I dodge behind a pillar when I see them approach. I wear sunglasses and avoid eye contact with anyone once I step outside the building. I even take the stairs if I see that the lift is already occupied by one whole person.
You never know whom she’s gone and made friends with.
No, I haven’t suddenly decided to enter the gumshoe business, nor am I practicing writing a bad spy novel. What I am doing, is reeling in the aftermath of the four-foot-ten-inch hurricane of friendliness and outgoing that is my mother.
She was here for two days. Two measly days. And in those two days? She went and befriended, advised and made life-long devotees of everybody within a ten-mile radius of my life.
My frequent admonitions through gritted teeth as I tugged on her sari aanchal, were of no avail. No amount of - “Ma! Stop smiling at strangers in the lift!” and “You don’t have to make conversation with the sabziwalla for christ’s sake!” or even “Please ma, let him drive his cab. Do we really need to know which part of UP he’s from?” - helped. And now she’s gone, and left me to fend for myself against this sea of super-friendly strangers.
Somedays I am convinced that I am a victim of a baby-swapping episode.
In the last one-year, all my lift rides had been spent in a peaceful contemplative silence during which the lift-attendant and I conducted in-depth studies of our personal footwear. I wondered whether my shoelaces were tied into perfect bows, how the pink swoosh contrasted nicely against the dark blue background, whether the soles were bouncy enough…you know? Lift thoughts. Now? I am suddenly and without warning being addressed as ‘baby’ ('baby'??) and asked solicitous questions about whether the house-keeping staff turn up on time, whether my bai is doing her work well and that if I ever need anything, I only need to inform security to send ‘Manoj’.
Every gaggle of aunties I meet now, accosts me with friendly cries of “Hello beta! You must tell your mummy that the boy/medicine/yoga exercise she recommended for my young-female-relative/age-related-ailment/random-joint-pain worked wonderfully! She’s getting married! / I’m cured! /Look at me do cartwheels now!” At which I can only smile weakly and reply, “Yes auntie, I definitely will” because I have no idea who these women are.
The sabziwallas now all flash friendly smiles at me, conduct conversations in Bhojpuri, which I don’t understand and offer me vegetables I don’t know how to cook. When I tell them I cannot understand a word they are saying, they laugh and say, “Achcha aap nahin samajhti hain? Koi baat nahin. Apni mataji ko hamari taraf se namaste kah dijiyega.”
The neighbours, whom till today, I only knew as the people who shifted their furniture at odd hours of the night, now stop me and tell me what a nice, friendly, social lady my mother is.
I have to fight the temptation to lean against their shoulders and brokenly sob, “You don’t know the half of it!”
I’m sure my real mother is a quiet, reclusive academic, who lives in a small, secluded cottage in some remote hill station. And then I wonder how she must cope with her unintentionally adopted miniature hurricane.
Update on the Baby Front:
The only thing more horrifying than your mother telling you to start making babies, is when she starts telling you how.
Excuse me while I go and pick up my ears. They sort of melted off the sides of my head while she was talking.