When I was young, I would run to my mother to iron my shirt every morning. After cooking, she would smile, and switch on the iron. After a while, to check if it was hot enough, she would touch the scalding surface. Standing next to her, I would always look at her and wonder how she did that without flinching.
I look at her, even today, and think about the strong female characters we see in films/shows. She isn’t like them – I have never seen my mother wearing slim-fit pants, or donning a fierce red lipstick. She is always in a salwar kameez with that hue hidden in her eyes, and looks nothing like a stereotypical ‘strong woman’. That hue, instead, is veiled by silence and submission. She does all that she knows, never thinks of herself as someone bigger than the world. She overlooks betrayal, being talked over, and being the recipient of harsh tonality from the world she nurtures so dearly.
Donning her shawls and sleeping gowns, I never see her sit still, only running around to make sure nothing is out of place. Despite a limp, she cooks, cleans and works at the office. Does she know that her purpose is being herself and not just a mother? In her few free hours, she writes little poems on her phone. Does she realise that her art is important? She constantly looks at the clock, and insists on getting home early. After spending a life justifying each decision, a look of shock flashes in her eyes whenever I ask her why she lives like she is answerable today. Her stomach is imprinted with scars of birth and her path misplaced due to supposed duties. Why did society ingrain in her system that it would only celebrate her if she mixes her blood and sweat in a family home?
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Sometimes, she talks about her lost family, the work overload, her misplaced aspirations and the cost of her silence. Did she know that she could have spoken? In those moments, I see the wounds hiding behind her dupatta. She does not look the strong, small, stout woman with eyes of coal that I know. Maybe that’s why she never flinches at the hot iron plate. She has lived through trauma, identity conflicts, lost dreams, atrocities and subversion. There’s so much that she holds in her chest; never to let it get to the girls she is raising.
Nineteen years later, I think how my mother is not as different from me as I used to believe. We are people doing our best, fighting to make a life and fighting being silenced at the dinner table.
Sometimes I look at her scars and then look at those on my arm. Are they comparable?
I think of my mother and the iron plate as I touch the hair straightener to check if it is hot.
Eishita (they/she) is a student of English literature at Delhi University. They spend their time writing about literature, queer culture, trauma, politics and films.