My mother was petrified of rats and mice.
Actually, to be absolutely accurate, petrified isn’t the right word. It barely covers the truth. It is too weak a word for her true emotion. She was outraged, disgusted and repulsed as well as petrified. As all students of humanity know, disgust and outrage take petrified to another level entirely.
Whenever she spotted one of these things, she let loose the most blood-curdling scream of horror you can imagine. The film industries of the world could have made a fortune if they’d had the foresight to record her at the right moment.
Just imagine the effectiveness of the Hitchcock fare if Alfred had included my mother’s production, recorded at the critical moment! Fortunes could have been made by everyone. Yours truly would have been sickening rich. Add that to my saintliness and you have a full hand. Not that you don’t have a full hand now.
But I digress, as always.
I once saw my mother leap—I exaggerate not—an Olympian nine feet from the scene of the disaster to her bed. The bed was more a cot with a blue cotton niwar woven over a wooden frame. Needless to say, the cot was not amused at this cavalier treatment and promptly died in a huff. I can still see my dear mother sitting amidst the ruin, dismay writ large on every feature. Thankfully the rat scampered away in the nick of time or he’d have had a thin time of it if she’d gotten hold of him, revulsion having to make way for her towering temper.
For this, was the other thing that came to the fore whenever she was deeply moved.
Her vernacular expressions panted and withered away at the root. What remained—and a veritable Niagara of it too—was her very chaste, scholarly and dazzlingly highbrow English. She suffered no qualms about letting it lose with absolute abandon. It mattered not who took the brunt of it. It mattered even less whether they deserved it or not. She didn’t give two hoots about being fair when she was deeply moved. Not my mother, no. You just had to lump it, that all.
But there’s a story behind everything. How a picture got on a wall. How a scar got on your face. Sometimes the stories are simple, and sometimes they are hard and heartbreaking. But behind all your stories is always your mother’s story, because hers is where yours begin.
I remember her top-notch verbal outrage unleashed at a restaurant manager once when she happened to spot an unfortunate mouse. After the blood-curdling effects—which I’m sure scarred and traumatized the rest of the patrons and put them off their food for life—the manager made the mistake of arriving in the vicinity at the wrong moment. She held a passionate monologue for just under twenty-five minutes. Once she was done, there wasn’t enough left of the manager to fill a teaspoon. True story.
And how do I know it was twenty-five minutes? Because my father timed her, surreptitiously of course. He must have perfected the art within a year of his marriage with the Mayhem Generator. Opportunities for timing her were plentiful and frequent. And the man never turned a hair, I tell you. He supported her as vociferously as she attacked. Between them, not many lived to tell the tale.
When they’re together, it’s like putting a hurricane and a tornado in the same room – you can feel the tension. I didn’t believe in the cliche of soul mates until I saw them together.
She once screamed at the top of her voice in a packed movie theatre, simply because she happened to espy a mouse running up a wall a few feet ahead of where we sat. Why she had to be looking at the wall instead of paying attention to the movie like all right-thinking folk ought to, is more than I can imagine. She was and that’s all there is to it.
Absolute, glorious Mayhem broke out. People poured pell-mell out in panic. There was almost a stampede. Thankfully no one was hurt. But everyone was sure a brutal murder had been committed in the balcony section and a particularly giddy-headed female had just discovered the body. The movie, I remember well, was the Hindi movie Wo Kaun Thi. You can imagine the effect, right?
The show couldn’t be resumed and the theatre had to refund everyone’s money. There was no end of bother. When the manager came to remonstrate, she let loose at him in her elitist English. He retreated in haste like a scalded cat. Poor man! All through, my dad defended her fatheadedness most steadfastly and refused to budge without getting his own refund. The cheek of them, honestly!
My mother was truly, absolutely and unapologetically a Mayhem Generator. Tornadoes had nothing on her. My father was the perfect corollary to her. He defended her passionately no matter what she did. In all the years I saw them together, I never saw him question her. He never so much as said- even privately- “Renu, you shouldn’t have done that.” On the contrary, he told her she did well by holding people to a better standard.
Happy Mother’s Day Ma!
Note: I had to write this to clean away the gum from my eyes after reading an endless procession of soppy Mother’s Day posts. It was getting intolerable really.
Mayhem: My Mother and a Mouse at the Movies