English Vinglish was one of the few movies I did not watch with the mother. Perhaps, if I had, I might have felt differently about it. I saw it by myself on a not-so good day between the mother and me; I was attempting to give her a cold shoulder and she was letting me be.
But the pain that I had failed to see in my mother’s eyes, I saw in Shashi’s (Sridevi), each time her kids rebuffed her. When her daughter kept secrets from her, taunted her for her pronunciations and snubbed her aside for her inability to teach her English literature. It reminded me of the times I’ve behaved in a similar fashion. When I’ve underestimated her experiences, skills or knowledge of current affairs, when I have obstinately argued with her, when I have been deaf to her words.
When Shashi was hesitant and nervous about making through a long flight alone to the US, I saw my mother instead. Longing to come visit me when I was a student in Boston, but being a little unsure about making the trip by herself. I was unable to understand or decipher her edginess then. Today, I can.
Today, I can also appreciate her fears and concerns for me far better. When she tells me, as I step out for work, each morning, “Take care. Sambhal ke jana.” When she says, “Call me once you reach.” When she says, “Go to bed at a decent hour, today.”
I almost cringed with guilt when Shashi’s daughter’s call rudely interrupts her coffee shop date with a friend, enquiring, in a rather accusatory tone about a misplaced scrap-book. Shashi tackles it deftly, with precise instructions that come with practice and an infinite amount of patience. But she is miserable once the call ends. She remarks to her friend, in Hindi, “What right do they have to peck away at our happiness, when we work so hard at finding it on our own?!”
I remembered screaming at my mother that her love stifled me. I remembered accusing her of not being on my side. But I also remembered ignoring her many long-distance phone calls and reducing her to tears, one summer, two decades ago, when STD calls were charged at a premium and mobile telephony was nowhere on the horizon.
In Shashi’s pain and disappointment, I had finally sensed my mother’s. When I call her up in the middle of a work-day to express disappointment over something and blame it on all her. When I use her as a punching bag for my words and disgust. When I question her judgment.
I want to apologize for all this and more. I’m sorry, Ma. For the times I didn’t apologize, for the many half-hearted apologies, for the times I failed you. I love you more than I realize and acknowledge that I do.