An unusual gift

On International Women’s Day, Rahul Sharma writes about an email his mother wrote to him and his twin sister on their 50th birthday. She reminisces the smallest of details of their childhood 

It feels good to turn 50. The end is nearly in sight — another 15 odd years given the average life expectancy of an Indian male.

Friends, some of them already over 50 and others about to hit the golden number, tell you it’s a milestone. Time to celebrate; everybody is gung-ho.

mother
Pic for representation only

The bad news is that your mother still thinks you are 10 if not five years old. And that’s a tragedy, for you are pretty close to where she is given she was in her late 20s when she gave birth to you.

It only gets worse when she decides to send an “unusual” birthday gift — a long mail recording the final hours before she delivered, much to her surprise, two babies instead of one everybody expected to arrive. Yes, I have a twin sister.

Apart from the fact that it made for a fascinating read, it also embarrassed me by letting out those dark family secrets. “The babies were born premature and their total weight was nine pounds! No flesh on them, withered skin like very old people. The boy had a hairy face and his head was slightly flat on one side,” she wrote in her five-page tome that she had typed with two fingers on a laptop I presented her.

Did I want to know what I looked like when I was born? It is generally said that old age is like returning to childhood, and I wondered if I would end up looking like what I did when I was born. I quickly felt my head to check if it was still flat. Thankfully, somewhere along it got reshaped, so there was a sigh of relief.

And mercifully, I seem to have been fed well as I grew; I now tip the scales on the overweight end. Facial hair, I do have though. That part hadn’t changed in five decades I realise.

My mother is close to 80, but she has kept her spirits well up. She was always a voracious reader and now she’s taken to speedwriting. It is easier to hit a keyboard than form cursive words on a paper. Given her various ailments — she does have problems given her advancing age — it is difficult for her to hold a pen straight.

She called soon after she hit the send button to tell me that she had issues with the English language and, therefore, I might want to clean up the copy. “You have been a journalist and you write. I tend to forget some words now. Fill them up,” she said, adding that I had to stick to the storyline though.

I did get down to editing her emotional five-pager laden with love, humour, humility and pathos, but then stopped myself. It all read well the way it was, said in her very own unique way — a story I will cherish because it was indeed a gift different from all others.

Five decades ago it was difficult to raise a set of twins leave alone knowing you would deliver two instead of the usual one all others did. She put it well when she said to my twin sister and me: “We saw you grow from tiny babies to big human beings. We tried our best to give you the best of education, values to be good human beings and feel extremely proud to see both of you as you are today.”

“I think I have put together an unusual gift from a mother to her children on their 50th birthday. May God bless you and give you all the happiness, health and peace of mind,” she wrote ending the mail.

Indeed, an unusual gift and thanks for that. It has only got better since.

She is now busy writing about her life experiences that she plans to share with her four grandchildren. The amazing bit is that she remembers the smallest details from 70 years ago. I tell her that there is no way for me to verify what she says except to believe her.

What I do know is that she’s a damn good storyteller. “You can pull this all in a book at some point,” she tells me. Mum’s the word.

Rahul Sharma is a former newspaper editor, and is President, Rediffusion Communications

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