This piece first appeared on Mutha Magazine
I don’t know how many times I tried to convince father, but he loathed travel or any other disruption in the routine and predictability that defined his life. Now, he is no more.
Ma, you have always been the family’s representative for life events—happy ones like marriages; the sad ones like funerals. You come.
Just once—hop on the plane, I say. Visit me. Bring India to me.
Your first reaction is always to persuade me, coerce me, and pressure me to save my money.
“I see you when you visit. Save it for your son’s college,” you’ll say.
I have been building a life in this land, oceans away, for thirteen years. You don’t know how superficial it feels without your touch and validation. I want you rocking in the chair on the porch, your voice to ricochet from the living room walls, your presence at the dining table, and your footfalls in the backyard. I want to see your face awash with joy looking at my rosebush and the potted tiger lilies. You have always loved nature. I want you to sit on the patio with me to watch the geese and family swim in the pond across the way.
Also please, I want to be able to serve you. All your life you have toiled. Let me make you a cup of tea after your morning prayers. Let me massage coconut oil in your scalp, working it to the hair ends. Let me run a hot bath and have you soak. Let me play your favorite Urdu serials on Netflix while you relax on the couch.
I want to show you the assortment of frozen Indian parathas in my freezer— the stuffing ranging from radish to paneer. I know you will chide me for being lethargic, not cooking fresh bread for my family every day. I will show you my cabinet rack brimming with store bought spice powders for different curries. You will tell me that these boxes don’t lend flavor to dishes, precision of process and patience do.
Then I will show you a tiny jar hidden behind the panoply. This is the garam masala you ground for me when I visited you last year. I wrapped this jar in layers and layers of Ziplocs to preserve its aroma and your touch.
I will show you the sweater you knit sitting on my nightstand. I wear it when I am cold while reading late into the night.
You have restless fingers, so I will buy you a hand sewing machine and we can rummage Joann’s for some fabric for sewing pajama bottoms for my son or a magazine holder for the Sports Illustrated magazines strewn about in his room. He has grown facial hair since you saw him last. You have only seen him seven times in his fifteen years.
I begin to convince you. You don’t have to do anything; I will fill out the application forms for the tourist visa, take the visa interview appointment at the US Embassy, and send you an invitation letter and affidavit of support. I am an American citizen now, so it should be easy. Don’t worry, I will choose the interview language as Hindi.
“You think I can’t reply in English? Who taught you?” you retort, clenching your teeth in fake anger. I can see that expression, eyes smiling in stark contradiction to the words, as I listen over the phone.
“You won’t understand the American accent. I have selected Hindi. And memorize my name, address and your relationship to me,” I chuckle.
It took me twelve years to get my mother to apply. And it took three months for the application process. In that time, I dreamed of my mother in my house.
And then she called me again.
“My visa is denied,” she said.
“Did they give a reason? Did they ask for any documents?”
She paused, a long time.
“No, they did not ask for a single paper. Rules are strict now, try next time. That is all they said.”
I didn’t know what to say.
I only ask myself, what does it mean to be a mother of an American, but living in a place where my mother is not allowed?