In the last 10 months, I had to shift my father to a dementia care facility, left my job, and got divorced after several years of separation. The pandemic played a part in these decisions and changed my life irrevocably. Of the three, the first has been the most painful decision of my life - one that I’m yet to come to terms with emotionally. When Baba left home, it was not just a parent but also a child that I had to let go.
This is not the first time that my life has entered a radically new phase; but never before have I been without any of the proverbial anchors of life – parents, partner, a stable income.In 2017, I’d gone through one of the most difficult transitions in my life, even more than the one I’d faced a decade earlier. But I didn’t lack support. I’ll be eternally grateful to Baba for never having once asked me why I returned to him 18 years after marriage with a small child; to my sister who stood by me through thick and thin; and a few friends with whom I could be unapologetically myself.
To start from scratch at 43 was not easy… but for the first few years, I at least had Baba - however frail - with me. But what I’m facing now was unimaginable even a year back. I had honestly never thought I will come to this pass; that I’ll bring up a child in my home city with my own family nowhere in the picture – with Ma gone, Baba lost to a disease, and didi continents away. My family wasn’t near me in my child’s first five years as well – but that was in Amsterdam, not Kolkata.
In the last few years, it’s been tough to retain my right to choice - in both my personal and professional lives. But I didn’t, for a moment, stop believing that that right was mine. That’s, in fact, the only legacy I want to bequeath to my daughter – never to give up on the right to choose. Not even when, but especially because, it’s the hardest thing in the world: because all through a girl-woman’s life, people will either refuse that right or try to snatch it away from her. And those ‘people’ include her dearest ones.
The day of my divorce, I was looking for a single song/poem/image that could encompass the entire arc of a decades-long relationship... but could find none… probably because an ocean of memories can't be distilled into any one configuration.
With regard to this new phase in my life, too, the search for myth and metaphor has been an abiding one.
The Greek myth of the phoenix rising from the ashes is frequently invoked for enabling tales of women overcoming great challenges to find themselves. But it doesn’t work for me. The phoenix stands, in different readings, for immortality and resurrection. And there’s a certain grandeur about her rising from the ashes. Also, something definitive: of emerging into a glorious new being.
My experience has nothing grand about it. Its defining features have been contingency and precarity. And there’s something still very malleable and undefined about my identity now, in terms of the work I do/ want to focus on doing. But that I’m a mother has been rammed home into me during the pandemic in a way it was never before.
I’ve realized that, to be a mother – in the iteration that I’m living out – is to stand firm on slippery ground. By a sheer act of will. And that will can never be forsaken, at any cost.I’ve also realized, in a whole new way, both the crushing enormity and the infinite tenderness of living for one’s child.
The widow of the dead soldier in Tennyson’s famous poem, stunned with grief, finally cries when her child is placed on her lap by an old nurse. “Sweet my child, I live for thee”, she sobs. But it’s just not widows mourning the husbands they loved who are driven to this realization. Many mothers, in very different situations, also find themselves in the same spot.
Some of those mothers battle all through their insignificant lives. No laurels await them, not even acknowledgements. They just need to keep getting better at the game of survival, hoping to thrive one day: a tall order as they age, as their body and mind start failing them.This post is in solidarity with those insignificant lives that will remain insignificant forever. And it is only apposite that it is being posted in a blog that few read (though one that has chronicled, among other things, the changing dynamics of a mother-daughter relationship over three years).
‘Mother’s Day’ is the day when social media erupts with beautiful photos and sweet memories by (seemingly) grateful children. The perspective can however be very different from the mothers’ side.
I realize that this post may come as a surprise/shock to some of my friends and relatives... who may take exception to knowing this first on Facebook.
Truth is, I’ve had difficulty catching up with my own life the last few years, especially during the pandemic. Too much has happened in quick succession… I haven’t had enough time to process them. When I at all feel up to it… I may still write, with difficulty, but I find myself simply incapable of talking.
Since late-2018, ‘Kolkata Diaries’ has developed into my own space – however humble – to express/face/negotiate with the realities of my life after returning to Kolkata. I feel at home in it.