September 28, 2023


Connecting Asian writers with global readers

Essay: Ruhi by Farah Naaz

7 min read
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In this heart-warming essay, Farah Naaz shares the beautiful bond between a child and a mother, explaining how, mothers need to be looked beyond their roles of being mothers.


(As the editor’s pick of the week, this article will be available for free reading for a week)

“Aap log apna bartan nahin laye hain? Did you not get your utensils to eat?” The white-clad Madarssa kids scurried back in a file as soon as they heard this. To my young mind- It looked like ants scurrying away to find food- albeit white ones. I felt the sting of shame on my frock-covered body as they left without food. Maybe they did say something but I don’t remember. They had offered prayers for us and a big pot had, cooked food for them. Now we were left with a huge cauldron of food and no appetite. I wished that my mother had better sense than to offend these people. I was split between the thought of sharing my utensils with them and consoling my white-faced mother. In the end, the food was carried to the Madarssa by the guards of the bungalow. I was five and my mother was twenty-seven years of age.

“Mummy, aap kya karna chahti hai? Do you want to spend Iddat here in the ancestral home or do you want to come with us?” My brother asked this gently to my recently bereaved mother. Iddat is a mourning period obligatory on married females which consists of four months and some days. My mother is seventy-one years of age and yet the spectre of Iddat hangs on her head. Her voice, as soft as the pink muslin saree she is wearing -speaks up, “My sorrow is my own, I can pray for your father from anywhere. I will go with you all.” I feel like bursting like a cloud and holding her. I remember how my aunt of eighty years was barred by her children to move out of her own home to see her dead best friend one last time. She had refused to follow this diktat of her sons.                                    

There was hullabaloo all around. My aunt was eighty years of age. This time when my mother spoke everyone was silent, a few agreed with her decision and no one opposed it. It took only two ladies of my family to break this stranglehold –  (Iddat has exceptions but no one talks of that. Trust the male members of society to be silent.)

“Kya ghoor rahe hain? Koi nayi chiz dekhi hain?” This is my mother speaking. As the night train hurtled along with three kids in tow. The man who was ogling at my mother looked away ashamed. We were four, eight, and eleven then.

“As long as I remember for me, my mother was a very ordinary person. She loved us and looked after us. She was pretty, yet she hardly applied makeup except for maroon lipstick. She had been married at the age of eighteen years even though she was from a well-off family. But then is that a guarantee that your family will see you as a person? The girl’s primary job was to get married and look after her family.

“Farah come- Your father is not feeling well.” I struggled to get up from inside my green mosquito net. I walked into the hall and there was silence as if someone had died. Nope, not that but another thing- My brother had announced that he would marry the girl he liked. This flew in the face of my father who till then was a proud progressive person whose beliefs were not challenged, as long as the status quo was maintained- all was well. That night, my mother threw her opinion- loud and clear. “Bhaiya would marry, whom he loves whether Papa liked it or not”- She added further- that her golden, blue stone, jadau set would go to her bahu the one whom my Bhaiya would marry. My mother had stood up to my father- the one whom she adored. My father had no choice, but to agree. You see that is the way life rolls. Sometimes you have to stand up & make your stand clear and the rest will follow. I doubt my mother knew this but her instinct guided her. This year my brother celebrated twenty-five years of marriage anniversary with his wife.

I was eighteen when I failed to clear the medical exam. On top of it, my best friend with whom I shared a name, had cleared it. I couldn’t process this news. Shame, anger, and jealousy all found a place in my heart. I took to the bed & effectively refused to get up. Soaked tears stained my dress, and I started smelling like piss, yet I refused to get up. For the full two months, my mother got me food in bed, stroked my hair & just let me be. I now wonder how difficult it must have been for her. Now when I have 2 kids & can’t tolerate them not taking a bath, I remember my mother and I let go.

Yet this was the same mother who couldn’t protect me from my child abuse by a cousin. For a long time, I blamed her. It is only now, that I found in my heart to forgive her. For she never had the benefit of college. She has studied till only tenth. My sister told me that one of her biggest regrets was that she couldn’t protect me. I wonder how could she – when she did not have the words for it and it was not only her job. It was my father’s too. We have talked about it as Indian families do- in a roundabout way. Only now we have come to some sort of closure.

We all crack up with laughter when we remember how my mother witheringly told the father of a prospective groom for me to back off from demanding dowry. Surrounded by chamchan, cut fruits, halwa, pulao, and kebabs in a big house in Ranchi she delivered her words which have gained legendary status in our family. ‘Bhaisaab hum rishta karne ayein hai naki suadebaazi.’ and then proceeded to eat- ’Why waste food is another of her mantra.’ I was twenty-five then.

As you all must have guessed my superhero/heroine is my mother. Her superpower is her ordinariness. Her strength is to speak up when the situation demands, the courage to course-correct if wrong and to be there for us. Even in her grief, she is teaching us how to live. She wears all the hues of the rainbow, shops for new sarees, and loves watching TV with her grandchildren. 

The thing with mothers is that even though we love them, we take them for granted. They recede in the background and only when you grow up does, the realisation dawn that you do not know her favourite food, colors, or friends, We admire them for the duties they perform and not for what they are. We say Ma is supreme….ma ke paer ke neeche jannat hai (Loosely translated: The heaven exists under a mother’s feet.), yet in her lifetime we don’t notice her. We like our mothers as Nirupa Roy of Hindi cinema, forgetting that she too, is made of bones, flesh, and marrow. That she once was a girl with desires and dreams. It was during Covid, my kids found out that she wanted to be a lawyer. Ironic isn’t it that I a lawyer, did not know this?

We keep our mothers in plastic containers just like Barbie dolls and take them out only when the need arises. Mothers can be jhalli, chudail, aaram-pasand, control freaks, or anything and everything under this milky way. Take a pause and ask yourself, “When was the last time you saw your mother?” the answer might surprise you.

These days we like to try new things -like vacationing together or joking about drinking [tauba tauba…namazi aur sharabi] winking at life when our hearts want to howl. All my life I have been called my father’s daughter and only now when I am soon going to be fifty, do people say -I resemble my mother.  I have finally become the person who keeps leftovers in katoris in the fridge. I used to chide her for doing this to now celebrating katori diwas, hat tip to the person who coined this term. The things that exasperated me in my young days now bind me to her. She is me and I am her.

Her name is Nasreen, she was named Farkhanda on her aqiqaa. For most of her life she was known as Mrs. Rahman, and to me, she is Ruhi -the name she chose, once upon a time.

About the Author

Farah Naaz loves the written word whether reading or writing.

She has an opinion on most things largely on account of her being an advocate and writer.

She has been published in Livewire, Reader’s  Digest, OutlookIndia, and various anthologies. 

About Author