A letter to those who gave me the gift of life

Dear Mama and Tatu,

Today would have been your 64th wedding anniversary. I do not know why after so many years I feel like writing to you. It has been more than 2 decades since you left me and there has not been a day when I have not missed you. It is strange how we miss those we loved more after they leave us. I guess as long as you were there one just lived by the day and never saw things in a larger perspective.

When I was a child Tatu you were the one who always stood in the way of my wanting to fly on my own wings bet it an invitation to spend the night at a friend's house or go on a school trip, and when I was older to go out dancing or just hanging with friends. I must confess that I learnt to jump the walls and sneak out every night. Today I realise that it was because you loved me so much. You would have got the moon into my room if that were possible, but could not live a minute without knowing I was safe. Your safety rules were very restrictive and incomprehensible at that time and led to many banged doors and tears but then how can I forget the gentle knock on the same door that always followed and the super treat that you then cooked for me to the dismay of the kitchen staff, as they were not used to Ambassador Sahib whipping omelettes for his rebellious child. How could they ever imagine that all it took was a banged door and a fluffy omelette to set things right between an adoring father and his adored child. As I said, those were days when we lived one day at a time, and sorted our problems one at a time. And if your brand of safety did feel almost abusive at that time, today it seems it was the only way you knew to express your love. That is only one side of the story. There is another when you and I seemed more like partners in crime trying to hoodwink mama. How can I forget the innumerable dinners for two you and I shared as you instilled in me a love for gastronomy even before I could walk or talk properly. I remember dining with you at Maxim's. I could go through a 4 course meal without a problem while having to be propped up on several cushions to reach the table. But that is not all you taught me. I think the biggest lesson you taught me was that of compassion and humility. Yes I was the spoilt Ambassador's brat, but you sent me to neighbourhood schools where I rubbed shoulders and made friends with regular kids. You taught me respect for the other, no matter who the other was. I remember how on each and every Diwali celebrated in faraway lands, you ensured I touched the feet of everyone older than me, be it the cook or the housemaid. And I never resented it as you had instilled into me that it was the right thing to do. As we both grew we may have drifted apart but I can tell you today that there was only one place I felt safe and that was in your arms. 

If I am profoundly Indian it is because of you Mama. The very first word you spoke to me was in Hindi and you carried on doing so until the day you were sure that Hindi had become my mother tongue. I remember being shocked when I realised that you spoke other languages! It is at your knees that I learnt about my land and its beauty. You shared storied of your life that were imbibed with India's fight for freedom and though you never believed in ritualism, you celebrated each and every festival in all its minutest details to allow me to make my own choice when time was ripe. Both of you never stopped me from participating in any religious festivities of friends and encouraged me when I wanted to fast with my Muslim friends or attend Mass with my christian ones. I guess this is why I accepted Hinduism as it felt like a religion that was all embracing. It breaks my heart to see what is happening today in the name of religion.

Mama you also gave me another lesson that I am deeply grateful for. I remember when during school holidays you would insist I learn to cook, sew, iron clothes, wash clothes, clean the house and help the staff. There were times when it did irk me, but today I realise that you were teaching me dignity of labour. It is something that is truly lacking in today's India. 

I grew up in many countries but both of you ensured that I knew who I was and where I came from. My education was westernised but it never came in the way of my Indianess. Actually it enriched me in more ways than one and allowed me to be a better person or so I would like to believe. I could go and on as my memories are filled with exceptional moments I lived with both of you. Let me just say that if I am who I am today, it is because of the two of you.

But today is your wedding anniversary and I find myself writing about me! I guess this is part of the only child syndrome. Today I must talk about your incredible love story that few know. 

Mama you had resigned yourself to being an old maid as you had made a decision of not marrying before India gained its independence. You were quite a gal as you drove your own car, lived alone in Delhi under the watchful eye of one of your father's client who had been accused of some horrible crime but has been acquitted thanks to your father's pleading. He owed his life to him and thus protecting you was sacrosanct. He was a true Cerberus. 

