Ma Thoughts: Why I Think My Mother Is Special

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Editor’s Note: Nandini is the guest author this week for Ma Thoughts, with a touching piece about her wonderfully atypical mother.

Yes, I can already imagine you rolling your eyes to say “So? What’s special about THAT?” Well, I guess half the world and some more think that. Nevertheless, do read on and judge me later…

The word ‘atypical’ was coined for my mother. Here are some of her interesting traits:

She is the most straight talking person I’ve known. While other mothers would beat about the bush or not speak about ‘taboo’ subjects at all, my mother’s advice to me when I joined a co-ed college 30 years ago, after years of studying in a girls’ school, was “Try not to get pregnant but, if you do, don’t try anything by yourself. I’ll take you to the right doctor”. As an eight year old, I was once feeling particularly sad about something and whining a lot about it. So what does she do? She drags me to the balcony overlooking a slum and points out the kids playing there. 40 years ago, the kids there were bare-chested, dressed only in tattered shorts held together by a piece of string and playing with old cycle tyres and empty tins. She asked me very clearly to compare my life to theirs and decide for myself if there was indeed anything much to complain about mine. That was one lesson I remember to this day. Once, on the day the final results were to be declared in school, she told my sister and me very categorically that we were to come back home directly even if we failed and get a whack or two if she deemed fit, but not to do anything stupid. This was at a time when the newspapers were full of cases where failed students were committing suicide or running away from home.

She is great fun and a good sport. The highlight of our day would be when she would come home from her research institute and we would have a no-holds-barred discussion about how each one’s day went. That would invariably end with peals of laughter and we would again be fit to go back to our respective tasks. Decades ago, when she earned a pittance as a junior research fellow, payday would see her coming home with some kind of fancy food or the other, a fairly uncommon practice in those days. During our schooldays, she would take us to the zoo, along with our friends; they were delighted to find a parent who was more interested in the candy floss, ice cream and a place to sit rather than making us walk miles to see every single animal! To this day, she loves to eat out and is always looking for excuses to give someone a treat. Of course, her merciless daughters see this as just a way to ensure she gets her gourmet food….

She has always been a champion of other people’s causes. She would vociferously fight for the juniors at her place of work whenever she felt they were being treated unfairly. If that made her unpopular among her peers and seniors, she cared two hoots. She was the agony aunt of a lot of people and took this role very seriously. Once she even led a handful of colleagues, travelling to the outskirts of Kolkata by train, to give an earful to the abusive husband of a junior colleague. While travelling by public transport every day, she would be on the look-out for perverts scouring for a convenient backside or more to run their filthy hands on and would assist innumerable hapless young women and girls to take a stand against their tormentors. My sister and I would call it her daily fix of arguing.

She wasn’t only a brilliant student before she got married, but later, at the same time as her daughters were going to school, she went and earned her master’s degree and doctorate with aplomb. In her 50s and 60s, she learnt various foreign languages and topped even there although for some unfathomable reason, she refused to speak in any of those languages. She is a perfectionist and continues to be highly independent even in her 70s. Actually, the list could go on…

I can’t lay claim to most of her qualities but when I’m often accused of being non-conforming, peculiar and atypical I just say, aloud or in my mind, depending on the company, “It’s all in the genes!”




Nandini Bhattacharjee, 47, has lived in Kolkata, Durgapur, Hospet and now resides in Pune. She worked for 18 years in a steel plant mainly in environment management. Nandini has been a trainer for management training programmes for 21 years. She took an early retirement from 'paid' work and spends some time volunteering when she's not mentally wrestling with her teenage sons.

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