Re-living Those ‘Lost’ Years: Our Mothers as We Never Saw Them

With the recent #MeAt20 trend taking Twitter by storm, I got a refresher of my mother’s life as a young girl.

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Snippets of a few moments shared with my mother over the years.
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In one of my favorite photographs of my mother, she’s about 22, has a slender frame, and long black hair tied in a braid. It’s the early 1990s and she’s wearing a white T-shirt, shorts and white kitten heels. My father is there too, clicking her picture in the house they moved into right after getting married with dreams of starting an independent life together.

She looks radiant and charming. The young woman in the photo had no idea that life will bring her a child, a shift to two cities, a year of separation from her husband who would have to migrate in search of better opportunities, financial stress, and much more.

A picture of my mother smiling for the camera.
A picture of my mother smiling for the camera.
(Photo Courtesy: Devika Sharma)

With the recent #MeAt20 trend taking Twitter by storm, my mother joined the bandwagon to post a few of her pictures as a way to ease her lockdown boredom. Having come across her pictures, I got a refresher of my mother’s life as a young girl. I can’t help but think, my mother was cool. Slit skirts and large hoop earrings cool! Her old silks, footwear, and skirts still manage to make me envious of her sartorial choices.

Several women who I know today to be mothers of some of my friends posted their pictures too. They look gorgeous, fierce, spirited, goofy, sweet and sassy – sometimes all at once. The trend motivated me to turn to more of my mother’s old photographs. Looking at her pictures made me feel that our mother’s personalities are often overtaken by duties and responsibilities of family and societal expectations. Society often ends up seeing them as our mothers, our father’s wives and our grandparent’s daughters-in-law.
A moment captured by my father.
A moment captured by my father.
(Photo Courtesy: Devika Sharma)

‘Pictures Carry the Weight of Realities of Her Youth’

For me, as for many daughters, the time before my mother got married and became my mother is a thread of fun stories, told and retold: The time she ran over a bicyclist while learning how to drive; the time she sneaked out of college with her friends to catch a glimpse of Ravi Shastri and subsequently got caught because a picture of her taking his autograph got published in the newspaper; the time she purposely enrolled in a computer training institute to make friends with the instructor and eventually married him, the time she went to asylums to study mentally-challenged people as a part of her psychology degree, the time when she sneaked out to watch films and the time when she rebelled against her orthodox family to marry a man outside her caste.

Her old pictures are more captivating than the stories can ever be because they’re archives, carrying the weight of realities of her youth. But so much gets left outside the frame.

A trained Kathak dancer, my mother always had an  artistic streak in her.
A trained Kathak dancer, my mother always had an artistic streak in her.
(Photo Courtesy: Devika Sharma)

On speaking to a few friends, I realised how despite there being plenty of stories about their mothers’ youths, they knew little about their time after they graduated and right before they became mothers. These ‘lost years’ make me uneasy because I feel I am in that same phase of life, one which might be forgotten someday when I have a child with my husband.

A picture of my mother feeding me.
A picture of my mother feeding me.
(Photo Courtesy: Devika Sharma)

‘Can a Woman Be Both Bold and Responsible?’

On seeing more of my mother’s pictures, I am compelled to contemplate what individualities we allow them to possess, and which ones we view as ephemeral, expiring with the start of motherhood. Can a woman be both bold and responsible, innocent and intelligent, sexual and maternal? Why do they have to be epitomised as paragons of self-sacrifice or they’re simply satirised and questioned?
A moment captured after dancing together.
A moment captured after dancing together.
(Photo Courtesy: Devika Sharma)

Back in the day, the norm for women, especially from smaller towns like mine, was to run the house within a stipulated budget. They didn’t have to worry about filing taxes, paying the rent, or taking calls on financial investments.

Today, things we consider basic life skills, have evaded our mothers most of their lives. While mine, for instance, has no interest in “risky things” like online banking, she has almost instantaneously taken to online games like Candy Crush, social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram, YouTube to binge-watch her favorite Pakistani TV shows and browses the internet like a pro for all that she needs.

A little encouragement can revive our mothers’ life and make her re-live her ‘lost years’ again. The problem is we forget – to show her love, to encourage her to speak her mind, to boost her confidence and remind her that we always have her back.
A moment of goofiness captured by my father.
A moment of goofiness captured by my father.
(Photo Courtesy: Devika Sharma)

Looking at all of her pictures and seeing her retain her childlike innocence despite all odds makes me proud of being her daughter and confirms a notion I have harboured for years – most of our mothers have not outgrown their girlhood. Their bodies may have aged, they sure have not.

(Devika is a full-time public affairs professional and part-time freelance journalist. She can be reached @deviksS13 . This is a personal blog and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)

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