On Mother’s Day it is only appropriate to write about Manju. A difficult narrative to speak of and to share, not fully threaded together cohesively, inspite of being laboured over for months, but only meant to be a grim reminder to each one of us to appreciate and value our mothers, our guardian angels in Manju’s words, when they are with us.
Manju thru my eyes is sophisticated, feminine and is a private person. She is tall and lithe, moves with an easy grace, and is soft spoken and charming having the innate ability to see the good in people. What strikes me is that while she is always dressed in shorts and trousers prioritizing comfort over fashion making her a tomboy in one sense, she is elegant and lady-like in her mannerisms. She embodies what has been written and said a million times, that style does not come with the outfit but with the person wearing it.
She gets this from her childhood years in Bahrain, in a close-knit, fairly open family, and mostly her worldly wise father who gifted her valentino when she got her first job. The first time we spoke about herself, she willingly shared many happy memories of her growing up years with her brother in Bahrain.
After leading the quintessential corporate lifestyle for the longest time, she took a sabbatical to be a full time mother to Isabella, Izzy. This because of an eleven month old baby, Ryan, whom she was very attached to who lost his life in a day care. Manju derives her strength from her spouse, Vinu, who believes and conveys with charm and humour that any decision she takes should be entirely hers to not induce regret. Vinu and Manju share an endearingly beautiful relationship baking together and displaying a warmth with each other that is subtle yet real.
What I love about her is the fact that she is rooted while being modern with liberal views. This gets attributed to her toddler years spent with her mother and grandparents in her Tharavadu where she remembers ammachi giving her chapathi with paal and panjasara, a kennare in the compound her mother would warn her to stay away from, the fragrance of ilanji poo wafting thru her memories all interspersed with the colors of her mother’s bright sarees in her mind. Also where all of us get our Malayalitham from, soaking in the Malayalam movies with her family over the weekends in Bahrain.
Manju lost her mother to cervical cancer in her twenties.She has been exceptionally resilient, going back to work the day after her mother’s passing, to not wallow in grief but to keep busy and to fill the vacuum.
Manju and I pick up the pieces from where we left off 15 springs ago, after a short but close friendship for just under a year in college. This time with husbands and kids in tow when we end up in the same city, we bond as families and have our own girls only time. We spent a full day enjoying one another’s company having an extended conversation seeing Manju’s life from her eyes, piecing together what makes her the person she is today as an aggregate of the experiences she’s been witness to and been part of, while picking my girl from school, keeping a close eye on the kids and being interrupted at every second sentence having to play referee or move Manj’s little one out of harm’s away. More than what she said about her mother, it is what she didn’t say that left the most telling and profound impression on me. She displays a grace and dignity, willingly sharing her lifestory but at the same time fiercely proud and protective of her mother’s memories. A joyful memory she shares is of her mother and her bonding over mall hopping in Bangalore when the concept was novel. I felt privileged to see her mother’s sarees and one of which she’d personally supervised the making of for the boutique she ran. I value my mother and so much more grateful to her after I have Manju back in my life and this is essentially why in my mind her story needed to be shared.
In a year’s time of her mother’s passing all of life’s wishes were realised for the family. Manju calls her mother her guardian angel who watches over her and keeps her family safe. Guardian angels indeed our mothers are in life and after.