Conversations with my mother

By SAMHITA BAROOAH

For a long time I have moved out of home. My travels and work keep me away from home. I keep myself posted with home people through some phone calls from time to time. My mum does not email so I cant mail her but I converse with her from time to time. When she is busy she doesn’t call me but when she is free she will call me more often. These days she calls me after she leaves home and before she starts her school work. She shares about the neighbourhood, family, food and sometimes about what’s in news. On Sundays she would read out some of the headlines from local newspapers. My field location does not have access to electricity for very long period of time and my internet facility is also minimal to get access to latest news and events. So I value my conversations with my mum as the sources of information about the socio-cultural life in Guwahati city.

Sometimes we share about mundane things like food which she ate in her family gatherings and weddings and also about how I manage food when I do not have access to kitchen facilities in the village. For her it is a way to ensure that I am getting my daily nutritional needs and that my health needs are taken care of. For me when my mum shares about her foods, I realise how the market dominates her tastes and whatever the society offers. Like very recently she shared how she was trying out Ramdev’s Atta Noodles while she would always stop me from eating Wai Wai or Maggie on health grounds but now just because its a new trend in the market she wants to try out .

In some conversations sometimes we fight about serious issues which affects us. These are issues of difference and discrimination. When my mum shares that the voting pattern will be influenced by certain section of society because of religious equations I worry. I ask which local news channels and newspapers are sharing such facts, she says almost all of them. These days paid news sources are increasing and people influence the mass psyche in that process especially during election time. For example my mum shared how Muslims are a threat to the society at large and newspapers are proving such facts. I asked if she checked other sources in electronic and television media which she didn’t because she has found her comfort zone in local language media sources. I asked her to reflect whether such thoughts are driven by political interests of hate and intolerance. She did not know about that much. She shared how some Brahmin acquaintance of her said in some social gathering that even though we do not like right winged politics we need to vote for it to ensure our own survival. Most of the elite, upper caste Brahmanical Hindus are threatened by power sharing possibilities, emergence of pluralistic societies and gradual disintegration of class and caste barriers which could transform the power dynamics of a hegemonic Assamese society.

I am amazed at the perpetual hatred of the diverse communities on the lines of religious differences. Such differences are growing in enormous volumes in the context of Assam. Every political agency builds their manifestos on the agendas of hate. Personal identity and political identity never matches in different contexts. This was evident when my mum made a distinction between our personal friends and neighbours from different religious backgrounds and those in the newspapers. I kept reflecting how the concept of personal is political operate in this context. It was my mum who would always share her childhood memories of having friends from diverse communities and also sing songs of integration. I remember my mother singing zikir in a group without the bindi on her forehead during eid for Doordarshan along with other women from her community group. My mum also shares her lunch with many of her Muslim colleagues at school and teaches children from diverse religious backgrounds.

In her hey days of being a singer at All India Radio, she sang songs composed, written and even accompanied by artists and musicians from diverse religious backgrounds. I shared with my mum that what is being fed to the society out of fear, domination or hate is not what we have defined in the context of a diverse, adaptive Assamese social fabric. We argue a lot about Assamese cultural milieu which cannot be defined by the market driven development, imposition of alien food habits in the name of health and longevity and sankritisation of cultural and religious practices which are far from the essence of a multicultural and dynamic Assamese identity.

My mum sometimes also shares about the ideas of non resident Assamese people whose influence is growing these days to define cultural and religious codes. We also cannot be driven by the non-resident Assamese whose values and cultural contexts are frozen in time when they were opportunistic and moved away from Assam to find better avenues for themselves. Now they have monetary resources and a family root in Assam which they wish to fulfill their hidden vested interest of fame, power, politics , fears of being rootless and passion. My mum was patient to listen to my ramblings and shared that she does not like to talk to me on these issues. But to remain within the social structure one has to conform to the norms.

The conversations with my mum continue to be difficult as she represents the society driven, culture conscious, protectionist section whose comfort zones are cemented into the layers of hegemonic patriarchal mindset. Unless we converse and confront with such thought processes we shall never be able to re-imagine a future which ensures our existence with all differences and diversities. I just hope that such conversations across the generations continues to flow and connecting spaces are created in an atmosphere of vengeance, mistrust and intolerance.

Samhita Barooah

Samhita Barooah

Samhita Barooah is a Researcher and Travel Writer.