What to do when guilt and irritation are mixed with love

Curd rice cannot bring in world peace, but it certainly can calm down a mother and son who love-hate each other.

The curd-rice solution for feuding sons and mothers…

Shoba Narayan
Hindustan Times

What is it with men and their mothers? I am visiting the home of my friend – let us call him Tejinder. Job stints in Boston and Brussels have shortened his name to Tej, but for us folks who grew up with him in Chennai, he was Teju. Just Teju.

Teju moved to New Delhi recently in huge part because he wanted to take care of his ailing widowed mother, so that he would “have no regrets,” as he says. He harassed his family, made enemies of his bosses, and now lives in Moti Bagh. His kids are grown, his wife travels for work, which leaves him and his mom in their old rambling home, surrounded by the scent of dhoop and desi ghee.

Teju’s newer friends see a different person. Tej – the man about town, in his bespoke suit and monogrammed shirts, the life of the party, entertaining guests at Indian Accent or wherever it is Dilliwallahs take guests. A suave successful corporate guy on a rocket ship.

At home? A completely different story.

“Come in,” said Teju when I walked in to visit them the last time I was in Delhi. “See if you can make head or tail of what my mother is saying.”

I knew why Teju called me that evening, and not the numerous Delhi folks who flocked his frequent and flamboyant parties. He called me because my love for his mother, Jaspreet aunty, was formulated when we were both puppies (not in the Punjabi sense but in the youthful sense) growing up in Chennai.

“Arrey,” said Jaspreet aunty. “Let her at least sit down. Have some thandai, beta. It is so hot.”

As girls, we have had no practice in displaying anger. So when we do, we are called shrews or bitches

Teju’s mother was one of those rare women in Chennai who fed kids with a generosity that was stirring in the land of kanjoosi idlis doled out in batches of two or three. In contrast to the other South Indian aunties, or mamis as they preferred to be called, Jaspreet aunty welcomed us ravenous school-kids not with the disdainful “Oh, you again,” but with hot samosas ladled fresh from kadai to plate, served with green chutney and red. No wonder legions of Chennai kids and all of Teju’s friends viewed Jaspreet aunty as next only to Pope and Queen. Yet, here she was in a wheelchair. Her son stood in a business suit with folded hands, glowering at her.

“She sees me and all her symptoms come out,” said Teju. “The eye doctor came home just this morning. Now she says that her eyes are watering, that she needs an injection. At this time of night.”

Aunty shook her head in disapproval. “She has just walked in and you have your list of complaints.”

“If you want me to go to your brother’s house next Saturday, why don’t you just say so?” said Teju.

Clearly, this wasn’t just about medical symptoms.

“You go if you want to, not for my sake,” said his mother. “They are your cousins too. And your uncle is getting old…”

Teju glared at me. “You see how she ladles on the guilt. Like desi ghee. It never stops. I walk in after a long day at work and what do I get?”

“Nobody is forcing you to do anything. So don’t go. I didn’t want to tell you about my eyes. Only because you asked. I am ready to die….”

“The rate you are going, I will die before you,” Teju exploded.

This then is the difference between a son and a daughter. Sons yell at their mothers. Daughters cannot yell at anyone. No wonder we grow up to become women who bite back our tongues, simmering with resentment, unable to articulate our anger in a way that is acceptable.

As girls, we have had no practice in displaying anger. So when we do, we are called shrews or bitches. Dads: let your daughters “talk back” to you. Give them the same lease that a mother gives her son.

But that doesn’t mean a Punjabi son’s relationship with his parents, his mother especially, is not complicated. Equal parts guilt and irritation all enveloped by a nameless love that they can barely acknowledge let alone vocalise.

Teju’s conversation with his Mama is like – how to say this – like two dandiya sticks that never connect because they are off the beat. They want to hit, or rather hug, but keep missing each other. Both parties feel bad in the process.

Half an hour later, aunty was near tears. Teju was pissed off that I wouldn’t “take his side.” So. I did the only thing I knew to do. I made them curd rice. With vadu-manga or tiny-mango pickles. It cannot bring in world peace, but it certainly can calm down a mother and son who love-hate each other.

(This column addresses the issue of parenting our parents, an integral part of This Indian Life and our culture. If you have stories about the weird and wonderful relationships that enrich or enervate your life, write in.)

This Indian Life appears every fortnight

From HT Brunch, May 27, 2018

BRUNCH Updated: May 26, 2018 21:56 IST

Shoba Narayan

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