The problem is that my mother is ageing, day by day. She is only 42 – she was just 22 when she gave birth to me. She shares her clothes with me, she looks at me gleefully, but she is ageing.
Her mother, my granny, looks like she was born to look like a granny.
My mother is a beautiful woman, she cooks, washes utensils, and iterates God’s names more than a hundred and eight times, perhaps that is why she has started ageing.
Although I firmly believe that ageing is a part of human life, when it bungs in abruptly into a person’s life you have closely witnessed, it feels like it happened because it was an unavoidable phenomenon. My mother is alive, I’m not overtly elated but I’m happy that senescence hasn’t invaginated her soul, her spirits within the folds of sagging and porous skin.
My granny is curious to know when she’ll die, she asks this question amicably to the pandit. She resonates with death as her liberty. I’m afraid that every woman, impoverished person, a slave, even a victim, spreads their arms to embrace death to break the shackles.
The bones stuck in the sink pipe hinder the water flow, my mom takes them out by bending, twisting, almost coiling herself – the disgust has started appearing as permanent lines on her forehead.
My granny believes that her life is aimless, so much so that even her ageing process is on the verge of completion. She refers to my mom as a half-aged woman. She feels dejected as I had seen her gracefully opening her half-black hair before the mirror – even the mirror didn’t yell the truth, thankfully!
A woman’s life recycles. My mom loves me because I haven’t started ageing. Unlike other mommies, she never applies ubtan, besan, or aloe on my pimples but she squeezes them between her nails and wipes the pus like a whiplash.
I say, ‘Ma, face-pimples!’ she kisses me and giggles. The skin around her eyes looks ashen, sometimes grey and sometimes it appears like someone drew a semicircle under her eyelashes and painted it black. I wonder when it happened, whether it was during her 40th or 42nd birthday. The last 22 years of marriage have forced her to toil in the kitchen, backyards, and washroom with toilet cleaners for almost fifteen hours a day.
Ironically, the toilet cleaners smell like lavender and roses but my mom’s body odour has affirmed sweat as its identity. Her palms have discrete rough patches, my granny has varicose veins, and they look like infected grape vines, I can’t guess their age simply because these are not considered as the parameters of ageing. But my mom tries to put the hand cream as a second layer on her skin, her beauty definitely adds to her happiness, still, it is claimed that they are just physical attributes!
I smell like my mom. I sound like my mom. My eyes resemble my mom’s. I’m half-mom.
When I entered my mom’s washroom after she took a bath, the remnants of body wash, scum, sweat, dirt, and clothes felt like they were a part of me. I’m destined to look like an old woman someday, but the prospects of me ageing much before my mom petrify me. My children might not take out time to look at their mom’s baldness, increasing manliness, and protruding belly. Child parturition might leave my scalps dry, itchy, and flaky and my body full of stretch marks. My husband might not bother about my spine peeping through my skin.
But I look at my mom’s face while she braids my hair so tightly that my scalps look like tentacles. I get angry as it hurts, but she pats me softly. She tries to resuscitate those frail strands, stuck to the sweat patches on her blouse. My braid reconnects her to the time when she had thicker, voluminous hair. There are possibilities that she might be questioning the sudden alternations in the genes which normally should remain the same as her daughter.
My daddy has grey hair and a moustache. He dyes them every Sunday morning. But my mom puts henna on her hair, it drips everywhere around the dressing table making it look quite messy and piling up extra work.
My granny wears khadi sarees, which makes her look older. She comments that they are comfortable. Mommy’s zardozi-bordered sarees make her uncomfortable at times but she still loves wearing them. I feel relieved at times that she doesn’t feel that she is getting a step closer to senescence with every passing year. She has stopped accepting that I will grow older. I hope my next birthday doesn’t make me look a year older.
I know we don’t grow to die someday. Perhaps we will grow to age someday. Perhaps I will grow to become a woman and age to become a mother and I’ll die to prove myself as a mortal. But to live happily I need to inculcate my mother. Half of her hair is black and the rest half is yellow, burgundy, red, and white. She has tight, loose, sagging, pale, white, and yellow skin. Even though she’s vivid, the problem is that she’s ageing and the bigger problem is that my other half that resembles my father would also age like my mother. And the only solution that can hopefully end this problem is my child affirming the idea that I was supposed to turn into an old woman and change even in the most vicious way is the only constant.
Garima Mishra is pursuing a bachelor’s in microbiology from University of Delhi.