I never succeeded in getting Amma’s approval despite my attempts to please her. When my best intentions failed, I turned defiant and began to do my own thing, and it equally riled her.
When she came to stay here I was anxious about her response to my home and lifestyle. Her comments included those on my housekeeping skills (“tidy, but obsessive about clutter”), the food (“cooks hurriedly and too many dishes for the day!”), cookware (“why use breakable ceramic when stainless is cheap and best?”), larder (“you buy too many biscuits”) and assorted quirks including, “paintings that are funny looking”, “Why don’t you fix grilles on the windows?” “Why do you have too many dinners and lunches thrown in?”, “You’ve turned lazy and fat”, and “You need patience with your son” and so on.
This time I didn’t turn defensive. An old mother’s scolding doesn’t make a feckless daughter feel powerless as it did when she was a girl. I let her bring it on.
However I faltered at what she thought was my worst transgression.
“You learnt Bengali?” she spoke up after the first two days here.
“Uh, survival tricks. Had to work in Calcutta and get around”, I answered.
“But you speak it all the time with them at home,” she said accusingly, pointing to my domestic help and cook.
“They are Bengalis and speak only Bangla”, I reasoned.
“You watch far too many Bengali films”, she said.
“Well, they don’t release Angadi Theru here in the multiplexes; but they do show Shob Charitro Kalponik at the cinema over here”, I said guiltily.
“You have too many saris that are Dhakais, Tangails, Dhonekalis, Murshidabad silks”, she said, checking out my cupboard.
“Issh! Look at all the Kanchi silks and Madurai cottons I wear”, I cajoled.
“And what’s with the big dot on your forehead?” she asked.
“Gone, gone”, I said, quickly replacing it with an atom-sized Eyetex sticker pottu.
“And you seem to gobble Lavanga Latika, chumchum, and roshogollas”, she said.
“Chi, chi! You know my favourite sweet is the poli you make”, I said ingratiatingly.
“Hah! I’ve heard my poor grandson exchange a word or two in Bengali,” she said complainingly.
“ I’ve taught him bits of Tamil too. Speak up, Kanna,” I cooed.
“Kun.., Ku..!” he giggled.
“He meant Kundrinmel Kumaran”, I tried making owl-eyes at my son.
“And your husband speaks no Tamil either,” she said pointing a finger.
“Ei je, say something in Tamil, no?” I pleaded.
“Um, er, Kun..? Kus..?”
Desperate and hysterical, I finally decided to tell her the truth that would win the heart of one musically inclined and gifted.
“I don’t and can’t sing Rabindra sangeet. No lal par sari, no long hair left loose, no harmonium twanging. My bard is Bharati, not Gurudeb,” I squeaked.
“Sure?” she asked suspiciously.
“Yes, Amma. I can’t sing Rabindrasangeet though it’s the eve of Tagore 150th anniversary and the Bengali population over the world is warbling in a sonorous chorus”, I said in a placating tone.
“Hmm”, she said relenting.
“That immediately turns null and void any attempt at conversion on my part and my acceptance into their fold. A muddlesome maami, ayyo, yes; a bewitching boudi, alas, no”, I said with finality.
That did buy temporary truce between us.