Sunday, July 20, 2014

The English Papers IV - Being single; Being Mum

Try as you might, it is only by imitation that one learns style and presentation.
Jill Cadman and Fiona

I watched Fiona intently, without being offensive and I remember her busy English home may have not had everything in place, because, really she had a lot of stuff in her head to do, as a lady working with the government, but there was always that thing about style she maintained in her day to day life. Indeed, she was soft spoken and met my eyes, when she talked, rather infrequently making sure I was being addressed, but not rudely stared at. Polite and perfect with her diction, her relationship with her daughter, who had just become a mother and lives close by too, reflects the same spirit of respect and non-interference, although she is a great support to her, naturally.

“I like the way; you are so respectful of her.” I said.

“Oh yes, I would always be that with her.”

Quite naturally, Jessica, her daughter displays the same respect for her little baby who is only 6 months old.

“I can’t have her picture published, because, she has to permit me to do so. She will have to grow up to decide for herself.” She said, when I asked for a picture of her baby.

In an age of Facebook, where the boundaries between personal and public is dimming out fast, it is important to draw the lines somewhere and not go the whole hog and tell it all to the world.

Again, this is a show of respect, no matter what the age of the human is.

Fiona comes from a line of single mothers. Interestingly, her grandmother, mother, she herself and her daughter are all single mothers. Like my mother, who chose to be a single mother, despite my father being alive, the women in Fiona’s line too, made the same choice. This fact, this points out to one thing for sure – parenthood, is a choice we make ourselves and how we are going to fulfill the role is again a personal choice. This choice undermines social norms to place the individual’s personal choice above all, no matter what the price may be that one must pay for this bold decision.

Fiona makes the breakfast and dinner; a single, working woman would do in urban India too. It is simple, quickly made and does not require time to cook it up and place it on the table. A quick bowl of porridge with a toast, butter as you please, honey and a cuppa, is just right to start the day with. At dinner, time she spends with herself is with a glass(es) of wine and some soft music playing in the background. She reads a lot, both at work and off it and her single room with bath, drawing-cum-dining room and a kitchen flat in London is a haven of books, not so much novels. She is a serious reader from a very intellectually engaging time, the sixties.

On my way back to India, I spent time with her alone for two days when we went to Oxford. Really, Oxford cannot be covered in a day, or a month, or a life time. But the little town can be admired for its rich history. Our guide that day, a lovely lady, who said her brain was melting underneath the heat of the May sun, gave us a list of people who had passed out of different colleges in Oxford. Pity, she forgot Dr Amartya Sen, Nobel Laureate, perhaps because his name was a true tongue twister and preferred to talk about names she could remember. I was proud to hear Dr Manmohan Singh’s name but not so happy about her saying that Indira Gandhi, the once Prime Minister of India, passed out of here and Sonia Gandhi her daughter in law, also passed out of here. Indeed, I had raised my hand to rectify the mistake by saying that Indira Gandhi attempted to pass out of here but regrettably did not and her daughter in law we know was studying the English language somewhere here but are not quite sure she succeeded in her Exams, but we are certain that she was a waitress in one of the Cafe here where she met and then married India Gandhi’s son, Rajiv Gandhi. Well, better sense took over and I sheepishly put my hand down, remembering quite clearly what my English Headmistress, Miss Thompson, always told us, when in England, do as the English do - maintain a tight upper lip.

“I will always think of you when I am at Oxford.” She wrote, and I agreed we had a lovely time, walking the streets of Oxford, hopping on and hopping off the Oxford sight-seeing bus, many times over. Yet, the real feel of Oxford is not yet in my blood and perhaps that will only happen when we can both go once again, not like two friends walking its hallowed streets, where many a stalwart walked but as a  family, with Jessica and her pretty baby with us.

When I look back, I think of all the little things Fiona did for me, someone, whom she had met the first time in her life and I feel once again, it is a way, a style of presentation of who she is, that I will always remember her by.

Like all the people I met, who were a part of Jill’s life, I know, Fiona had heard of me a lot and so there was a bonding spun around a common friend, our own dear, dear Jill. But, now, a warm friendship has kindled in our hearts too, separate and yet, strongly, bound by our common love for Jill.

Isn’t it lovely, how love grows? 


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