Even after I was too grown-up to play that game and too grown-up to tell my mother that I loved her, I still believed I was the best daughter. Didn’t I run all the way up to the terrace to check on the drying mango pickles whenever she asked?
As I entered my teens, it seemed that I was becoming an even better, more loving daughter. Didn’t I drop whatever I was doing each afternoon to go to the corner grocery to pick up any spices my mother had run out of?
My mother, on the other hand, seemed more and more unloving to me. Some days she positively resembled a witch as she threatened to pack me off to my second uncle’s home in provincial Barddhaman — a fate worse than death to a cool Calcutta girl like me — if my grades didn’t improve. Other days she would sit me down and tell me about “Girls Who Brought Shame to Their Families”. There were apparently, a million ways in which one could do this, and my mother was determined that I should be cautioned against every one of them. On principle, she disapproved of everything I wanted to do, from going to study in America to perming my hair, and her favorite phrase was “over my dead body.” It was clear that I loved her far more than she loved me — that is, if she loved me at all.
After I finished graduate school in America and got married, my relationship with my mother improved a great deal. Though occasionally dubious about my choice of a writing career, overall she thought I’d shaped up nicely. I thought the same about her. We established a rhythm: She’d write from India and give me all the gossip and send care packages with my favorite kind of mango pickle; I’d call her from the United States and tell her all the things I’d been up to and send care packages with instant vanilla pudding, for which she’d developed a great fondness. We loved each other equally — or so I believed until my first son, Anand, was born.
My son’s birth shook up my neat, organized, in-control adult existence in ways I hadn’t imagined. I went through six weeks of being shrouded in an exhausted fog of postpartum depression. As my husband and I walked our wailing baby up and down through the night, and I seriously contemplated going AWOL, I wondered if I was cut out to be a mother at all. And mother love — what was that all about?
Then one morning, as I was changing yet another diaper, Anand grinned up at me with his toothless gums. Hmm, I thought. This little brown scrawny thing is kind of cute after all. Things progressed rapidly from there. Before I knew it, I’d moved the extra bed into the baby’s room and was spending many nights on it, bonding with my son.