The honking never stopped. Red lights flickered from the Skoda Rapid in front of us. Looked like a car was blocked by a bike trying to take a right turn. The roads were bad but it really didn’t make a difference to me because I loved driving. It was going to be a long drive, a thing that my mother hates because road sense is non-existential amongst Indians.
You see, drives help me think. I am probably more productive on the wheel than I have ever been in front of a textbook and that speaks volumes. Thoughts with a tinge of anxiety crossed my head but I did not waver. I had to enjoy this week as I head off to college on Sunday. “Amma” I started speaking staring into my mirrors to check the never ending line of cars. What do you expect in Chennai? I said to myself. “Hmm?” she said, visibly tensed. After all, she was a 44 year old single mother who was sending her child to a college way over the budget. Her eyes had huge dark circles- large enough to make one feel that she has been punched in the face. “Tell me” she said pushing the seat back and folding her leg like a typical South Indian. Short and cute as she may be, the car is very small allowing no room for extra movements like a plus size person wearing a medium shirt.
“I think I know why I don’t play the bass too well” I said with ignorance. I know I don’t suck pssh! I silenced my inner conscience and continued the conversation. “It is because I am scared of people. I just seem to shudder at the thought of playing in front of people. I can’t even play in front of you! If I can’t play in front of my own mother, how can I try out for the band?”
Now this is actually true. I am like oil and water with people- no matter how much you stir us together I just don’t mix. This often gets mixed with my overzealous love for academics, giving off a “high and mighty” air to people who, like me, are stuck in their own bubble of problems. This cycle continues where ever I go- be it snooker, conferences, debates, or family gatherings.
My mother- wise beyond age due to over-coming innumerable hurdles in life- just smiled. When my mother smiles it means two things. One, she had come up with yet another numbing joke that reduces the listener’s IQ by 1 deviation. Or two- the more probable of the choices- an interesting life lesson cum lecture. The honking continued in the front. A truck had come from the wrong side blocking the way of the bike. A deadlock. Perfect!
One might assume that I hate these life lectures from my mother. To those who do, you are gravely mistaken. Somehow, I enjoy these conversations. They are informative and I really learn something since both of us are students of Vedanta- a stream of philosophy that is taught in practical modern-day scenario. Plus, her philosophical brain provides a different outlook in life.
The relationship I have with my mother is far different than those of my peers. She is my mother AND my father. I do not have anything to hide from her- girlfriends? She knows them all. Copying in exam? Yup, that too. Derogatory language? Well, let’s say she figured it out at an early age.– and neither was I comfortable lying to her. It is the least I can do to the woman who gave up everything for the sake of raising me on her own.
She adjusted herself in a more comfortable position. The seat was no longer reclined. She placed her legs on the floor and said “How can you expect to play well? You don’t have confidence”. “That is what I am telli..” I was cut abruptly. I tend to have this bad habit of speaking before the other finishes. I may be a good speaker but in a debate I can be a horrible speaker. But this was no debate. This was something different. I can feel it, rather I know it!
“How can you have confidence to perform in front of anybody, let alone me, if you are so obsessed with perfection? How can you perform so well if you want to imitate- who is that guy? Ah! Flea right? You set the bar higher than Mt Everest and expect to play with confidence? That very bar is going to be the death of your love for the bass. You will slowly stop playing the instrument because you cannot accept that sometimes it is okay to not be what you want to be. Sometimes it is okay to be you.” she said with a warm voice. She stared straight ahead checking at the commotion. A traffic police had come to sort the block. I did not notice him. My eyes were locked on my mom’s face. Her tension seemed to fade away as she indulged in this serious ‘light hearted’ conversation.
“You say you are scared of people, that you hate talking to them. You are only fooling yourself. It matters how you approach people. It matters how you tell your friends about your musical fervour. You tell them ‘I have been playing the bass for 2 years now. I am self taught. I practice for 2 hours daily. I learn complex songs’. Why is it so hard for you to say ‘ I did not get any formal training so I might make mistakes. I just want to learn more through them. Do tell me how I can improve.’ “
I quickly opened my mental diary and started making notes. I turned my head and faced the now clearing traffic. Just one more week with her. I am really going to miss our interesting conversations. Her vision was still fixed on how the police officer cleared the mess which all of us rant about on social platforms. She continued ” The true mark of a learner is humility. Maintaining that level of humility throughout life is what makes a person an idol. THAT is why Flea is where he is. THAT is why he is the best amongst the best. You are going to college to learn and the only way you will learn anything in college, music or life is by believing in the words- I DON’T KNOW”. She clearly knew Flea better than what I could ever perceive.
Okay ma, I understand what you are trying to tell were the only unuttered words. I smiled and simply nodded at what I heard. The traffic finally cleared; the traffic police had done his job. I pushed into the first gear and slowly started what was going to be a long eventful drive.