“Didi” a Hindi word for – big sister.

Or a more commonly used form of respectful address to any older woman of the household.

Usually not a term used to refer to one’s own mother though.

However, this was what I was referred to as, by my son for the first two years of his life with us. DIDI.

My daughter called me ‘mama’ but he firmly referred to me as DIDI.

I tried ignoring him when he called me ‘didi’ on a couple of occasions, hoping he would be forced into calling me ‘mama’, but his confused and hurt eyes melted me into responding right away.

He called my husband ‘papa/daddy/pa’ all the various connotations and endearing terms for a Father with ease. But I remained firmly didi for a long time.

I joked about it when we met friends, stating my apparent youth has my newly adopted son completely confused. He thinks I’m his older sister! When we went out friends joked about it too.

All the while secretly, I feared that he hadn’t truly accepted me fully as his mother. He doesn’t love me as much as he loved his Dad, I felt. I haven’t connected with him quite as well as I should have, I blamed myself.

What if he never accepts me in the role of a mother? His Mother more specifically! I fretted many nights over this.

My beautiful baby boy, who came to us at the tender age of one, was only just learning to speak. He was adjusting with all the huge curves life had already thrown his way at such a fledgling stage. New surroundings, new family, new languages, new Country, new sibling, new parents. He coped admirably with it all! He continued to smile, play, and be what we now know to be his impish humorous self through it all. He took to all of us with ease and made loving him so easy and natural for all of us.

My beautiful girl born to us 8 years before, adjusted to her new brother, the unusual circumstances and all the life changes that go with a new baby in the house with such maturity and proved beyond a shadow of a doubt how big and kind her heart actually is.

So amidst all of this emotional palaver, when God had been kind enough to grant me a smooth transition on so many fronts with the new arrival I was left questioning the universe as to why is my boy not ‘accepting’ me as a Mother. Why does he still see me only as ‘didi’ I wondered.

After a while of such fretting I let it go. In more ways than one, my son had clearly depicted his affection and his attachment to me along with the rest of the family. I decided not to agonise pointlessly over a name tag as such.

Then one day I chanced upon a story of a foster mother who had felt compelled to adopt a little girl who on the very first meeting with her then foster mum referred to her as ‘mummy’.

A combination of various aspects of the story, fuelled by the fact that I had finally taken the time to step out of my self-indulgent thoughts to think beyond only my own need to be accepted, that I think I may have seen some sense at last.

My baby boy, in his limited time at the facilities before coming home to us, had grown in an environment of mainly women. There the primary caretaker, the head honcho of sorts who fed him and cared for a majority of the kids daily needs was referred to as ‘didi’ by all. The child knew not of any different term. She was the closest to a motherly figure for all the children there and they knew no different. So when my son came to me, despite the household having a nanny and visiting grandmothers, he had linked me as the ‘didi’ in his life. He had associated and singled me from all the women in his new home, in that role.

I had indeed, this means been accepted as a mother, it was only left to me to decipher it appropriately.

Recently one day he just very naturally switched to calling me ‘mama’ in the course of his garbled baby conversations. He simply switched to calling me mama and while we all clapped with glee behind his back, drew no attention to it in reality!

I am pleased to say that I am now firmly mama in his vocabulary. My love for him remains just as strong and deep for him as it did during my didi days. The new name tag bore no effect on the emotions, I realised. I felt like I was destined to be his ‘mama’ from the minute he entered our lives. I intend to remain his mama for the rest of my days. The fact that he has chosen without any duress of his own accord to call me so now, I hope is a reflection of the fact that he now understands a mother’s love.

And so it was that I graduated from ‘didi’ to ‘mama’.




30 days

20Sep2015 – 20Oct2015
30 days

Last month on this day I woke up feeling listless. I had just got back after an all too short but enjoyable weekend back home. I wished I didn’t have to go to work that day, I wished it wasn’t just quite so hot outside that day, I wished I had found the proverbial pot of gold so then I could retire to a life of luxury.

However as the day progressed I wished that this day had never happened entirely. I wished I had super powers to turn back the clock and stop it for eternity.

Fate had destined otherwise for all of us that day. During an otherwise normal day as the world went about its routine, the universe conspired to very unexpectedly steal away the very head of our tightly knit little family. My Dad who only the day before had bid me goodbye, had waved me off to the airport with promises of visiting me soon had been cruelly and harshly snatched away from us.

We were unprepared for this blow. We were left in utter shock, going through the subsequent motions under automaton, steeled to the events, to the gravity of the situation and to the depth of our loss.

My beautiful Mother as is her nature handled this episode in her life too with poise, dignity and grace. My Father would have been so proud of her.

