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Commentary on “Mother among Her Things”

Priya Dileep

I started writing this essay sometime in the middle of last year when the restrictions of lockdown were eased. I shifted to another part of India then, much away from both my natal home and the one I had got used to thinking of as home. It took a while to come to terms with the unexpected relocation. I cribbed a lot. But this was also a time when the internet was flooded with pictures of migrant labourers walking hundreds of miles from the metros in India to their villages. The long walk to home was no longer a metaphor. They could be seen lugging everything they owned; like a snail perhaps, with the shelter on their backs.

I withdrew from all online presence; this nonfiction essay on my mother, who holds on to her things, stirred into words somehow thus. I think of the personal essay in general, as a form flexible enough to think through, rather than as something springing from a sorted out state of mind. One hopes not to lose sight of Montaigne’s witty common-sense that even on the loftiest throne, we still sit only on our rump. Possibly, when you are no longer young enough, a certain arrangement of words presents itself, of thinking through your own failings, conceits or deceptions even as you are unsure where you stand with respect to the last of those. The essay feels like a space, less of promise, and more of possibility; a space of and through ‘maybes’. So, this is me groping through uncertainties of memory and human connection at a time when a violent reminder of the many uncertainties we all live in suddenly hit us.

“Mother among Her Things” in its particular story, is a vulnerable contemplation of our earliest relationships. It would hopefully, have an echo in those who mull over the fraught, but intimate bond we share across a lifetime with a parent.

I think of “Mother among Her Things” as a series of verbal snapshots of my mother who refuses to discard certain things that have been unusable for a long time. These images of a woman capable of profound nostalgia however, issue forth from her drifter-daughter, much different from her. Musing on intergenerational binds and inheritances, these memories of memories gravitate towards a certain fear of turning functionless, turning into a thing itself, shared by us. On that common ground, she, amid the thickness of her things and me, among my words, are perhaps only two little girls learning to play together.

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Priya lives in Bangalore. She likes collecting random information which might have no significance in the scheme of things and has a penchant for ruins, anachronisms, and misplaced objects. When not lost in such fancies, she types. Her first book is forthcoming from Samyukta India Press.

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