Boring Mom

Ibrahim Waheed “Ogaru”

“Mom, they call this the Splendid Hotel, but it is anything but splendid. The brochure said ‘free WiFi’ but the WiFi is only available somewhere around that strange reception area where they have admin desks overflowing with files right in the middle of the customer seating area, ringing landline phones and all. The restaurant looks like a food bar. Room service is a headache. Mobile phone coverage is vague at its best…..” Rish was complaining to her mother.

Splendid Hotel, Agra, India, was touted on most internet sites as ‘a modern hotel, contained in a vast, old building from colonial times, so near to the Taj Mahal and the railway station.’ Starting from the blue board with the name “SPLENDID” in white letters, which confused drivers new to the area as they went looking for a board which also said ‘hotel’, the building did not even look old. It looked like something a mediocre student of architecture had hurriedly put together in gray and white. Even the rooms were so badly designed and put together, complete with a rickety window with a flimsy latch set right next to the front door, which itself had suspiciously cheap-looking locks, that one hoped that that area of Agra was safe enough for a good night’s sleep. And Rish had noticed these and more: She was constantly pointing these things out to her mother.

“…why not check out of here and look for a better place?” Rish continued.

“Because the marriage feast is held here. That is why.” Rish’s mother Haleema said. She added as a sop, “And you will run into some very famous people.”

As she finished speaking, mother and daughter had reached the walkway between the reception area and what was charitably called the Outer Lawn, which was too large to be called a lawn and too small to be called a soccer field. A couple of cars were parked there and they had to brush past them. One of them was festooned with so many ribbons and flowers that they had to be part of the marriage procession. Haleema asked someone who looked like one of the ill-dressed room boys of the hotel, “Where is the bride and her entourage?”

“Inside dressing room.” Said whoever it was. “Drummers coming.”

Sure enough, the evening air shredded itself into percussive cacophony as a trio of very young men walked in through the wrought iron gates of the hotel, dhol drums beating in rhythmic unison. As if to emphasize what they were doing in decibels with the drums, the drummers wore turbans which could only be described with the same word when it came to color. Rish wailed, “Mom, my ears.”

“Then come with me!” said Haleema and dragged Rish past the colorful flowers on the thick bushes that separated the walkway from the huge Outer Lawn. She showed one of the cloth-clad chairs placed there and said to her daughter, “Now sit here and behave yourself. Just bear this for a while and tomorrow I will book you on one of those Taj Mahal tours that receptionist had been talking about to the two Europeans who’d checked in with us.”

Rish sat down next to her mother on one of those chairs. She looked around and saw no one she knew. “Mom, am I supposed to sit here and behave the entire evening? I am going to die of boredom.”

“Am I that boring, Rish?”

“Yes, Mom. You are. I am going to look for those famous people you said would be here. Maybe they would give me a few autographs.” Before her mother could say anything else, or even give her a few pointers on what not to do, Rish was gone. Haleema was not even sure whether her daughter had heard her call out, “Come back soon. Be safe. I will be here.”

Time passed, filled in by the noise of the dhol and the loud conversations that had to rise above the drums and the increasing number of people to be successfully sustained. Some people saw Haleema, recognized her, and came over to say hello. One person even remembered to ask after Rish, was told about her disappearance, and was quick to reassure Haleema that her daughter would be perfectly safe in this hotel and in this part of town.

More time passed. More dhol rattled through the evening air. More people came over to say Namaste.

Suddenly, there she was, grinning from ear to ear, standing right in front of her. “Mom! It was amazing. I met………”

As Rish rattled off some relatively well-known names, most made famous by the entertainment industry, Haleema looked at her young daughter. She looked positively radiant. And happy. And fulfilled. And slightly tired underneath it all, as Mom she knew.

“Mom, I am tired. May I sit with you for a while please?” It was as if she was asking a celebrity for an autograph.

“You know Mom, I have been thinking. Did I say you were boring?” Haleema thought she heard an apology in there somewhere. Her hopes quickly wilted when her daughter continued, “You know, you actually are boring. Not too much. But enough to be called boring. Maybe because you are always around and maybe because you are too conventional and reliable and goody goody and all.”

Haleema became silent. She wanted to tell her teenage daughter to grow up and realize that what she had called boring was what a mother necessarily had to be – always around, conventional and reliable. And loving and caring. She felt like telling her daughter what it would be like to grow up without a mother’s presence and reliability. She sat there thinking about how she would share those thoughts best with her daughter.

“But boring is good Mom. You are always there for me. And I know that whenever I go after interesting things, I can always depend on you to be there when I come back tired. I love you so much Mom! Too much, as they say here in India.” Rish laughed and suddenly hugged her Mom.

Haleema looked into her daughter’s eyes with a tender, loving smile. She knew that she really did not have to explain anything to her daughter. She just said, “Love you too, kiddo!”

Splendid Hotel, after all, had somehow managed to live up to its name in the magic it witnessed that evening. The marriage feast was gorgeous and well attended, celebrities and all. Even the dhol did their part. And Rish looked like she was one of those that really enjoyed it all, bad WiFi and dismal mobile phone coverage forgotten. She would sit with her mom, go away with new-found friends, come back to recount her adventures to her mom, and go away again. And throughout the evening Haleema had a radiant smile on her face.

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