‘I’m writing you a letter, one that you can read when I’m dead and gone’, she said.

‘Goodness ma, why do you always need to be so dramatic?’ I asked sitting on the sofa sipping a mug of hot chocolate.

Ma smiled indulgently and continued writing. What could she possibly be writing? I wondered. Was it her autobiography? Was she just rambling about feelings, emotions, views and opinions? What was it about her everyday life that she couldn’t openly discuss now? Why read it only when she was dead? Did it mean that she’s referring to her innermost feelings, her relationships and sexual fantasies? Ma never shied away from discussing sex so there had to be more to this than meets the eye.

I tried to peep in but all I could see was beautifully written script in Bengali. Gosh, this was going to be even more difficult! Firstly ma was writing me a letter that had apparently already filled five diaries and secondly she was writing in Bengali. I did know how to read and write Bengali but it was a struggle and I was more conversant and comfortable in English.

‘Can you give me a hint as to what you’re writing about?’ I asked.

Ma looked up and stared at me for a while. I could see the different emotions playing on her face. It felt like she was trying to decide if she wanted to let me know. The sudden return of the glazed look meant that she’d decided against telling me anything.

‘You’ll know when you read it. All I can say is that you will understand,’ ma added.

Damn! That definitely meant an end to the conversation. There was no way ma would tell me anything. What is it that I would understand later and not now? Was ma afraid to break the boundaries of decorum? Did she want to protect me from some hard hitting realities? Did she not want me to ask uncomfortable questions? Would it impact my relationship with close family? Did ma want me to see the woman behind the mother figure? Would my views about ma change?

Ma was an avid reader, good conversationalist and fun loving while simultaneously being a strict disciplinarian with strong views and opinions. Once she had decided to do something there was no changing her mind. In the early years I was very scared of her but that relationship had gradually moved on to becoming more open and friendly. I was able to discuss boys, sex, relationships, marriage, in-laws, extra marital affairs – all the so called controversial topics with her but then what was it that we couldn’t discuss now?

Slowly I grew anxious. Did I really need to know? Maybe I didn’t want to know. It could potentially destroy the world I had created, knew and cared for. It could make me question the different aspects of my life. I didn’t want to hear about her trials and tribulations. I didn’t want to know her innermost thoughts, her failings, see the human side of her. Maybe I just wanted ma to remain the mother as I knew her.

And then the penny dropped. Perhaps ma just wanted me to know things about her life. She didn’t want to discuss it. She just needed someone to know and understand. Was this a way of leaving behind a legacy which was more than just the visible and tangible influences? Would I be able to deal with the avalanche of emotions that would be elicited from reading about the mother I thought I knew? Would I become judgmental? Was this closure for ma? Would I really understand?

Perhaps I would. Perhaps ma was right, I would understand and deal with it better if I read it later, much later.