who is my mother?
the first thing i did when i got home last night was wash the urine off my face.
there was urine in my hair, too.
i could smell it as i walked down the street and as i sat in the auto rickshaw. there was a trace of urine in my hair, too. could other two passengers, squished on either side of me on the back seat, smell it, i wondered? or had it faded? did i just imagine that i smelled it because i knew it was there?
first thing in the door, i headed to the sink. the hair would have to wait until shower time.
are you my mother?
did you ever read the disconcerting children’s book, are you my mother? it was the first book that made me cry. i was quite young at the time and unsuspectingly pulled it from a stack of dr seuss books, and so i was expecting something like hop on pop — “hop pop, we like to hop. we like to hop on top of pop!” — not the heart-rending story of a little tiny bird who has lost his mother and can’t find her anywhere.
back when i first read that book, my own sweet and kind mother was just a few feet away. what a comfort. and today is mother’s day. i miss my mom; she passed away seven years ago. even more i miss my dear dad, who passed away just last october.
but because this is mother’s day weekend, somehow it seems necessary to sit down and tell you about the woman i encountered last night.
the mickey mouse sheet
you see, last night i was in garia bazaar. i had an important errand to run, and having accomplished that errand, i had a few minutes for an ice cream cone. this was not my first ice cream from the little shop, and the young fellow who scooped it for me smiled at me and complimented me on my bengali language skills and then insisted on giving me his blue plastic stool. he set it out on the sidewalk and commanded me to sit, and then he stepped a few feet away and lit up a bidi cigarette.
garia bazaar is a wild and noisy place. pedestrians, bicycle rickshaws, busses, taxis, and private cars all rushing somewhere and competing for space on the crowded street. i sat and ate and watched kolkata go by. and then a woman trudged into view. she was oldish, but not ancient. her hair still dark and pulled back. and she was wearing — not a sari or a shawl but instead — a child sized mickey mouse bed sheet. and this mickey mouse bed sheet was filthy. a special kind of filthy. not fell-in-the-mud filthy, but a grimy sweat and oil and stink and dirtiness that requires a lengthy span of time of eking out and sleeping in the basest level of existence kind of filthy.
i told myself i would run after that woman
i took a bite of my yummy chocolate ice cream cone. it was melting fast. the woman stopped for a moment, she was just fifteen feet away and had something in her right hand. and as i sat there and looked at the woman wrapped up in the filthy mickey mouse sheet, i told myself i would run after that woman and find her and give her some money.
she shuffled down the street, i finished my cone, paid for it. pulled a hundred rupee note out of my wallet, and took off after the woman. she hadn’t gone far. the man who sells padlocks and lengths of rope scolded her and told her to shove off.
the young man in the next stall was repairing an umbrella as its owner waited. the umbrella repairman, too, angrily told her to move along and his customer scowled. and when she turned around, she saw me. i noticed she had a very small cup of chai in her right hand — a paper cup barely bigger than a thimble — and the milky tea sloshed over her fingers, and she reeked of urine.
who is my mother?
i held out the hundred. her left hand found its way from under the filthy mickey mouse sheet and took the money. in a loud voice she began to speak to me in bengali. she had very few teeth and her eyes were hard and soft and desperate and grateful. she transferred the tiny sloshing cup of chai to her left hand, and the with her right hand she wetly stroked my right cheek and my left cheek and my hair in a blessing that i didn’t understand. and then she said something in bengali i did understand.
she said, “you are my daughter.”
when i walked away, i wanted to cry. i have so much.
who is my mother?
thank you thank you thank you everyone who supports me in this endeavor. you pray for me. you encourage me, you put money in my hand so that i can do this project, and i am grateful.