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As I Flip Through Maa’s Art, I Wonder If Her Drawings Were The Red Herring…

Posted: June 12, 2020

Today, as I flip through one of her black diaries, I see a pattern. Some pages are filled with a lot of red. It didn’t matter what she drew, it was all red.

My youngest memory of Maa is her bent over body scribbling away fast, making art in her black diary.

A tree, a bird, sometimes a building or some fruits. Other times, it would be a woman and a child. But on most days, it was just an indecipherable mass of paint.

The corner that was her abode during this time, was adorned with our favourite Chrysanthemum flowers (sometimes yellow but mostly red) on a small black square table. It had her signature table-mat in place and a simple coffee mug that I never saw her use.

From tribal prints to ikkat and batik, these table-mats anywhere in the world, constantly transport me back to that corner in our house even today.

Was it all made from the same thaan?

Now that I remember, her sarees were also similar to the table-mats. They were almost always cotton, starched yet soft, with typical desi prints like dabu, bagru, or a random hand-block pattern.

The neatly folded pile of sarees could easily be mistaken for a bed-sheet, a table runner or a curtain. I often wondered if she just bought a single ‘thaan’ of cloth and got it stitched from it by our local tailor whom everybody called ‘masterji.’ Must have saved her a lot of money.

She was the typical Indian housewife of a 90s middle-class home. The woman who took care of everyone but herself through the day, then catered to her husband’s whims and fancies in the night. I got to know about the latter on a particularly sunny afternoon as she blurted it out to a neighbour in front of her teenage daughter.

On most days, you wouldn’t find her anywhere near that art corner, though. She seemed too busy for it. But once a week, it would call out to her, or so it seemed to me, back then.

As I sit in my corner today and flip through the pages of one of her black diaries, I see a pattern. Or is it my own “mom” hormones that have added a filter to my otherwise oblivious eyes?

Some pages are FILLED with red

Some pages are filled with a lot of red paint. It doesn’t matter what she’s drawn. The fish, a baby, a fruit, mehndi patterns, all are red. It wasn’t her favourite colour, was it? I try hard to remember. And yet, it is everywhere in this notebook. My gaze instantaneously turns to the dates. Another pattern emerges.

Now before we discuss the dates, let me share another important person in my life here. My father.

A simple, service-class man in his 40s. As I mostly remember him, R was your typical Indian male born in the 70s. He was civil and polite to everyone around him, except his wife.

When the boss didn’t hear him out at work, he made sure his wife did, in the wee hours of the night at home. Or when he didn’t get a promotion, he had worked his ass off for, he made sure he got wild sex the wife wasn’t particularly fond of.

His ways were special. Or so I thought before I interacted with some of my colleagues and classmates who were all teenagers in Y2K (year 2000) India.

Red was my dad’s favourite colour…

My father’s choice of weapon was the belt. There were also times when it didn’t matter that the belt was out of reach. He used whatever he could lay his hands on, to put the wife in her place.

Let’s get back to the patterns in the dates I just noticed. If my memory is not playing any games with me today, these are days when my father chose to colour my mother red.

He never stopped at blue or black. It had to be red. His favourite colour. Oh yes, now I remember distinctly. Red was, of course, his favourite colour. This was also why Maa decided on it for all festivities and special occasions, along with choosing it for her art on special days. For the days when she sat in that corner with focus meant for students appearing for a life-changing exam.

As I flip through her art in these wee hours, the reds get brighter and start bleeding out of the pages, into my life. They change the hue of my soul forever.

I always had an inkling that Ma was a little crazy, a little peculiar, that there was something crazier about her art.

As I look back on those days now, when she wore the red sarees or draped herself in that red dupatta, I can’t help but feel a void inside my heart. It feels like a black hole. No, a red hole that helps me understand the woman that was my mother.

Picture credits: Still from Bollywood movie Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani

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A former journalist, a freelance content creator and a mom blogger who can be found

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