Rain lashed on the windshield as my mother navigated our white Fiat car through the flooded streets of Chennai, the erstwhile Madras. I sat in the front seat craning my neck trying to watch out for any danger as she drove back home late in the night. Her simple courage in driving through flooded streets alone in the night was something I took for granted then. That’s who she was and is to this day. We’d just watched the famed actress Jalabala Vaidya perform at the Museum theater – a one-woman show on the Ramayana. A versatile actress, she sat in one place, and changed voices and characters as she brought the epic to life. I was probably ten or eleven years old at the time. Some of what was said on stage went over my head. And yet, I was there in that darkened theater with my mother because she knew that I would soak in everything I could from that theatrical and artistic experience.
Somehow, even though words come easily to me, I don’t feel like writing a long essay about my mother. My best memories of her were and are made as we sit side by side in an auditorium. We turn to each other with upturned eyebrows and a sigh when we both don’t like what we see, smile in appreciation at other times, and sit in a companionable silence that has bound us together for years. The discussions we have while coming back home and over dinner have always energized me in unexpected ways.
As a child, I loved to read books. She told me often, “When we read a book, we get to stand on the author’s shoulders and look out at the world.” That was an image that stuck with me and one I used often with my children when they were little. When she gave me books to read, took me to innumerable plays, dance performances and talks, that’s what she did for me. She helped hoist me up on the shoulders of artists, thinkers and creative minds so I could see far and wide.
Many years ago, when I first moved to the United States, I wrote a letter in which I said – I love you, Amma. On our next call, she admonished me saying – “What is this? An American way of saying that you love me?” I guess she’s right. To tell her that I love her would truly reveal how words can fail.
Happy Mother’s Day to my Amma and yours!
Nirupama Vaidhyanathan is the Managing Editor of India Currents.