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My mother, the other

M Yusuf Khan understands that a step-mother is not quite the stereotyped "other".

india Updated: Dec 07, 2006 13:56 IST

My relationship with my stepmother ran on the expected pattern, initially. For me, she was an unwelcome intruder. At the age of five one does not comprehend family politics and believes anyone who shows affection. I believed every word of the 'well meaning' relative who put me in dread of my stepmother. She brought three of her own brood to our house, to complicate matters.

Strangely, as I grew up I found my resentment towards her tapering off. And she was solely was responsible for this. She favoured me over her own offspring without a hint of step-motherly treatment. She would attend to me first, ignoring her own children. Sadly, her relationship with my father soured with time. That worried me.

My father was a noble soul, deeply respected in the community. Their bickering was not doing any good. But my stepmother refused to pay heed when it came to their relationship.

Despite that when my father fell sick she took great care of him in my absence. When he passed away she did not go to her own children, who by then had settled down with their own families.

She chose to stay alone in our house, taking care of the property and produce from the land. I had a transferable job that took me from one corner of the country to the other. Whenever I visited the village, she would put oil in my hair, cook my favourite food and chat for hours updating me on all the goings-on.

I was on my annual visit to my spiritual mentor, a true Sufi, when he asked about my mother. I told him she was actually my stepmother, to set the record straight. For the first time I saw him angry. "She is your mother," he said, sternly. "Anyone your father marries is your mother and you will treat her like one." If ever a sense of realisation hit me, it was then. The feeling was indescribable. From that day I became even closer to my mother until she passed away.