How typical of Amma. Just when her crazy boy started packing for a much-awaited wicked waltz on the Malabar coast, she went and changed the agenda. Even as my Unaids colleague booked my tickets, I got the call from the family doctor, “You better fly down, Ashok.” That woke me up from my dream of attending the two-day Orrukam Programme of Kerala’s biggest gay network, the Malabar Cultural Forum, in Calicut. When I dashed to the hospital, Amma was blissfully drowsy under sedation. Her CT scans were all right, although her kidneys and liver were playing truant. “Come tomorrow when the doctor does his rounds,” snapped the white uniformed gorgon floating around in the ICU. After a cold shower and a hot soup, I settled down to fitful sleep.
This was the same Mom who did the eyeball with the Shiv Sena’s cultural tsar, Pramod Navalkar. He had come to “request” that her eldest child “change his name” so that the “illustrious Row Kavi family” doesn’t sink into ignominy. In her soft steel-like classical Marathi she had told him off: “But Mr Navalkar, if any of his other siblings think he’s bringing shame to the Row Kavi name you must surely ask them to change their names and be done with it.” Mr Navalkar never again graced our door.Nor did Amma spare words in a video-shot she did for Gay Bombay asking parents to “accept” their gay, lesbian and transgendered children as “gifts of god” because “each human life is precious”. “If you don’t stand up for them why will anybody else?” she asked the camera.
Amma was always a tower of strength, though she was a bit frightened by the bull-dykes in my life. “Does she beat you up if she is angry?” she asked me querulously about Geeta, my butch-dyke friend. I had to tell her that Geeta was fully capable of taking on the army of Genghis Khan, forget any male as macho as me!
Her logic was impeccable though sometimes a bit skewed. Her sacred space was the fridge and she was petrified that her filtered water would be made impure by Christians and Muslims who touched it (because they ate beef). When I mocked her saying she ate filet mignon done rare in the US at my sister’s house in Dallas, her answer: “Don’t be silly! American cows are not sacred.” Her horror of Christians came after she attended a Christian East Indian wedding where a roast piglet was brought in on a huge platter. Amma fainted and had to be brought home prior to the nuptial dinner, which according to her were ‘Rakshasa feasts’.
And now here she was fighting to hold on. I quietly held her hand and squeezed. She opened her eyes as I whispered, “Amma, it’s me. I’ve come and you’re going to be all right.” There was a smile on her face now as if we should both be going for an urgent appointment. Then she suddenly let go and I could see all those monitors going flat. She slipped away quietly and quickly as I blinked through a curtain of tears.