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Poornima Joshi

Mother’s unintended prophecy

Poornima Joshi | Updated on April 15, 2020

Surviving Self-Distancing – Day 7

It is a truth universally acknowledged that Amma has been preparing for this day almost all her life. Each one of her three younger sisters and two brothers over whom she lorded when Naanaji passed, leaving them in Naani and Amma’s care would stand testimony to the fact that Amma could have taught the government a thing or two.

In my earliest memories when I slept with her and Chaneen in one bed and Bunty in the small cot that got pushed under ours during the day and Papa in the bed perpendiculars, the self-distancing and hygiene regimen was strictly followed. We just didn’t call it that then but it worked better than the government’s lockdown, with almost militaristic precision. Wash hands and feet after every excursion outdoors, wash hands after you’ve handled money, don’t sit too close to anyone and stand still with frock hitched up to my chin as she lathered soap and water on feet, hands, face followed by glycerine-mixed-with-nimbu during winter, change clothes and then get into bed for the night. The nimbu burnt on the cheeks and I and Chaneen sucked at the glycerine that tasted sweet. Neither the glycerine nor the washing hands-and-feet were optional.

Does anyone realise how unconsciously profound a mother’s influence really is? Over the years I secretly and sometime openly rebelled against her puritanical, patriarchal, extremely conservative upbringing, but even now, I catch myself unconsciously mimicking her. Her patterns are so organically ingrained that I have to literally check myself against those which I have philosophically evaluated as inhuman and much too orthodox. Besides the deep-seated psychological and philosophical patterns, I’ve realised that I owe my sense of beauty, attire, taste, everything to Amma. She is, however, far more aesthetically advanced than I am; an intrinsically creative person whose first connect with the world is beauty.

Amma sees everything cinematically, vividly – food, clothes, the way the kitchen is kept, her knitting, sewing on the machine that dates back to 1968 and is still in active use. Everyone in our Nahan neighbourhood remembers her food, the delicious little gujias, the delicate flavouring in her everyday dal-chawal, the artistically contrasted designs in her knitting; I had a cardigan with blue, red and yellow dolls to go with a cream-coloured frock. She would make me a dress for every occasion, a midnight blue sharara for Krishnadidi’s wedding although I remember sulking because she refused to buy me a dupatta because I would drop it on the dirty floor.

But among her many adorable and admirable traits, the most obsessive is cleanliness and hygiene. Nothing is saaf enough for Amma, no human being clean enough to go near her. Even with us, the physical contact is limited, only when it is absolutely essential. And she is suspicious of hands never been clean enough. There is no house help neat enough, no one tidy enough and certainly not fit to be allowed inside her little room where she has made her puja in the wall. The hospitalisation two years back knocked her out a bit and she was having to put up with full time attendants whom she secretly despised.

So you can imagine her relief when the Covid-19 lockdown was announced. No outsider help in the house, me working from home and at hand for doing various odd jobs and chores and she in charge again. Washing hands, cleaning, disinfecting and then washing some more besides keeping everyone at a safe distance is a matter of routine. Washing everything store-bought with soap and water, spraying disinfectants and scrubbing is a 24/7 preoccupation and nothing is out of the ordinary these days. I am home and she is back to being in charge of kitchen. Her two sons are safe where they are and the grandchildren seem to be doing well. Everything is how it should be for mother.

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Published on April 04, 2020
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