Interviewing Our Mothers - 4 Children Ask Questions They Haven’t Before

Interviewing Our Mothers - 4 Children Ask Questions They Haven’t Before

Sometime late last week, I snort-laughed water out through my nose as my mother regaled me with a story from her past. She poured a drink right on my father’s boss’ head at a party, she told me, for making a sexist remark. By her account, he didn’t retaliate because ‘he knew he was in the wrong,’ although it’s quite possible the years have coloured her memory in a warm afterglow! The next thing she knew, she’d been picked up by a group of party-goers and tossed under the shower to ‘cool down.’ The whole incident gave birth to one of my father’s (and his oldest friend’s) favourite one-liners–“we made it in spite of our wives!” None of this was hard to believe. Nobody knows me better than my mother, and I always (incorrectly) assume that means I must know everything there is to know about her, too. Yet, one of the first things I wanted to know after this hilarious admission was whether this happened “before or after I was born?”

It’s an odd thing, isn’t it, how linear time becomes when we think about our mothers? As far as my sister and I are concerned, her past can be neatly categorised into B.C. (Before Children) and A.C. (After Children). As much as we love to hear stories from the former period, we might as well be talking about a stranger. Some glamorous, firebrand activist for whom no injustice was ‘too big’ or ‘too small’ to go up against. A rebellious, young teacher who walked into Delhi classrooms filled with angry students just two years younger than her–some of whom brandished knives in their pockets–and set them straight within weeks. A doting daughter who could stay up all night with the father she idolised, and her sisters, as they talked about the world and wrote poetry and read reams and reams of great literature in Bengali and in English. I love looking at old pictures of her to spot old clothes I’ve since refashioned and make guesses about who she used to be. Invariably, I see a young woman so infinitely cool and self-assured; filled with laughter and passion and little care for what the future might hold. The woman in these pictures is both familiar and unfamiliar all at once. And I imagine many children feel the same in the moments that we first begin to wonder, “who is my mother, beyond me?”

The veneer of motherhood is opaque until we start to poke holes in it. And to do that, we have to be both ready and willing to see our mothers as they really are–complex, fascinating people with deep wells of personal histories within them. Women with dreams and fears and identities that can be totally independent of us. It can be scary, but if you’re ready, it can be liberating too.

For me, this learning came somewhat early. I’ve been ‘interviewing’ my mother, so to speak, for many years now. I ask her the same questions that I would ask my closest friends, and more importantly, people who are ‘closer to my age.’ I look forward to answers that allow me to keep piecing together a version of the wonderful, evolving person that she is and, of course, I wonder silently what parts of these pieces exist within me too. Because at the end of the day, our mothers may have existed beyond us, but we will never exist beyond them.

In the spirit of this realisation, we invited some of our readers to ‘map’ their own unique mama bears this Mother’s Day, and ask them things they perhaps never have before. Scroll on to see how it all unfolded.

To my own mother, Kajol Menon, wishing you a Happy Mother’s Day falls short. Instead, please accept my most sincere apologies for all the lost dabbas!

I. Sharnita Nandwana Interviews Her Mother, Shanti Nandwana

“My mother is 67 and going on 45. Originally from a small village in Gujarat called Ugla, she moved to Bombay at 12 with her older brother and so began her life in the city, during which she got married to my father, managed to raise two (very challenging!) kids, and developed a kind of culinary expertise I don’t even get to experience in some of Bombay’s finest restaurants! She’s a powerhouse of energy and nothing (including a broken leg last year) can keep her from running around and keeping busy with her work.

Quite simply put, my mother is the pillar around which I flail. She has never asked anything of me and has never allowed me to struggle through anything alone. Even now, at 67, despite all my objections, when I’m having a tough day at work and am stuck at the office at 11pm, she will come along in a taxi with a tiffin for me, make sure I eat home-food and will even help me work until I’m done.

Without exaggeration, she is one of the most selfless human being I have ever encountered. She’s lived her life absorbing the difficulties and struggles of everyone around her so that they can live happily and with as much comfort as possible. She has faced life with a quiet resilience and more strength than can exist in a single person and I can only hope to have half the strength she does as I grow older.

Interviewing her was a revealing experience. Some of her answers reconfirmed many of my favourite traits about her, but others altered my perspective completely. It’s so much easier to view our mothers through the bias of our own reflections but sitting down with her, uninterrupted, changed how I think about my ‘Ma’ and many of her choices, and i’m grateful for it.”

If you were 30 years old today – what do you see yourself doing?

I would have liked to be a singer. I have a lot of energy and I’m never tired, I like to work every moment of the day so I feel like I would give it all my effort. It is easier to pursue a career in music today than it was when I was young. It would give me great joy to make everybody happy and encourage them to be happy with their lives. Not to worry about where they live or how they grew up and music has a way of liberating people from their baggage. If I were successful doing this, then I would have liked to contribute to the betterment of the village I grew up in in terms of education for children there.

