I can see I am treading the path of typicality, and dreading it. But I can also see that I’m not making an iota of effort to stall my steps. Slowly, very slowly, I’m realising every woman’s worst fear: becoming like her mother. Though my mom is my heroine and all my life has been about emulating her; this bit, I never thought would become part of me – the Bengali mother.
Not that this stereotype needs any description, but for those who’ve not had the good (or bad) fortune of seeing one, she is obsession personified. Obsessing over her child/ren is the mark of the Bong mom. Most modern Bengali couples have two or less children and hence the capacity to obsess never wanes. And God help it if it’s a male child. This Baba-Bacha has to go through life without being able to hide even the tiniest of holes in his underwear from his doting Ma’s eyes. The biggest obsession, though, is feeding. Perhaps it is true of all mothers, but a Bong mother’s need to feed her child borders on the psychotic. I remember this family friend of my parents (a late-mother), who once sent her husband about town in search of fresh carrots in the middle of a scorching Nagpur summer afternoon just so that the little prince could have his glass of carrot juice.
It’s like a Bong mom’s life pauses till she hasn’t fed her child’s face.
That’s exactly what I caught myself doing yesterday. In an ironical coincidence, the revelation came about on my mother’s birthday. Since Jishnu is quite ‘travelable’ now, we decided to go out for dinner – mom, dad, I, Jish and some acquaintances. The couple, who accompanied us, also had a ten-month-old daughter. I was appalled at how underweight the child was and how ‘underconcerned’ her mother seemed. That perhaps triggered a comparison of our mother metres.
By the time everyone was ready to leave for the club, it was nearly quarter to nine – Jishnu’s time for sleep. Feeling rather bad for my sleepy child, I dressed him up and took him along. A bottle of milk, baby wipes, a diaper, a change of clothes, powder and a rattle, needless to say, were stuffed in that sack of mine that is my excuse for a handbag. Perhaps he had sensed the excitement, or it probably was one of his moods, but Jish hadn’t finished his last feed either. So since Jishnu was half-fed and half rested, his mother was have mad with anxiety by the time we sat settled on the plush couches of the club.
My idea of an outing with Jishnu nowadays is a go-order-gulp-run home in an hour routine even when everything is hunky-dory. So, when I saw my dad first ordering a round of drinks and then lingering over two more, I seethed. ‘How can dad be so insensitive towards his nati’s needs?’ I grrred.
While my darling son seemed happy to be savouring the new sights, I kept trying to give him the bottle every 15 minutes, and despairing each time he refused it. Only when he finally drank the full 4 ounces, did I enjoy a piece of fish tikka.
Later that night when I lay in bed looking adoringly at my cherub’s sleeping face, I laughed at myself for having stepped into the shoes I so despised. Then suddenly I had this flash of insight that solved the mystery of the Bong mom syndrome.
Bengalis love food. Food is the centre of their universe and the core of their identity. The greatest love of any Bong, even ahead of Tagore, is food. For some, it’s the whole point of living. Food for celebration, food for desperation, food for salvation; trust any Bengali to have his luchi-torkari and mishti ready.
For such a food-loving race, then, it is hardly surprising that feeding the child is sacred duty. Bengali mothers can never let a child be. Hungry or not, food must be pushed down the gullet so that it becomes clear that this khoka or khuki belongs to a bhodroloker badi, who, God forbid, never eyes another’s meal.
I hope Jishnu gets the advantage of being a multi-cultural child and not curse me for the rest of his life for those rolls of fat around his waist that refuse to come off.