My mother and I are on the front porch, in one of my earliest memories. It was the end of December. Her tiny palms cupped the tinier orange in the hope of making it warmer. At around 2 in the afternoon, this was a sort of ritual, she lovingly stuck to. A neighbour or two came out too, with or without oranges or lemon. Their tittle-tattle would continue while I circled the motley group with strange noises I made, sometimes sounding like a flying plane or a drone, and of course, without fail, the tram car’s ting-a-ling, interspersed with the ku-jhik-jhik of a tired train nearing the Darjeeling municipality, ‘ghoom’. The weekend or vacation days’ noon, felt so light, as migratory birds chirped away in the neighbour’s garden and someone’s Sargam (the seven musical notes) practice made the adults’ gossip a little spicier. The seven notes clearly came from all directions and ricocheted off in more myriad directions. All of these lasted for thirty-five to forty minutes tops. Soon to follow was a different voice, invariably from our house.
It was time for my father to take his afternoon nap. A businessman that he was, his flexi-timings for work made this ‘nap’ business mandatory. No matter how amused my mother would be to be enjoying her moments of light banter and getting closer to be a little evil, just for the newness of it (so mild and good that she was), she had to give in. She had to close her little communion and rush into the house. I would be dragged in too. I remember having asked her innocently- why do we run into the house whenever he asks us to do so? What if it’s delayed by a few minutes? My mother would roll her eyes and tell me that that’s the way things fell in place, else God save us!
Much later in life I saw a pattern in this. Everything my mother referred to as discipline and adjustment, was plain compromise and a willingness to stay pleasure-deprived. Marriages are made in heaven. Period. They take no time to make us end up in hell, husband, wife, children and the whole lot. Period, again. She, my mother, would never call it hell, or anything akin to that. In fact, she called it the woman’s destiny.
Later in life, I read Siddhartha Mukherjee, the Indian-American physician’s ‘The Emperor of All Maladies’. It said, as did many other studies, that this is one disease that has no specific trigger. It’s that random, and scarily so. My mother had it. It’s thus my heirloom too. It can’t be that random, I tell myself. Such a disciplined life and such rigor with which she led it, proudly calling it the exemplary lifestyle. Of course her proud voice was a feeble one too. She was the weaker twin, her sister the tough one, by God’s grace living a beautiful life with fewer rules to go by and more, to break. My mother came undone, and it’s been close to one decade and a half now. The pattern of her life and her beliefs keep coming back to me, like strobe lights, hurting the eyes, the senses and more. The Emperor of Maladies is not that random. Perhaps!