Maa Ka Phone Aaya


Maa Ka Phone Aaya

Illustration: Shruti Yatam / Arré

“Haan khaana kha liya, mummy.”

I was working late last night. I work late on most nights. When you are working in the creative field, that’s the norm. That, and wearing shorts. And smoking. And not calling your parents.

While I manage to do the rest of it perfectly, I somehow find myself succumbing to the pressure of answering the phone whenever my mother calls, even though I know fully well I shouldn’t. I guess it’s the guilt of moving away from your parents on one hand, and on the other hand, it’s the fear that she may call the cops to report a missing son. This is the universal truth about parents; it holds true even if they have multiple degrees from the Harvards and MITs of the world. If their child, however grown up, doesn’t answer the call by the second ring, they immediately assume that h/she is in a life-threatening situation. Their solution then is to follow it up with another 278 calls.

When the phone rings for the fourth time, I make up my mind to teach mom some phone etiquette: If the call goes unanswered it is probably because I’m busy and don’t want to be disturbed. And that if I miss her call, I’ll call her back after a couple of minutes. I pick up the phone with the idea of lecturing mom, but before I can even say hello, she comes at me with, “Kisi ladki ke saath tha kya? Hamare samaaj ki ladki se hi shaadi karni hai.” The subject of discussion switches from one tangent topic to another and I’ve already lost her.

In the two years since I moved to Mumbai, I have spoken with my mother more than I did in the entirety of the 22 years that I lived with her. She is still unable to wrap her head around the fact that I can survive on my own. She probably believes that I’d walk into my office naked, if I didn’t find fresh underwear in my cupboard. For her, I am still that stupid kid who won’t take a bath if the bathroom door is closed.

The first call comes at 8:30 am. For two years, I have religiously asked her to not call me up this early. I work late into the nights, so I tend to sleep beyond 8.30 am. But according to mom, the Vedas say that one shouldn’t wake up post 9 am. The guy who wrote the Vedas clearly wasn’t a writer if he didn’t sleep all day after working all night. If not Yajur, at least Rig should have told everyone to skip this point in the Vedas. The next call to me is at 11 am to check if I have left for office or not. This call is to check on me – if I have actually woken up or not. On most days, I’m still in bed, but I promptly reply, “Yeah, yeah I’m up, mummy.”

By 3 pm, mum has finished all her work and is in a serious mood for some small talk. Little does she know that my work is just getting started.

She then asks me if the house help has come and what is she cooking. Now my cook is supremely lazy and highly unprofessional. She skips work 15 days in a month and I always end up eating outside, but if I told my mum the truth, she’d book me on the next flight to Delhi. So I tell her that the cook is here and is preparing bhindi or any vegetable that comes to my mind.

I tell her that there is fresh salad to go with the bhindi. And that I will soon be eating some fruits from my well-stocked fridge. I can’t really let her in on the fact that my regular diet consists of beer and pizza. I don’t want her to panic. Not yet.

Mum makes the next call around 3 pm. I keep my phone in a drawer in my desk but I always know when it’s her. The last time I was in Delhi, she insisted that I assign a religious ringtone to her. Of course, I have been in many awkward situations when “Om Jai Jagadish Hare” begins to ring. Like last night. My girlfriend and I were doing our thing and my phone rang. You can imagine what happened then. Funny in retrospect, not so funny then.

By 3 pm, mum has finished all her work and is in a serious mood for some small talk. Little does she know that my work is just getting started. There are no greetings exchanged and she simply jumps to the question: “Khaana kha liya?” If someone gets the actual stats of how many times Indian moms ask their kids this question, we might enter the Guinness Book.

“Haan kha liya, garam kar liya tha. Haan microwave hai office me, roz batata hu aapko yeh baat. Nahi gas nahi hua, arey jab nahi bani toh kyu khau Zinetac. Hmm accha, hmm.” I try to hmm-accha through all her queries, but mum has a special ability to keep bombarding me with more ridiculous questions. And I can’t always hmm-accha my way through the conversation. I got to be attentive. She could throw in a surprise question about my sex life and I would be so zoned out that I would say hmm.

After this afternoon torture, I try to get some work done before someone fires my ass. Now it is dad’s turn to call his son. He has no idea how many times mom has already called me. As sweet as the guy is, he can really be demanding at times. His calls are generally about how I have to pay taxes from his account, and then come multiple follow-up questions regarding Netsecure codes, which get sent to his phone. He usually fucks up one or two times in relaying the codes, and the whole process, which was supposed to take five minutes, has turned into a giant, hour-long exercise. I attempted to teach him how to operate these things called mobile phones, but now that I am wiser, I choose to do his chores instead. If I had continued teaching him, my suicide note would have said, “KOI PAPA KO PHONE CHALANA SIKHA DO.”

The last call that mum makes is usually a video call. It is her way of checking on me, making sure no girls are hiding in my room and that alcohol is not being consumed. So I do everything right, and focus on the one clean spot in my room. But there is no hoodwinking my James Bond Mom. She will find an ashtray sitting in the farthest corner of the room and then it becomes my job to convince her how my flat mate (who btw hates smoking and is generally a nice guy), is a chain-smoker and he smokes in my room because he is weird like that. And if it’s a weekend, and my partner has come over, the stakes are higher, and mum is even more alert. I’m getting anxious even thinking about the upcoming long weekend.

I don’t get why the government is trying to get our Aadhaar cards linked to everything. All they have to do is create a large network of mothers, give them some incentive to reveal information about their sons, and then just sit back and watch that bloody ball roll. Sushma Swarajji, are you reading this? Actually don’t. Your government might really implement something of the sort.

When I read about state surveillance and the possibility of the government snooping on my private life, it does not worry me at all. Through the years, our moms have prepared us adequately for this. My mother has always been the Aadhaar linked to my life. Dear Modiji, bring it on. The sons of this nation are ready.