to change the subject, digress, and run. Growing up an only child, it has been surprising and entertaining to discover a sister in my mother.

Now a mother myself, we seem to have entered another stage in our relationship. It is nice to have someone experienced, but who doesn’t impose lessons or philosophies on my parenting. She allows me the space to make my decisions and my mistakes. She is around, but doesn’t crowd; she lets me flail a bit before reaching out. She is clear: She is a grandmother, not a baby-sitter. I don’t always feel equanimous about it, but I realize that is the belligerent and unreasonable child in me. It’s a learning that helps me recognize and respond to the belligerence and unreasonableness in my own child.

My mother and I have endless discussions on the psychology we both studied in past lives, but now in the context of my son. It is technical and academic, and many times to no purpose at all, but also fun to remember and share. I know when the time comes, we will have similar academic discussions on what school to send my son to, whether or not we like his teachers or his school’s teaching philosophy. We will discuss what extracurricular activities to send him to and how much to push him. We will participate excitedly in his class projects.

It is nice to know there will always be something new to learn about my mother, and something new for her to learn about me. It is a journey I look forward to — even if I have to wait 45 minutes for her to arrive.

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Written By Jyoti Ganapathi

Jyoti Ganapathi did her BA in Economics & Psychology from Knox College, US and a Masters in HR from University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She returned to India to work in the family business. Riding the entrepreneurial wave, along with her husband, she started Dosa Inc- a South Indian food truck in 2012, fulfilling a dream that they always had. She is an intermittent writer and is currently absolutely loving NPR podcasts!

  1. Zephyr

    Hey Jyoti, this is an absolutely fantastic piece about your mom and my dear friend, whom I have only recently reconnected with. I could just picture the scene in any family with daughters or daughters-in-law and mothers and mothers-in-law. We are perpetually discovering the unknown, unexplored sides of each other. Beautifully written.

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