Mere Paas “Maa-si” Hai: Do We Thank Our Almost-Mothers Enough?

Modern Family

Mere Paas “Maa-si” Hai: Do We Thank Our Almost-Mothers Enough?

Illustration: Shruti Yatam

“Mere paas ‘Maa-si’ hai.”

Granted, those aren’t Shashi Kapoor’s exact words from his famous dialogue in Deewar, but it’s a line I kept repeating back to myself this weekend, while the rest of the world celebrated Mother’s Day by posting sentimental wishes on Instagram and Facebook. My mother isn’t with me anymore, and after I lost her at 26, I was bitter over my loss for a long, long time. Mothers are a separate species, the collective reason for a warm, comforting glow in the lives of so many of us. But then, I realised that I was lucky to have not one, not two, but nine women who had a bit of her in them and who continued to enrich my life.

To begin with the mother of all mothers, my naani. Even on my most logical days, I find it hard to wrap my head around the fact that my mother was born out of this human being — that this person who I continue to live with, gave birth to and nurtured a tiny baby that was once my mother. So on the days I see her look at me and my acne-ridden skin with disapproval in her eyes, I realise that she is also my “maa-si”.

My five maasis, by virtue of being younger to her, have also imbibed certain traits of my mother’s. For example, on certain occasions one of them sounds exactly like her, her accent and inflection echoing the way my mother would say them. One of them wears the same kind of bangles and payal as my mother did, so if I shut my eyes when she is approaching me, I am convinced that my mother would be standing in front of me when I open them again. Another one of my maasis has the same penchant for doing hisaab, and whenever she comes visiting and takes out her diary to tally some account, I am left gaping at her for being so similar to my mother.

My three older sisters, who were all a part of my mother once, continue to be a source of that warm glow in my life. The eldest one has the same dependability that my mother had; you could count on my mother for anything in your life and she would not disappoint. The second one looks a lot like her and also has her easy nature, and the third one, I have recently come to observe (to my delight) laughs a lot like her. And in their own way, all three of them, too, are my “maa-sis”.

Look around and you will always have another human being who is a lot like your mother — your own “maa-si”.

My friends’ mothers, who when they ask me to “eat some more” or to “text when you get home” make me feel blessed that they are like my mother as well. I realise that my mother continues to live and look after me through all these “maa-sis”.  

And as I consider the importance of all these maa-sis in my life, it dawns on me that I may, someday, hold the same importance in the lives of four children — my sisters’ kids. God knows there are days when I feel “maa-si” with regards to them. For instance, just a few days ago, it was the day of my eldest niece’s ISC results, and I was so anxiety-stricken that my hands and feet became cold, colder than they ever did when my own results were announced. Giving birth to and raising another human is such a phenomenal achievement that I would never consider myself equal to my sisters, but I believe I put on the “maa-si” hat when I babysit their kids, when I see myself involved and invested in their growth as human beings, when I spam my friend’s inboxes with their cute or hilarious videos, when I see one of them laugh the same way I do, or simply in the way that one of them looks just like me.

I have come to refer to myself as the kids’ PANK (Professional Aunt, No Kids), a term coined by the author Melanie Notkin, who has written books about the importance the role single aunts play in the lives of young children. In an interview, she says, “These women provide quite a valuable role, they add another layer of nurturing.” Nothing could be truer of maa-sis.

Look around and you will always have another human being who is a lot like your mother — your own “maa-si”. Whether biologically or figuratively, they need to be celebrated. I do it every year, on Mother’s Day.  

As a proud PANK, I am accepting belated wishes too.