PATAKHA GUDDI- A Tale of Mothers and Daughters

I dedicate this post to my beautiful friend Sheila. Your strength inspires me, dear friend.

I stood outside my teenage daughter’s room, livid. “BANG” Maya slammed the door shut on my face. Even though at that moment the only sensation every cell in my body felt was rage, my usually nimble feminine mind, a storehouse of juicy words that could accurately point, blame and sometimes hurt, froze. I was too confused, too tired to voice my anger. From inside the room I heard a barrage of accusations that implied that I, her mother, was all out to ruin her life.

I just stood there trying to comprehend what was going on. What was happening to us? Of late, our cat fights were a regular occurrence -as steadfast as sunrise. Each time Maya made it quite clear that I was the prickly thorn in her otherwise rosy life.

Every time Maya came to me with demands that she deemed essential but to me seemed  ludicrous. Yesterday we fought because I refused to let her get her nose pierced. Why would anyone want a loved one to go through the pain of getting additional piercings? Weren’t regular visits to the dentist to get her braces painful enough?

Another time  it was because I refused to let her get her hair coloured. How could I let those beautiful black tresses be colored blue or pink? Nuh-uh …ain’t happening. At least not right now. She could do all that she wanted when she was…Hmmmm…let me think…forty (or maybe never).Over the weekend it was because of the outfit she had picked to wear for my sister’s wedding. For God’s sake, why would anyone want to dress like Katniss at a wedding?

Today we fought because I had told Maya that I could not afford to buy her the ridiculously expensive skirt she had seen on an online fashion site. A few years ago I had given up my job to be a stay at home mom. In my heart I thought what my children would lack by way of materialistic grandeur or exotic vacations I could make up by being a nurturing and stoic presence in their lives. Things would be a lot less stressful as there would be more free time and flexibility to make beautiful memories in their impressionable and formative years. That was absolutely true until Maya turned 11.

My living doll’s transformation from a baby that lived in the world of Pooh to a dainty girl who encompassed every quality of a Disney princess to a moody preteen to a rebellious loud mouthed teen happened too fast.

When did goth replace pretty pink? When did the books lining her shelves change worlds from fairyland to dystopia? Wasn’t it just yesterday that I held her close as we read from a Magic treehouse book together? Wasn’t it just yesterday when she had refused to leave my hand on her first day of school? Wasn’t it just yesterday that I could walk into her room with doors wide open and scoop that bundle of love and exuberance in my arms?

The past 3 years had been turbulent. These days nothing I said or did was right in her eyes. Did she hate me? Already? And we hadn’t even gotten to the depth of discussion of the biggies – boys, driving, college,sex…. How on earth would I survive those?

As my hand furiously pounded on the closed door my heart hoped that I could once more walk into a world of flowers, butterflies and fairy dust. Instead all I heard were angry, loud shrieks that to my numbed mind sounded like ” I HATE YOU, MOM!!!!! GO AWAY”

Ouch. It felt like seemed like a thousand arrows had pierced my heart and struck bullseye.

Gloom descended on me like the cover of dense grey fog on a cold, wintry morning as I turned to walk away from her room down the stairs leading to the kitchen – a place where I had come to spend most of my time to feed growing bodies with ravenous appetites. Today I needed to devour something to uplift my spirit and nothing better for that than a luscious piece of chocolate cake. And coffee- foods for my soul. I turned on some music too.

As I set about baking the cake, I started to think about how my mother had raised her brood. Had we, as teenagers, ever made her feel as inadequate as I did right now? How I wish I could talk to her but she was miles away at the other end of the world, probably deep in slumber. How I missed being with her! Mom always knew what to say to soothe my nerves. So often, just by my tone of voice when I said “Hello” she knew how rough my day had been. Would Maya ever look up to me the way I looked up to mom?

A few days ago on one of those fun personality tests on Facebook I was asked to relate the various colors of the spectrum to the loved ones in my life. I had put mom’s name against the color white. The answer went on to reveal that the love my mom and I shared was pure and untainted. That was the kind of bond I wanted to share with my daughter.

As the aroma of the cake wafted across the house,my thoughts drifted to my teenage days. I vividly recalled a few instances when along with my buddies we had ruffled a few feathers.

Once mom had to face the embarrassing barrage of accusations from a neighbor, Mr. Chedda, when he found out that I was one calling him up every evening to order 12 frilly “chaddiyas” (that means underwear in Hindi). The absence of caller IDs made it easy for us to play such pranks. Or the time when on a dare I got caught in a local Hallmark store for trying to flick a birthday card. Or another time when with my cronies I spent all night making silly posters and sticking them all over the neighborhood just to spite people. What were we thinking?

I smiled to myself. The journey had been eventful. From those carefree teenage days to a young wide eyed girl with big dreams to a bride who just wanted to be accepted to a mother who for the first time had the realization that life was bigger than herself and finally to a woman in her forties who knew for sure that the only person she had to accept was herself.

Even though at every major intersection in life mom had given me words of advice( she had always been right too) she had let me take my own decisions. The joy of learning and growing as a person only came when I had experienced it myself. And yes, not always had I listened. I had fumbled, faltered. Yet every fall had only made me stronger. Every time my heart told me to take a risk I had leaped into sometimes unchartered territory because deep within I had the faith that the unfaltering love of my parents, my safety net would cushion my fall.

It was time to let Maya go.

I think her rebellion stemmed from her realization she had her own identity that she was trying to express. That’s why she defied me every time. That’s why she found it annoying when people remarked at how alike we were. She didn’t hate me, she was just trying to find herself.  She wanted to fly and how unfair was it that I was trying to keep her close to me by nipping her wings, by doing every thing in my control to protect her from getting hurt.

I had to let her go on that roller coaster of life to experience the highs and lows for herself. Not that I would let her do everything she wanted to now but I think in most cases we could find a middle ground. She could get her nose pierced when she was sixteen or her hair colored once a year. One day she would be very capable of making her own decisions. One fine day she would look into the mirror and love herself completely in spite of the bruises and scars that marked her journey. But first I had to give her the permission, the ticket to ride.

“Ting” the cake was ready to come out of the oven. I felt good already. As I sat on the kitchen table ready to dig into a big chunk of divinity my daughter came into the kitchen. The chocolate cake had beckoned her. “This is so yum Mom” she said as she helped herself to the cake. Silly girl, had already forgotten all the nasty words she had spoken earlier. With her mouth full she eagerly started to narrate an incident that happened earlier in school.

As I looked into Maya’s beautiful eyes I saw the reflection of the unsure na├»ve girl I once was. From there the transition to the eyes I looked into the mirror every morning had been a fun filled one. I could just hope Maya’s journey would be as remarkable.

As we continued to chatter, the song PATAKHA GUDDI played in the background. What an apt title for any young girl! Maya would always be my doll, my GUDDI but until the time she learnt to unconditionally love and accept herself she would be akin to a “PATAKHA” (a fire cracker) continuing to emotionally explode.

And all I had to do was just take a step back to watch her blossom into a beautiful woman she is destined to be.


  1. My Dear Friend Vidya,

    I am touched that you dedicated this beautiful piece in my name. You made a profound statement about parents letting go; such a universal emotion experienced regardless of culture, race or religion.

    How artfully you weave reflections of your relationship with your own mother at different stages, in order to come to an understanding about your daughter’s needs.

    I loved that you slip so smoothly back and forth from past to present. But most of all I love that your daughter’s meltdown was so easily forgotten over a piece of chocolate cake and mundane conversation. That is a testament to the fact that you are still loved dearly no matter the tantrums. Please keep nurturing your writing as well as you do your family. I want to keep reading more.


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