Describe your happiest memory with your mum.

I left my mother when I was 12 years old so I don’t have too many memories of us together – I had to come stay with my brother in Bombay. Our lives in the village prior to this were very heavily based around the work we had to do every day in the farm and at home so we didn’t get a lot of time to enjoy ourselves. We were 6 sisters and 4 brothers but my mum never got angry with anyone and was able to look after all of us equally. And although I didn’t share many memories with her, her kindness and patience inspired me and has stayed with me throughout my life.

What does love mean to you?

Love is not just about two people enjoying each other physically. It means sharing a mutual trust over and above everything. Love isn’t selfish or about satisfying one’s own needs but it’s about acceptance and understanding your partner. You can only call it true love if it’s completely selfless and if you’re able to do something for this person you say you love without thinking twice or expecting anything in return. If you ever doubt your love or have to talk about it out loud and show it to the world constantly, its probably not as real as you think it is!

What do you consider your biggest achievement?

I was able to have a successful and long lasting marriage despite all the challenges marriages face. There weren’t many opportunities for me when I was growing up so I decided when I was young that I would help my husband as much as I could – I was able to have two children and raise them myself without any help, look after my house without any help and was still able to help him with his business by working at the office during the day. I am very proud of being able to have pushed all the members of my family to closer to their own individual goals and it gives me great satisfaction today to see how far each of them have come.

You’re well known for your culinary skills among your family and friends. What role has cooking played in your life?

I stayed with my older brother when I first moved to Bombay at 12 and that’s when I learnt how to cook. The first dish I cooked was bhindi and I made a complete mess. But I wanted to get it right so I tried again. I learnt through my mistakes and got more and more interested with experimenting with flavours and different vegetables. It wasn’t long before my neighbor and I started competing with each other and my interest turned into an obsession. Your father and I had an arranged marriage, and we never talked prior to it. Being from such a simple background, it took me awhile to get used to marriage and city life but I cooked dinner every evening and it made me so happy to know he enjoyed my food and that made me feel more confident. I took a cooking class from Tarla Dalal and enjoyed trying new recipes out and my joy for feeding people grew over the years. Nothing makes me happier than making others happy so seeing their faces light up when they eat something I have cooked always makes my day! I’m 67 years old today but I still cook lunch and dinner for my family every day.

Do you see parts of yourself in me, today?

Apart from your facial features and expressions, yes there is plenty! You have the energy and drive I have, we have both just channeled it differently – me in my family, and you in your career. Had I too followed a career, I can see myself being exactly like you so in a way I live vicariously through you. It gives me a lot of happiness to see my daughter live her life free, and I have done the best I could not to take away your freedom from you and not to stop you from pursuing all your dreams. The other thing I see of myself in you is that you don’t differentiate between people from different socio-economic backgrounds, or different levels of education. You are able to see through the fluff and judge people by who they are inside. And perhaps its because I came from humble beginnings but that is exactly how I’ve lived my life. You treat everyone with equal respect and there’s no difference in the way you look at or treat your domestic help vs. a highly decorated person or celebrity you might meet or work with. This is perhaps my greatest achievement in raising you and something I am very proud of.

Shanti Nandwana

II. Yashas Mitta Interviews His Mother, Lakshmi Mitta

“My parents are both ridiculously enduring, inspiring figures in my life. My mother is the most independent, powerful woman I know. I feel like a lot of who I am comes from her. She is a woman who moved from a village that has three lanes to a big city, and found friendship in her children and family. I was always fascinated by her ability to become whoever her kids wanted her to be. Teacher, friend, artist, cook and any other role you can think of. She isn’t ‘educated’ in the typical sense, but she is more educated than most people I know. If I could be even half of a person she is, I would consider myself a great
guy.

I was a shy kid, I had problems learning a lot of subjects and topics. I was always drawn towards imaginative things and I used to spend a lot of time in my own world. My mother became one of my first best friends. Even though in the beginning she wasn’t comfortable, I would tell her everything. My relationships, break ups, emotional stabilities and
instabilities.

We have a ritual at home now. Every day at breakfast, we discuss and debate a range of topics from liberal thinking, problems of the world and what not. I’m fortunate to have her as a role model. And even more so, subconsciously, she has taught us how to respect and treat a woman.”

Amma, what is the one lesson you’ve learnt as a mother of two children?

The biggest lesson I’ve learnt is that, when you put your heart into anything at all, you can make it happen. I taught myself how to read english books to help you with your homework, I taught myself art and craft to keep you guys entertained, I taught myself business to help provide for you guys. The motivation of a mother to give her best for our children is unmatched.

What is your fondest memory of me in 28 years of being my mother?

