Let me tell you the story of a box of paints … A box of 72 vibrant colours that never existed anyway. A multitude of hues that I had shrugged away as ‘not important’ which one-day came back as black as it could to stare in my face and say
“If only you had-”
My mother, whom I call Umma; and I, as every teen daughter and mother in the world never saw eye to eye. But still she was my soul friend and the very back bone I stood upon. No, I don’t add these as literary ornaments but mean every word of it. I mean I could have gotten knocked up and the first person I’d still run to would have been my mom. Don’t take me wrong. She probably would have set me on fire but you get the drift!
But after marriage, and being countries apart, things changed. I, who was never (still am not) a person about phones , rarely called her. Whenever we were together, we did talk to each other a lot, but when I came back to Abu Dhabi, the number of calls would just decrease.
And then she fell sick. Her kidneys failed. Her diabetes took over, and it took a leg. Ruthlessly. Just like that. Yet she faced that with surprising strength and courage. Don’t think I am eulogizing her. She had to undergo the procedure on local anaesthesia because of her kidney complications and couldn’t be given strong pain killers. So, had to make do with Paracetamol. And still she bore it with a straight face and solid heart. She was quite a woman, bold and stubborn. Misery had a hard time pinning her to the ground because she just wouldn’t stay down. She would with all that’s weighing her down, stand up and fight… and she did, fearlessly until the very last moment.
While she suffered, I moved back home for an year and got caught up amidst some personal problems, an ailing mother, college work, running errands and a stubborn child. As everyone does, and often wrongly, I too shifted my focus to things that ‘should’ be done. After all, we all grew up with a thorough education on ‘Prioritization’ and I was no different. I let my logical mind schedule my life and put my emotional intelligence to rest. So, ‘important’ things got attended to – mom’s sickness, exams, Khalid’s studies, hospital visits, bills, groceries et al. while I got myself tangled in a messy web of frustration and irritation. And now in retrospection, I find that my judgement was flawed. And my mom definitely wouldn’t have approved.
Let me explain.
Years earlier, I had come home from an exam, not any exam, my 12 th finals – gone terribly wrong. I was crying and in a bad mood. My mom told me that I had given my best and that was it. Then she just took me out to the beach and we talked about other stuff, had roasted chickpeas and came back home. By the time I was back, it still bothered me but not as much as it had. And this was because she wielded her emotions to drive her decisions. And if I had been at home with a failing kidney, I’m pretty sure she would have brushed the somber mood aside with a trip to the beach or walk at the museum or masala dosa and filter coffee at the Indian coffee house.
And that’s where I failed even while winning the caretaker game. That was the period when she had asked me for a box of paints. She was an artist and rendered images beautifully in monochrome, but had an unexplainable aversion to paints. But during her last years, she had this intense longing to create paintings and repeatedly asked me to get her an artist pad and paints. I kept saying yes and then irreverently postponed. By the end of a college day, I just wanted to be back home which took another 30 minutes.
But there was a store two minutes away from my college with ample parking space. There were weekends when I went to the city to do my shopping. But then I (we) conveniently postpone it, or inadvertently forget it. Because tomorrow is another day, isn’t it? What’s the hurry?
And then I returned to Abu Dhabi, and as my mom grew weaker, morose and disoriented, and would rarely be in a mood to talk. It eventually became so difficult to talk to her that I hated listening to her mumble indistinctly into the phone. It’s not that I hated her but I missed my mom and I hated seeing her like this. I wanted her back. I wish she would talk to me as she used to. Long, deep and intimate. Every time I called, it felt like an obligatory formality and it felt so in genuine. So my calls which were already scarce, got lesser and was confined to calls to my dad or sister in law asking how Umma was.
And then she passed away. For all my optimism of she braving the physical disabilities and coming back to life, she just gave in. And ceased to exist.
I didn’t cry. I couldn’t. I didn’t feel anything. I just didn’t act like as I was expected to. And that added to the criticisms that were already flowing in about ‘how I could have looked after her’. But those things didn’t bother me. I know I looked after my mom well. That didn’t stroke the flame of guilt. But something else did.
The box of paints.
And the rides I could have taken her along. The cups of coffee we could have shared. The restaurant dates we could have had. The movies we could have seen. The small things I could have bought for her.
But I didn’t do all that when she was alive.
And now I find myself wondering what it would have been like to do all that. I find myself imagining myself to be with her when I’m out for a coffee – chatting over cups of brew. Things only we would understand. Creating paintings together. I think of her to be sitting next to me while I go on a long drive, while it’s raining. She loved those rides. Or just fighting about the way I dress as she vehemently disapproves it. And now what’s the use of “ What if-s” if it can’t resurrect her.
With my dad, I learnt to correct these mistakes. But Dad and I, we are just father and daughter; but my mom was my best friend. Still I call him regularly, and go down to meet him whenever I can. Because I know it makes him happy. And I don’t want to leave another box of paints on the table. But if you haven’t suffered the loss, you haven’t. And there’s quite an awful lot that we take for granted. Be it our spouse, kids, parents or siblings. Agreed that we all have limitations of time, money, distance and so many other things. But if you can, find time to buy your loved one that box of paint – or even that one tube of splendor.