Pritish had a magnificent penthouse apartment with a sea-side view, and I surprised him by asking to stay in the same room as mother. Partly it was to help her if she had to get up at night. More, I wanted to be near her and stay as close to her as I was fifty years earlier.
Mother and I had always been close. I adored her gentle, affectionate ways, her soft-spoken style, her unfailing concern for people she knew. I also admired her ability to look at situations calmly, not judge too quickly, see both sides and be fair. These made her a good teacher and, later, an exceptional administrator. Her students loved her and her associates worshipped her, even when she took unwelcome decisions.
Father was no pushover. But mother had the amazing ability to bring out angles he had overlooked. Father, we could see, would be surprised, then impressed and finally prepared to adjust his views and accommodate mother. I quickly learned to talk things over with mother before I took a major decision. Or tried to persuade my parents to change their mind on a subject. Or just wanted to unburden my mind. She always listened.
I told her the first day, “Ma, I know you like to be independent. But, please, while I am here, do let me do a few things for you.”
She readily assented and said that “it would be a pleasure.”
But, when I returned from work that evening, I found that she had taken out my shirts and vests from the suitcase and neatly arranged them in the cupboard. When I remonstrated, she explained that since I had just arrived and possibly didn’t know where to place things, she was initially helping me out.
The next morning, as soon as I opened my eyes, she turned up with a cup of tea. I protested again.
“Ma, it is I who should be bringing you the tea.”
“But I have already had my tea. Since I wasn’t doing anything, I thought I might make some tea for you.”
This wasn’t going the way I had planned.
That evening as we lay in bed, read magazines and chatted desultorily, I felt we had achieved some accord. She would stop doing things for me, and would let me do a few things for her, like making the occasional tea for her.
Before she went to sleep, she told me that I looked tired and should go to sleep early. I kept reading and, the moment she went to sleep, I turned out the lights and tiptoed out of the room. I went to the study and started the computer to work on a project.
Two hours later I was startled when a hand was gently placed on my shoulder as I worked.
“You are working too hard,” said my mother. “You should now come to bed.”
I had a blinding flash of epiphany.
I was wrong to imagine that I could look after my mother or that she would let me do that. Fifty years made no difference at all. She was still my mother and she was still going to look after me, no matter how big, strong and independent I imagined myself.