It’s cold these days, and Re and I are enjoying our cuddles under the razai. He is a hugger, and we end up hugging and kissing a lot. Each day when I drop him to his class, we have to exchange our mandatory five hugs and five kisses, and every time I cheat, or rush it, he reminds me, “We are not done yet, mamma!”
Hugging was never part of my DNA. My family doesn’t do hugs. I never noticed it until I went to my best friend Tina’s house when I was 10. Her mother extended her arms in a hug as soon as she saw me. “Tina can’t stop talking about you, it’s so nice to finally see you,” she said. I also noticed that her mother wore lipstick at home, and wondered how her hair was all in place even though she had just emerged from the kitchen after having made parathas for us. When I left, her dad patted me on the back. “Come again,” he said. I wanted to, just for the hugs.
I used to be a sickly child. I had bronchial asthma, which meant anything could trigger off my wheezing. Which also meant that every time the weather (or the city) changed, there were nights when I couldn’t sleep at all. Sometimes, when I tried to lie down, I choked so much that I thought I was going to die. Those nights, my mother would prop me up with pillows, and put a hot water bag on my chest, give me warm water with honey to sip. Sometimes she would caramelize some sugar and feed me, other times she would place a roasted sea salt pack or roasted ajwain pack on my chest. These were all home remedies she had heard from someone or read somewhere. She would do anything to assuage my pain, and she didn’t sleep those nights too. But what I remember quite vividly is those moments when my mother rubbed my back, my chest, caressed my cheeks and sat by me until I went to sleep, which was wee hours of the morning. Those were the only physically intimate moments I remember with my mother, and although the wretched asthma was a pain, I like the fact that it brought me closer to my mother.
Eventually I think my body immunized itself against the disease, but I missed my mother’s touch. It eventually came back when I had a child of my own. Once again, I was a baby in her hands, someone she had missed looking after for so long.
I became a nurturing parent quite unknowingly. I was hands-on, more so because I never managed to find any real help. I allowed him to wean naturally, because it was easier that way, and less traumatic. We always cuddled, sang and danced together, we both loved food and music intensely. Whenever I went for a walk, I strapped him on and we were good to go. I drove and chatted with him as he sat strapped at the back on his car seat. We traveled from the time he was eight months old. We talked and talked, and we are still talking. I was not on a mission to auto-correct my childhood, I just found comfort in the physicality of motherhood and it continues to be so.
As I grew up, I started meeting more huggers, and it became easier for me to hug people too. Perhaps what I couldn’t explain to my mother in all those years of her lining up suitable boys for me was that they seemed resistant to hugs.
I eventually married a hugger and birthed one. Re hugs everything including plants, so we are fine. Re has also converted my non-hugging family into huggers. For me and my family, it took longer, but the fact that my brother lives in America now and has become the official ambassador of hugs, we are getting there.
They say that the person who is the hardest to hug is usually the one who needs it the most. They also say that everybody loves a hug, even if it is their best kept secret. But more than that, everybody loves a real connection, and sometimes that comes even without the physical contact. But between then and now, the world has got populated with a lot of fake hugs. And I am still awkward around those. I’ll take a warm smile over a hug any day. Eyes tell me more stories.
(This post first appeared as my column in Pune Mirror on December 1, 2014)