“I’m headed out. I can drop you.”


“So, Tariq, hm?”

“Mummy, it’s not what you think.”

“If you say so.”

“It isn’t.”

“Well, for your sake, I hope you’re right.”

“What does that mean?”

“It means it isn’t wise to be reckless.”

“I can’t believe I’m hearing this from you.” Mummy glared. “So, Poppy, tell me . . . you’d like us to discuss recklessness?”

She can be intimidating, I admit, my mother. For thirty years, she has been the editor of a fashion-forward magazine, and she knows how to weaponise word and body.

Mummy stands tall genetics has utterly failed me here. She doesn’t hunch. She will never slouch. Then, there are the stilettos.

I haven’t once known Mummy as anything but immaculately attired not even in the post-baby photos that crowd my parents’ apartment walls. There she is in a mint green sweater; her hair in an updo; aquamarine studs. I almost miss seeing the baby a shock of black hair. I miss the breast pump to the left, the burp cloth to the right.

Here’s another photograph it’s late, you can tell by the shadows and she’s in her pjs, the kind that would be deemed chic even in broad daylight. The sleeves of her piped silk shirt are rolled to the elbows, and by the scoop neck there’s a pendant is that Nefertiti? She shimmers.

Yet another picture here, Mummy is pouring herself a glass of water. It’s a day or so after her wedding I can tell because the henna glows, and Mummy hasn’t applied henna since. Papa is by her side, frizzed bedhead, his shirt crumpled. All I can see is Mummy’s patterned jacket a lush violet.

Sometimes, I’m convinced the photos make a point. That my mother is too cool for cliches for pictures that boast of elegant dinners and exotic trips. For Mummy, it’s the every day the half-hour before bedtime; the moment when the boobs have been emptied of milk; the nothing time before breakfast; now as she waits in crisp white linen trousers, the car keys dangling from her index finger. Mummy doesn’t stand for frumpiness.

What I’m trying to say is, she doesn’t stand for all that makes us human the missing button, the coffee-stained shorts, the sagging, the wilting, the messy collapse.

She is beyond.

Don’t get me wrong. I like my mother. I’m not blind to the astounding things she has done, all while keeping her nails pristine, her outfits without blemish.

She has travelled through deserts, tried befriending a hawk, spun silk from the stems of plump lotuses.

She has kept alive a marriage and a love affair. This is never easy.

This is no secret.

“Well, I’d like us to be less hypocritical, that’s all,” I told my mother.


“And I’m never reckless.”

“If you insist, Poppy.”

“At least, I’m more cautious than you are. I mean, after Mihir . . .”

Mihir, he’s charming, I’ll give him that. I can see why Mummy after the first four years of her marriage to Papa scooted off to a different hemisphere, leaving a three-year-old, a trusty apartment, and a walk-in closet full of neverworn clothes, to be with him.

That honeymoon lasted three weeks. There have been many honeymoons since.

I was taken along for one such. I must’ve been eight or nine or ten sometime between the volatility of toddlerhood and the volatility of preadolescence.

I recall, even now, the view of the citadel from the rented villa. I recall the early morning cold, my nose an icicle. I recall Mihir, his hair slick, his skin slick, his smile slick, tossing a pancake, offering it to me with strawberries. “Another one?”

I liked Mummy when she was with Mihir. She laughed out loud, she didn’t refuse dessert, she called me Poppyla. She played badminton, the sweat pooling around her armpits.

“D’you like Mihir more than Papa?” I asked her. I was winning.

Her eyes steady on the shuttlecock. “Well, I like them differently.”

“And Papa? He likes Mihir, too?”

“Oh, Poppyla. Papa likes Papa.”

Papa isn’t unaware of Mihir’s existence how can he be? But he has refused to grant him an acknowledgement. As though to say his name, to demand his ouster, will make him larger, more formidable, more crushingly seductive than he really is.

In any case, confrontations are inconvenient, and Papa detests inconvenience more than he detests an openly philandering wife.

Papa has never openly philandered. Never.

What I’m getting at is this. After a decade or so of a wildly see-sawing marriage, my parents arrived at a kind of peace. Not the utopia spoken of as ethical non-monogamy. But something else.

A quiet awareness of the other’s entanglements. A tacit agreement that these entanglements would not be discussed. An acceptance that this, too, could be this, too, was a marriage.

I don’t think I forgave either of them for it.

Excerpted with permission from Like Being Alive Twice, Dharini Bhaskar, Penguin India.