I often dream of emancipation.
Liberation. Freedom. Though, I don’t think I’ll ever completely know what it feels like.
We weren’t very well-off when Mama was around. It wasn’t because we spent excessively; in fact, we were all rather parsimonious – she most of all. Mama’s family had always been wealthy. They supported her when she moved to Adelaide to study Economics – paid for her fees, her books, her lodging.
But when, on a visit back to her hometown, her parents found out that she had married a foreigner, an Australian, it was, in their eyes, a sin. They had picked out a sensible young man for her, and when Mama refused to leave Aaron, she was shunned from their home in Mumbai, renounced from any financial support, and was bought a one-way ticket back to Adelaide.
Choosing the road to Australia wasn’t an easy decision. Starting a new family and leaving her old one behind had to be a somewhat terrifying choice. But she was young and in love, carelessly sanguine about life, so she took her chances.
She took the different road.
The unfamiliar road.
The road less travelled by.
Aaron didn’t have much money either. They were both hard workers, though, and somehow made a living for themselves. But when I came along, going got hard. Money was scarce and resources meagre.
I remember once, when I was six or seven, Mama came home with a surprise. She handed me three packets of coloured powder – blue, pink and neon green. They were called gulal in Hindi, she told me with a smile, and I repeated the foreign word after her. It was rare that we did anything related to Indian culture because when she severed ties with her parents, it seemed that she had left India behind, too. That evening was one of the best times I had in a long while. We celebrated Holi – the Hindu festival of colours, smearing powder all over each other shooting each other with mini water guns and dancing to the Bollywood music in the wind. Once we were exhausted, I fell into Mama’s arms on the ground, and we watched as the sky turned from blue to magenta and blended into indigo. And for the first time in a long time, we were both beatific.
No matter the circumstances of the next few years; financial or otherwise; we celebrated Holi every March. The festival of colours, it seemed, could wipe away the darkness in Mama’s life.
For just a single day.
Then, our road became rough. The speed bumps started to emerge, and before I realised what was happening, it was too late.
I knew Mama was fighting her own internal beasts; a combination of family issues, financial insecurity and other things that I still don’t know about. But Aaron and Mama were incandescently in love once. Always hand in hand and side by side, they were my king and queen. He would rescue her when she was down, and she, him. But now, Mama would stay in bed for days on end, and my ten year old self would wonder why Aaron didn’t help her up. She was walking a lonely road for a long time, one with no pit-stops, no forks, no detours. Only a dead end. It was only later when I realised she had been battling severe depression and became suicidal.
Sometimes, when I curse Aaron for not being able to save Mama, I wonder whether he really loved her enough. For a while, I distanced myself from him emotionally. At twelve, I stopped calling him dad and started calling him Aaron. It broke his heart, and I was glad. He deserved it.
After Mama’s death, we lived out in the bush for a couple of years, Aaron and I. It was where he grew up, and I think he needed something familiar to hold onto. I was thirteen. I used to paint, then, and write a little, too. Looking back, I think I needed the change of scenery as much as he did. The rugged South Australian landscape calmed me; the serenity of not being constantly surrounded by people, cities, noise. Death. I learnt to be content with my own company and I dreaded having to return to Adelaide.
It’s just me and Aaron now. We’re never going to be as close as we once were when Mama was around. She died in in ’09 – it sounds like a long time ago, but if you look at Aaron’s face, you’d see that for him it feels like just yesterday. I guess I feel sorry for him sometimes. He doesn’t know it, but I hear him mumbling her name in his sleep.
I’d be lying if I said that I think of her every day. I don’t. I feel guilty for it, too. But when I do think of her, the rage and resentment consume me. She left me, when she could have stayed.
We’re doing okay now financially. Better than okay, I guess, because at least life insurance was one thing we had going for us. It’s ironic, because as much as I went without the luxuries of life then, now it’s nauseating having my pockets full and Mama’s bed empty.
Sometimes, when I flick through the old photo albums, I wonder about dying. Not what it feels like, but what comes afterwards. Where did Mama go? I trace her figure and the plastic crackles beneath my fingers. Although I miss her tremendously, maybe she’s happier now than she ever was here. I guess death is a kind of emancipation in itself. I yearn to feel that bliss, that freedom. I’m living, but I don’t feel alive. My existence feels futile without Mama. But I know I have to keep going, because I have my own path to pave.
It’s been a long road to get to where we are now.
A long, slippery, bumpy road.
And we didn’t all make it.Return to issues