When Mothers Attack: A Survivor’s Tale


When Mothers Attack: A Survivor’s Tale

Illustration: Akshita Monga

Iam a single girl in my 20s, living on my own in Bombay, away from the daily aegis of my parents. Most people call me brave for having the courage to feebly watch half my salary go down the very deep pockets of my landlord every month without shedding a single tear, and lucky for tasting triumph over the much reviled brokers of the city and finding a house to call my own.

I, on the other hand, like to think of myself as a survivor for remembering to do laundry every week, for buying groceries before I end up starving, and most importantly for not burning my house down. But, when it comes to my mother, sitting at home in faraway Calcutta, none of this is enough to warrant her approval.

According to my mother, my flatmate and I live an existence that would put unhygienic college frat boys to shame. In her head, she’s convinced our house is essentially a disguise for a gigantic dumpyard; one that never gets cleaned. She vehemently also believes that our three meals constitute only of lead, ash, and MSG mixed Maggi that we end up burning but consuming anyway. She tops it off by never forgetting to remind me that all the times I’ve fallen sick, or complained of any aches and pains at all, is essentially because of the way I live. This ridiculous reasoning has even trumped her previous theory that investigated the root of all my problems: “You don’t drink enough water.” No amount of photographic, verbal, or written evidence has been able to change her mind. But I’ve never given up hope.

One night, during our usual phone conversations that had me answering in monosyllables, she broached the topic again, asking me for the umpteenth time if I slept on clean sheets, conveniently surmising that the washing machine we have at our home is merely a showpiece. Instead of sending her a picture of my freshly made bed like every other time, I decided to carry out a surgical strike of my own, and finally have the upper hand in the conversation by inviting her to come to Bombay and check on my sheets for herself. My mother agreed in less than five seconds, reversing my surgical strike on me. Clearly, I had given my plan even lesser thought than Narendra Modi had given demonetisation. After she hung up on me, I felt immensely foolish for having presented her with a long overdue opportunity on a platter. Now, I had only four days to prepare for the week-long battle that lay ahead.

According to my mother, my flatmate and I live an existence that would put unhygienic college frat boys to shame.

The thing no one tells single girls living on their own is that life’s biggest nightmare will be having your mother as a temporary guest in the house. The road to experiencing the unfettered joy of not having to worry about food on your plate, or waking up early to open the door for the maid with your mother around is fraught with insurmountable challenges, and numerous life-threatening lessons in patience. Suddenly the roles have been reversed, and you have unwillingly become a participant in a reality show version of your life titled So You Think You Can Adult? This show is judged by your mother and co-judged by extended relatives to whom a daily update of events in your house is unfailingly relayed every day. It essentially necessitates putting your life on hold, and gearing up for the performance of a lifetime, because now every move of yours comes with consequences.

I utilised the weekend before my mother’s arrival and sanitised my house, especially my room, to an extent that even I had trouble recognising it. I artfully hid the half-finished wine and rum bottles, brought out the fanciest cutlery, sheets, and curtains, and for the first time in my life, woke up in time to inspect my maid’s dusting skills. Then, I happily went to pick up my mother from the airport, unable to hide the excitement of having done an exceedingly good cover-up job.

Naturally, I couldn’t wait to see her shocked AF expression. Twenty minutes later, just after my mother’s first step inside the house, it turned out I was the one who was in shock. It took her less than five minutes to undo everything I had built up in my head, and point out at least five inadequacies with the way things were. I was given an earful about having glass cutlery out in the kitchen instead of carefully storing it inside the shelves. “You’ll end up breaking them at the blink of an eye,” she told me. The minute she entered my room, a shriek was let out.

As it turned out, while ensuring my house was presentable, I had completely forgotten to factor in the one weapon every mother generously uses against her offspring: their magical ability to spot things that normal eyes aren’t trained to seek out. In the next hour, my pleas to have lunch were disregarded as heartlessly as every meeting request of Arvind Kejriwal’s, and I was instead asked to sit in a corner. My mother then proceeded to dust every inch of my room, before starting the process of washing (already washed) clothes. “If you are unable to see the dust in your room, how are you going to see the dirt on your clothes,” is what I was told every time I tried protesting.

Every time my mother comes to visit, I unwillingly become a participant in a reality show version of my life titled So You Think You Can Adult?

Over the next week, we settled into an inglorious pattern, where she ended up pointing five things I was doing wrong for every one thing I was doing right. My poor maid, known for her ability to shirk responsibility and go in and out of house in a record 15 minutes, was forced to actually take active interest in ensuring every inch of our house was clean. My cook, on the other hand, started making three meals instead of just getting done with making the same sabzi for lunch and dinner, and hoping we’d forget the existence of breakfast. Their instant makeover under my mother’s hawkish gaze was even more drastic than Jassi’s makeover from back in the day.

By the time her last day arrived, I had gotten uncomfortably used to the idea of having clothes I already washed rewashed by my mother, who would then promptly proceed to complain on the phone to my father about how I was making her work so much. Waking up to her high-pitched recap of the day that comprised a detailed explanation of my laziness to relatives on the phone (which allowed the maid leeway to complete only half of her duties) became a habit, as did the sight of her eye-rolls and the sound of her million sighs every time she spotted even half a mark on a cup or a plate. I even got used to the way she would snigger in disapproval every time I was on the phone with a guy friend, before demanding to know his life-history and whether any part of him was Bengali. At that point, the only win I registered was ensuring that the alcohol bottles remained undiscovered.

Before leaving, she even gave me the most motherly advice ever by enlightening me about how if I got married, I wouldn’t be able to have her come over every time and sort out my life. That day, I learnt a valuable lesson: If there’s one thing worse than having your mother call you fifteen times a day, it’s convincing her that you can adult without her laughing in your face.