You know there is trouble when the maternal relative calls you on your cellphone at 9 pm which is unusual for her for various reasons including the fact that she has no idea how to operate her newly acquired smartphone. I don’t know about you but at almost fifty years of age – a week away from reaching the milestone – I know that if our mother has taken the trouble to get someone to dial, it is going to be something important and I better listen.
“Hello,” I say, tentatively.
“When are you in Mumbai next,” she says straight away.
“Why,” I ask, my instinct telling me I am walking into a trap.
“I just realised it is your fiftieth next week.”
The heart soars a bit now. Maybe she has secretly bought a solitaire as a gift for my birthday. Must remember to buy a return gift for her for being so thoughtful, I make a mental note to myself.
“I will get there by around 10 am, amma.” At almost seventy, amma is getting to be forgetful and anxious and I don’t want anything to mar the solitaire exchange ceremony. Note 2 to myself: Make sure my daughter will capture the sentimental moment on her fancy phone.
“That is alright then. We can go out for lunch. Nothing fancy. But make sure you don’t talk about it,” amma says, voice silken.
Wait a minute. She gives me a solitaire and I don’t talk about it? What is the point of getting your first ever solitaire and not bragging about it?
“Umm, talk about what amma?”
“About it being your fiftieth birthday!”
“What? Why?” I have lost the plot here.
“I heard your sister discuss that you are planning to take us out for your fiftieth birthday. Why make such a hoohaa about it? No need to tell anyone you are getting old. Especially not the neighbours. It is hardly something you want to celebrate!”
Bam. Bam. Bam. If you heard something, that was the sound of my ego crashing all around me and breaking into a million teeny weeny bits, along with the vision of me in a dazzling pair of solitaires.
Here, I am thinking I am a not-so-bad fifty-year-old in the looks section. In my mind I am like fine wine – silky, elegant and opulent. Coming from the person who gave birth to me, this “old” bit was a bit below the belt. There ought to be something in the law about hurting the sentiments of your daughter.
“But what is there to not talk about? Fifty is not old”, I croak weakly but we all know that mom knows best.
“Of course fifty years old. When I was fifty I was already grandmother twice, thanks to you and your sister and you reminded me about it often enough.” Amma knows how to swot pesky flies down swiftly. Ouch.
“Alright. I won’t tell anyone I’m fifty.” I retreat from the battlefield in a hurry, tail tucked firmly in between flabby backside. The glorious glint of the solitaires on my ears now a distant, jeering memory. Oh well, maybe my daughter will buy me one…
Meanwhile, there is something definitely liberating about getting old. After a lifetime of being mild, generous and all-forgiving to the point of being a pushover, we have discovered amma actually has nerves of steel running just under the surface. When her spouse of fifty five years passed away earlier this year, we feared for her sanity. But after months of driving us round the bend, turns out amma has finally rediscovered her mojo. Last week she thought she was being slighted by a few dowagers who have turned into bullies at the senior citizen’s recreation centre that she goes to couple of times a week.
She stormed into the house later that evening, eyes blazing: “I told them that they better stop pushing me around and mistaking me for a pushover, simply because I have white hair.”
This weekend, my sister took her shopping and amma returned home, the proud owner of a liquid foundation, a compact and two cool shades of lipstick. It might seem like no big deal to everybody but for her it is a giant leap of faith considering that she has never used anything other than sindoor, talcum powder and kajal on her face since she got married at sixteen.
As for me, I am thinking of quietly and discreetly disposing of the two dozen-plus lipstick tubes I have been hoarding in the fond hope that I will, one day, become the sexiest babe in town with my haute red pout, towering heels and my Little Black Dress. I will get there. I know I will. Maybe seventy is the new fifty.
You can reach her on firstname.lastname@example.org or her twitter handle@sudhamenon2006
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