A letter to Kamala

Dear Ma,

Today is your birthday. You would have been 96. But you left me 23 years ago to live each day of my life with memories of you. But that is not all. You were such an extraordinary person in so many ways that I feel compelled to at least live up to your expectations and make sure that I remain worthy of all your sacrifices be it your decision to not to give birth to a slave child even if that meant remaining unmarried, or the acceptance of having just one child, you who wanted to have a whole football team! Had I got siblings then maybe we together could have fulfilled all your dreams, but God had other plans and wanted me to be the one to do so. That was/is a tall order. I am still busy fulfilling your dreams.

I chose this picture to illustrate this post as this is where it all began. You were so very ill at my birth and we almost lost you. This must be one of the first pictures when we 'met' and in spite of the terrible surgery you had and in spite of the excruciating pain, you gifted me your incredible smile for the first time. It is this smile I held on to all my life and still do. I wonder what your thoughts were as you held this little bundle with its funny hairdo? I know that I was in heaven as I was close to the first home I knew: your womb. As I grew up I came to know your unique life path from a hungry freedom fighter's brave daughter to an ambassador's wife! And above all a mother to a difficult and rebellious child who grew up to be a difficult rebellious woman. I guess you are at fault here as you too lived life in quiet rebellion by fighting for every right you could have been denied: the right to education as you grabbed every single degree available to you; the right to independence as you lived alone in Delhi and worked for the right of other women when people your age were married with umpteen kids.

I slowly imbibed your every word, and drunk your every smile. I cannot ever remember you being angry. Everything you told me was safely tucked into some recess of my mind, but ma I had to live my life before I could comprehend the lessons you so gently shared over a life time. And when pa left a few months later to join you, it would take a deep depression that lingered on for years and a chance encounter with a pure soul that was considered the dregs of humanity, to jolt me out of my almost catatonic state. Will you ever forgive me for the years I wasted, you who cherished life so much that you refused any form of palliative care and bore your pain with courage and dignity, a dignity you fought hard to maintain till the very end?

For the past 15 years now, Ma I have tried to fulfil a mission dear to your heart but that you could not complete as life took over. Ina very small way I am trying to give education to underprivileged children and skills to women so that they can gain some economic freedom. Were you not the one who always told me that it was important for women to keep their financial independence. You never believed in joint accounts!

When I look back at these 15 years I feel a sense of satisfaction and contentment though there is still so much to do. I am glad that you are not here to see how we have destroyed the country you and the likes of you fought for. Today there are more hungry and dying children than when you were young and over half of the population struggles to make ends meet. On the other side of the spectrum you have riches you cannot begin to imagine. We have malls that beat Faubourg St Honore! But what is missing is compassion and empathy. It is as if there were 2 Indias that moved in parallel concentric circles. Money is today's measure of success and in this I have failed miserably. As for compassion I have it in abundance and feel so helpless at times.

The values that pa and you taught me are difficult to follow, in today's world they are almost a handicap, something people laugh at! I only hope that I can live by these values till my last breath. I have tried to inculcate them in my daughters though sometimes I feel almost guilty, as it will make their lives that much harder, but then they too have your blood running in their veins.

There are times when I feel like the little girl in the picture, the only difference is that the there is no one to hug her and give her that incredible smile.

I miss you mama