Now one month later as I contemplate over the past thirty days of our lives, I realise that time has flown by so quickly and yet it hasn’t either. Although day has turned to night and the dates on the calendar have proceeded, in my heart that dull ache that began that fateful day remains unhealed.

Some of the common pieces of advice we have received over the past few weeks have been “time will heal”, “be strong”, “keep your mind occupied” etc.. Let me tell you as it stands none of this works. While I don’t grudge the sentiments behind these counsels, I struggle still with being able to apply them into my life successfully.

Time does not heal anything. It merely teaches us to survive and function despite the pain and bury it deeper. But the emotion remains bubbling beneath the surface.

Be strong …..I am yet to decipher. What are the strength gauging parameters? How do I know that I am strong enough? Am I meant to be silent and never mention the elephant in the room or am I to keep talking about it to all and sundry about it all?

I had read in the not so distant past Sheryl Sandberg’s blog post written  by her after the official mourning period for her late husband had passed. One of the references she made was to the fact that many people avoided her since they just did not know how to behave around her. I don’t think I quite empathised with what she wrote about until very recently. I have received everything from awkward humour to muffled apologies to genuine concern. Then I have also been fortunate to have a close inner circle offer my family just their prayers and silent support.

To be honest, I truly apologise if someone has been made to feel uncomfortable around me of late, whatever anyone says or whatever the social niceties offered all of it has no relevance and is of no consequence since nothing will bring him back.

My mum’s loss is the greatest of them all. She lost her life partner, her closest friend and her confidante. For better or worse they had spent all their adult lives together so her loss to me is unfathomable.

I have not lived with my parents (barring the annual trips home) for nearly 15 years now. While logic dictates that death is inevitable and an unavoidable harsh reality of life. However losing a parent is like losing my childhood. Suddenly I feel very grown up. I feel older, world weary and an inexplicable sense of loss not just for the person gone but for an entire part of my life gone. This may sound very selfish that I should feel a sense of such personal loss, but the truth is I do.

Home under his roof was the one place I could still go to and receive unconditional support. Where I knew that whatever my faults, together they would find a way to spin it all making me come out smelling of roses! Even as a grown woman every time I went home, Dad would give me some money and ask me to go buy myself something nice! Going home will never be the same without him now.

Each blog post I made was equivalent to a multi book deal from Penguin in my Dad’s eyes. We discussed politics, shared our affinity for childish humour and we talked aviation so often.

My Dad was as unconventional as they come. He lived life on his own terms, he believed in seizing the day and could be as stubborn as a mule at times! He had style, his moustache was his pride, he was classy.

Growing up as a young girl in the late 70s and early 80s in a traditional South Indian family I never knew of the rules or strict boundaries that some of my friends had enforced upon them. We were brought up liberally with a firm hand but with plenty freedom. It never occurred to us to abuse this freedom since we were given plenty.

My Dad was an insanely intelligent engineer. Add that to a strong not afraid of manual labour mentality and that was an unstoppable mix. We never hired interior decorators, we never bought furniture, and we never hired painters. Everything was home-made, from the beds to the dining table to the art deco central wall in the living room. He applied these engineering skills and even stitched us kids matching outfits. When Mum fell ill, when all ‘experts’ had more or less given up on her, he never did. He built her a gym at home, he become her strength, took care of us little ones, he became her physiotherapist, he pulled us all through as a family over those dark days.

As young girls we were taught how to wire a plug, change a bulb as well sand paper a plank of wood. There was nothing that a girl cannot do or should not do. We were gifted driving lessons for our 18th birthdays as they occurred, we were encouraged to be socially active, he forced us to try new cuisines, he even poured us a glass of wine, taught us social graces and he raised the bar in terms of what to expect in a life partner.

I have never seen a man embrace retirement with such aplomb. He bought books, took up hobbies, renewed his passion for photography, expanded his mind, built things, taught children carpentry, kept his mind active at all times. He was generous to a fault and a sap for a sob story. He wasn’t meant to live a life of frugality and fortunately the Lord gave him enough strength to earn sufficiently to meet his needs.

For such a persona it seemed befitting then that he breathed his last at the one place he loved the most – the airport and that he went within seconds, with no warning with no time to contemplate with no warning, with no pain for him.

Only we were left to deal with the suddenness of it all.

A very insightful friend of mine last night as I struggled to control my anger at everyone from the forces above to those around me said to me “You have to let go. You must say goodbye. Your anger, your grief, your need to cling onto your disbelief is holding him back from his journey onwards. Let go”. Somehow this unexpected statement came at a time I needed to hear it the most possibly and it is with this in mind that I intend from today to squash my irrational anger and to cherish his memories, to be grateful for the time I had with him, to be thankful that I was blessed to be born as his daughter.

Go in peace Acha*… will never be forgotten. We shall treasure you in our hearts forever.

*Acha – Dad