Poisoned Ink

As a teenager, most of the arguments
I had with my mother
Would centre around what I wore.
Her critical eyes would forever be fixed on the door
My dress was either too long or too short,
Somehow I always managed to wear what she abhorred.
And who in the 1970s grew up without wearing platform boots
Without those classic bell bottoms and wide-collared tops
What was college, after all, without that hush-hush adolescent talk
Tell me, which one of us, ever left home without sharp remarks and soft rebukes?

It baffled my mother no end
Why I wore what I wore
She always wondered what was inside me – hidden, dormant
That I gave outward expression to…
What message lurked in the backdrop
That she could never fathom or construe.
On a bad day, she would yell at me,
“Who do you think you are?”
Hidden mysteriously behind youth’s thick smokescreen,
I had no idea how to answer that question when I was sixteen.
But my grey spirit can answer that now…

Mom, my clothes, my heels, my untied, wild hair
Were only an excuse,
A kind of an arsenal to shoot off my views,
I guess I was only trying to seek my freedom
My intent was clear
I didn’t want to mortgage my life to your fear.
Perhaps I wanted to ‘unbelong’
As much as you wanted me to ‘belong’.
Your love, your concern, your worry
Really and truly suffocated me once.
Mom, you are up there in heaven now
But believe me, nothing has changed
My daughter today has the same grievance
Same issues, same problems
She often complains how I infect her fragile courage
With my contagious anxiety,
How I look for that secret message hidden in the zip of her little dress,
How I dampen her spontaneity, her effervescence.
Mom, I hated you for schooling me in femininity
I was your rebel child
But see what Time and Fate have conspired to do
They have made me mellow, meek and mild!

I see my daughter today
Young, pretty, clever, aspiring, glamorous, sexy, witty,
And I get fearful
Anxiety strikes at my depth
I nearly miss my breath…
Teary-eyed, rueful, remorseful, regretful, appreciative of her dreams
I still run to her
Beseech her to be careful
Get back in time…

And the vintage story goes on,
Fear feeds on fear
It is really a miracle
How you and me and her,
How generations,
How all of us
Stick to our mythic, primal task of being a protector and nurturer
How we all suffocate each other
And yet how much we are all in sync,
Perpetuating our story in society’s poisoned ink.

Sangeeta Kampani, 62, worked with the IRS and retired as a Commissioner of Income Tax, Delhi.

Featured image: Adrien Ledoux/Unsplash