I vividly remember how you used to read out all the posters on the street in a language you had no idea of how. I was so amazed that you could actually read even before you were taught that language. Kannada wasn’t your native, it wasn’t being taught at school yet but every day when we walked back from school, you used to read every single poster
on the way. I didn’t know that keen interest in visual culture or languages would come this far. You were a quite kid. The two things you loved were Cartoons & Cartoons. All day long.

If you could give one intimate advice to a new mother, what would it be?

We keep glorifying motherhood. But if you want to be a good mother, you have to learn to be a friend to your child first. A really, really good friend. Too many of us get caught up in respect, and other attributes that are attached to motherhood. But foremost, you have to be his/her best friend. I didn’t think of this consciously then because I had both of you when I was quite young, but I guess moving from a small village, I had no option but to make both of you my friends.

Second, involve your child in running the family. The hardships, good times and the bad times, make sure your kid knows and is actively involved in celebrating and healing. I feel that’s the best thing I’ve done as a mother, is that both of you were always active in running the family as much as your dad and I were. There’s really no difference between us and you guys.

Tell me about any experiences/opportunities you’ve regretted not being able to pursue because had to give up or let go off because you had children?

I wish I pursued education in the way I always dreamt of. My father’s and family’s state back then didn’t give me the opportunity to do that. It’s always in the back of my head. I feel like if I was a lot more educated, I could’ve done even better in life and given you both a lot more than I have been able to give you.

III. Anish Alex Mathew Interviews His Mother, Renu Mary Mathew

“My mother is the most powerful woman that I have ever known in my life–strong, expressive, my drama queen. She has taught me to be strong in life, no matter what situation I am in and to be humble and grateful because that will take me forward in life. I wrote her a short letter after I interviewed her, and I hope it makes her as happy as getting to know her a little bit better made me.”

Dear Amma,

Happy Mother’s Day!

First of all, I am sorry for blaming you. At times, I am frustrated with life and I do hurt you a lot. It’s not intentional. At the same time, I want to thank you for making me strong because life is shitty and your strength has helped me a lot to deal with situations. Also, I realized that I am amazing at being dramatic because of you. A talent that everybody wonders from where I get. Obviously, it’s from you.

Let’s make our lives filled with the “sound of music” and “Wouldn’t it be loverly? Lots of chocolate for us to eat
Lots of coal makin’ lots of heat. Warm face, warm hands, warm feet. Oh, wouldn’t it be loverly?”

Love you Amma!

Kisses and love,

Anish.

What’s your favourite thing about yourself?

That I can pray after I wake up and before I sleep.

If you could have your children experience one thing from your past, what would it be?

In this day and age of smartphones, we aren’t focusing on face to face interaction. When I was young, I used to head to my friend’s place instead of calling and texting them. Gone are those days where we used to climb walls and trees. It was about playing outdoor games and having fun. Now, everybody is concentrating a lot on their phones and laptops. There is less of interaction between people. I want you to experience that.”

Is there anything you wish you could ask/could have asked your mother, but never got around to?

I wish that she comes and see my performance one day. She still hasn’t. Not that, I haven’t voiced it out. But that’s the only wish from her. It will take time and lot of effort. But, I can see it happen for sure.

"Naughty Amma with her kids"

IV. Julian Manning Interviews His Mother, Shyamali Ghosh

“Mom is a badass lady who is one of the most intelligent and loving people I know. She’s a phenomenal ballet dancer and writer. She speaks French, German and English (one day she hopes to add Japanese to the list). Also, mum is one of the most well-travelled people I know. If you know her, you’re one lucky bastard.

We get along great. She’s always let me be who I am and even tolerates the barrage of bodily gases that I use to constantly torture her. Pretty much any semblance of good manners I have, I owe to my mom’s miraculous efforts. But on a slightly serious note, we have a really good balance in our relationship. For example, if I go with mum to the ballet she’ll go with me to a Gorillaz art exhibit. We’re a great pair that have gone through some of the best and worst times together. I wouldn’t change a thing. Love ya Mama!”

In your opinion, what does it mean to be a mom?

I know you’re looking for a deep answer, but honestly it means you worry all the time!

If I made you a Mother’s Day meal, what would you like? (keep in mind my capabilities)

I would choose a spinach salad, which I’m pretty sure you can make. When you were a little boy, they asked you to fill out a form about me for Mother’s Day, and for some reason you said my favourite food was spinach. I have no idea why, but just imagining your little hands making me a spinach salad somehow made me fond of spinach.

What did you not expect as Mother?

Ahhh, so many things! But a big surprise was you working at a publication just like I did at your age. I did not expect that. You were always playing with your trucks and swords as a little boy and I always thought you’d chose something different than writing. So that was a surprise and an honour for me.

"Mother and Son"

Read a mother’s heartwarming letter to her children here, and Karuna Ezara Parikh’s appreciation of all her mother has done here.

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