Papa you too were living a lonely life in Mauritius though professionally you were at your zenith. You were a judge at a very young age and had even been  one of the youngest recipient of the MBE. I have your medal safely tucked away in a drawer and a yellowing picture commemorating the event. You told me you had once been engaged but the marriage never took place because of your mother's demise. I guess you were both resigned to your lives. But someone had other plans.

Ma, I remember you telling me that when you had got your father to accept your decision not to marry in an enslaved India, you had also promised him that if you were still of marriageable age at India's Independence you would marry anyone he chose. You must have been around 30 in 1947. It was an age when women were considered old maids. But your father remembered the promise and was on the look out for a suitable 'boy'. Destiny took over and a common friend of both families suggested Tatu for you. I guess loneliness had got to you Tatu and your needed a wife on the new career you were embarking upon as you opted for Indian nationality and were to join the Indian Foreign Service. You were an odd couple: the highly educated Gandhian small town lass and the westernised bon vivant. It could not have been love at first sight for you Mama because as you told me once, when you first saw Tatu you thought he was the father for a prospective bride for your brother!

Tatu had been posted to Prague where he was meant to open the Indian mission and had a few days leave. He decided to woo you in the only way he knew: the western one. So there he was taking you on tonga - horse carriage - rides to the Lodhi Garden which was then almost on the outskirts of the city to buy you roses and then to Hamilton, the jewellers of the Brits, to buy you an engagement ring. You followed him wide eyed and totally in love. The only one who was not happy was your Cerberus!

I found a bundle of letters that you wrote to each other during you courting days. I must confess that I only gleaned through one and could gage how much in love your both were. I could not read those letters as I felt I would be prying in a space that was yours. Maybe my children will read them one day!

Your love story is not the kind you find in books and novels. It is borne out of your desire to reach out to the other in ways that were unique. Mama you had to get rid of your nationalist persona as you were  now the wife of a senior diplomat and embrace a world of luxury so alien from the one you knew as the child of a man more often in prison then at home. Papa you had to learn how to please a woman who tastes were so incompatible to yours. In communist Czechoslovakia you had to conjure green vegetables for the woman you loved as she was not one to share your taste for scoops of caviar or an orange duck. But mama you were to the manor born and all through your life you performed like a star.

When I came into this world and was old enough to understand things, both of you always seemed the perfect couple and incredible parents. It is only when I read one of your diaries after your death mama that I realised that there were problems and that you had handled them with such dignity. Tatu your jealousy and possessiveness was almost psychotic. You were unwilling to share the woman you loved with anyone, even her own family and siblings. You resented the time she spent with them in the most childish manner. Mama you were able to look beyond the petty attitude of your husband and realise that it was just his way of loving you and you accepted it without a sigh. I could never have done that. But this was your way of proving your love and I hope you understood it Tatu. You know that this incredible woman whose child I am so proud to be learnt French just for you, as French culture was engrained in your soul and she wanted to share what you loved best. 

But I think Mama that the best proof of how much Tatu loved you was in the last year of your life when you fell ill and lost part of your recent memory. You had cancer, but no one was supposed to utter the C word. You refused treatment and wanted to live life till the last breath. How difficult it was for you Tatu to see Mama wasting away and not accepting any medical help. But you did what she wanted and found ways of easing her pain. You had a hairdresser come almost every day and a beautician take care of her at home. You took her for lunches and to the theatre or concerts, even if you did not like Indian music. You had read somewhere that fish was good for her condition and Mama you ate that fish for him even if I know you threw up after each meal. Wow you guys were something.

In your last days you refused to sleep Mama and would only accept to do so if Tatu sat next to you holding your hand and waking you up every 45 minutes and he did that night after night without a word of murmur of protest. There are so many incidents of those days and I will not recall them all but there was one that particularly moved me. When you had completely lost your recent memory and could not remember what you had done the previous day, Tatu would make you write a daily diary and if someone came to visit you, you would quietly go into your room and read the relevant page and then act naturally. This was his way of protecting your dignity. 

I sit today remembering both of you and wondering whether I have been able live to your expectations and to the quasi impossible ideals you set as an example. I can feel your presence in the home you built with so much love.

Today I too have been thrown a challenge that will test my ability to rise to the heights you did and prove that I too can love in the exquisite way you showed me. 

I miss you Mama and Tatu.

Your child

Anou