If There’s One Thing We Inherit From Our Mothers, It’s Certainly Their Madness

And it was so easy to blame her for anything that went wrong. She was the one 'responsible' for the mess in my life and in all our lives. Expected to darn all those dirty holes in there.

And it was so easy to blame her for anything that went wrong. She was the one ‘responsible’ for the mess in my life and in all our lives. Expected to darn all those dirty holes in there.

The first winner of our May 2020 Muse of the Month contest is Sonia Dogra.

‘If there’s one thing we inherit from our mothers, it’s certainly their madness. Or, precisely, the method in their madness. We choose it the day we decide to become mothers. Only that, as daughters we are sure we want to be different kinds of mothers from the ones we have. I can’t say how successfully we manage that. I wonder if I’ve been able to do it…’

What was this about ma that I had just discovered? A secret diary! Was it a blueprint of my own stories of motherhood? She had been gone for a week now and sifting through her rubble was somehow the toughest task outlined for the day. Ma and her frugal belongings. A handful of cotton saris, flip-flops, a pair of shoes, a wrist watch…

“I do not approve of your clothes Janaki. What kind of fashion is this and I just don’t understand the need for a new pair every other day.”

Her constant bickering about my clothes was one of the many grooves that were hard to fill up. At fourteen I needed my freedom of choice!

There are more than a million things that change in twenty-six years. Not ma! She never caught up with time. And there was never a closure on this one. Never. Ma would move to and fro, in and out of the kitchen, mumbling and grumbling, coming right back with a stronger set of arguments. I would be sapped of self-confidence and energy, both. It seemed like she had some kind of a picture in her mind and she wanted me to fit perfectly in that frame.

‘I fear for you Janaki. I know, I mustn’t. I must let you be. But I can’t. Why can’t I?

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Was this clandestine diary really my mother incarnate? Not in the least. Not the mother I had ever known!

What kind of an imbroglio surrounded her? Did it not drive her crazy? My ma and her conversations with herself, an aspect I was hardly familiar with.

On the other hand, I would feel so asphyxiated in her company. I was anyway, claustrophobic. And it didn’t get better with her. In fact, one day as an altercation about friends over-spilled, an eerie silence permeated the air. For longer than expected. We thought it would fill up the gaps and give us our much-needed spaces but it only made things worse. We stood at two ends of a swing bridge and wondered when it would be taken off. That distancing was equally unacceptable to me. As undesirable as ma’s smothering trespasses. Why couldn’t she stay and not come too close?

‘There’s always a tussle. Some days your children wish for the umbrella cover. On other days, they want the open sky. I’ve been there, seen that. I know how it feels. But today, when I stand on this side of the spectrum, these mixed feelings confound me. I don’t know how close I come. I don’t know how close MUST I come. It drives me mad.’

It was laughable. All these years I had only known how my mother had unhinged me. This…this was something else. My mother had unknowingly lived as the mad hatter.

Ma’s maunvrats that she imposed as part of her subtle punishment techniques were equally obnoxious. On those ‘silent’ treatment days, one wished her to scream and criticize and nudge. That seemed much more normal. Only except when she actually did it! What did I want of her?

Unlike baba. He was always the hero. Because he didn’t whine or do the fault-finding. He didn’t get angry at the drop of a hat.

‘Sure! Ask me. Dads make such heroes for their daughters that they almost make villains out of moms.’

Baba spent only a few hours with us after work and on some holidays we played board games together. Ma never joined us. She was way too busy. We wondered doing what!

‘Family members who are part of good tidings always get away. If your baba was to do the dirty job of being a mom, I’d see how you would honour his heroism.’

The ‘dirty job’ of being a mom! She stayed home most part of the day. She was in our faces all the time. And it was so easy to blame her for anything that went wrong. She was the one ‘responsible’ for the mess in my life and in all our lives. Expected to darn all those dirty holes in there. And when it didn’t work, I hated her.

I hated her when none of my relationships worked. She hadn’t taught me a thing about people! Isn’t that the verdict always? Didn’t your mother teach you…

“That’s not how it works Janaki. I don’t want you…”

“Ma, I don’t live in the 70s. What you’re trying to teach me is obsolete.”

‘I want to protect you Janaki. Can I do that or will you probably learn that on your own? I think the best way to do that would be to ensure that you don’t become like me. Not even a bit. That would be the best way to live better.’

Ha! Was this some kind of a joke? If there was anything ma ever wanted me to become it was a reflection of her… or so I thought. Something I didn’t want. I didn’t want to be this crazy woman who would suddenly break into tears or flip over at the least notice.

“Why do you keep looking into the mirror Janaki?”

“Why can’t you look after yourself? Apply some ubtan maybe!”

I remained stupefied all my life, only to end up with something like this.

‘I want you to love yourself, just the way you are. The world burdens us women with expectations. We don’t need to fit into them.’

As I turned the pages of her diary, the mother I had known all my life sublimed away leaving me more bonkers than she had ever been herself. I knew her as one, the world as another and yet she was someone completely different.

I didn’t know my mother any longer. Or maybe I didn’t know her when I thought I did.

As I continued to read, I riled under the guilt of not having loved my mother enough, of not understanding her enough, of belittling her sacrifices, of not fitting into her frame.

But as they say, our mothers always remain the strangest, craziest people we’ve ever met.

By the time I reached the end of her scribbles, I wasn’t surprised to read the parting note.

‘Someday you will learn that mothers needn’t be placed on a pedestal. So, don’t worry if you didn’t place me on one. Mothers just need that space where they can be their weird selves without the fear of being judged.’

Without the fear of being judged! Ha!


Editor’s note: French author Marguerite Duras (4 April 1914 – 3 March 1996) was one of a kind, and one of France’s early feminist women writers – a French novelist, playwright, screenwriter, essayist, and experimental filmmaker. Her script for the film Hiroshima mon amour earned her a nomination for Best Original Screenplay at the Academy Awards.

A rebel, she disowned her family name of Donnadieu when her first book, which was considered “too risqué” by her family, was published, and took the name of Duras, from her “village of her father’s origins, distancing herself from her family, and binding herself to the emanations of that place name, which is pronounced with a regionally southern French preference for a sibilant ‘S.’”

Much of her publishing career was a struggle against the hardwired misogyny and sexism, even more so in her career as a filmmaker, where she nevertheless came up with some extraordinary, cutting edge ideas. In the 1950s, male critics called her talent “masculine,” “hardball,” and “virile”—and they meant these as insults! As a ‘meek and feeble’ female, she was supposed to have no right to her air of aloofness and outspokenness, or even her confidence that was considered ‘outrageous’ in a woman.

Here are some of her books available in an English version.

The cue, perfect for a month that has Mother’s Day, is this quote by her: “Our mothers always remain the strangest, craziest people we’ve ever met.”

Sonia Dogra wins a Rs 500 Amazon voucher from Women’s Web. Congratulations! 

Image source: a still from the film Listen… Amaya!

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