How do you save your mother from her mother?
My grandmother has steeped in four kinds of cold love over seventy-three years: her father’s, her brother’s, her husband’s, her son’s. She pickled like red onions do in lemon juice: quickly, without losing too much bite. Now she watches my mother the way a man on a dark porch watches you walk on summer evenings, as the sky bruises quietly.
Your hair is too thin if not cut like hers. Your nails are too long, your voice too loud, your dress too short, your interests childish.
The seventies treated her best. No one was a better host. A perm, a scarf, and sunglasses became good friends to her, and matriarchy was law. In the kitchen, she devilled eggs and stuffed ducks. In New Delhi, she entertained Russian diplomats. Her marriage she watched from afar. Her daughter she pecked clean.
Her prayers never got in the way of her drinking, because she always poured one out for Ganesh by flicking gin-dipped fingers at the carpet.
In front of family, when she asks, but what will you really do, she wants to know how I will propel myself through time without a husband to measure years by. Every time I say I work with words, she has fewer and fewer to give me.
A better writer would have noticed faster that exhaustive family dramas play out in the house every time she visits.
The thing about maternity is that it’s a circle.
My Nani sulks like a teenager, fights for the remote and breaks her glasses. Old age is making her young again. Old age has wiped her blank again. She leaves whole walnuts everywhere, sneaks tamarind candy into her bedroom. All of us behave like daughters that night—like our mothers are out drunk. One of these things must be cracked, and the other will dissolve.
How many mothers would have otherwise been poets? Could you stack their completed works end-to-end and climb to the moon on their spines? Does fragility persist even after you split yourself like a melon to make another woman? Does it survive that exponential increase in blood and matted hair? Does it survive that orange heat, that umbilical loss?
My mother craved melon all through her pregnancy, and her mother never let her eat it.
Rudrapriya Rathore is currently pursuing an MA in Creative Writing at U of T. She won the Irving Layton award for fiction in 2014 and has published pieces in the Hart House Review, The Puritan, and The Walrus. She lives and writes in Toronto.