Birthday gift


Latha Narayanan

It was Amma’s birthday  and I wanted to gift her a portrait of her mother – my Ammammai. So dug up an old photograph of hers and started sketching.

Morning of Birthday!!! sent the pic of the painting to amma on Whatsapp, I saw the ticks turn blue and then… silence. Half an hour later comes a reply.

” my mother never wore such bright coloured designer saree and blouse.”

“amma,  it is my creative liberty as the artist.”

“Well, my mother’s face is longer”,  Amma muttered.

I did not reply, because I knew exactly what was wrong.

I don’t remember Ammammai’s features. She was just a familiar presence in my early years. we rarely had any conversation. Or maybe I never talked because I was busy in my own world.

When I was sketching though, the features felt familiar: nose, lips ,chin.   After finishing, I looked at it and knew that I had blundered. Ammammai’s sharp nose had turned slightly roundish, thin lips had become fuller, and the chin had become sharp – like Amma’s. Somewhere along the way, I had started seeing Amma in Ammammai’s photo.

Amma’s disappointment told me that she had noticed. I had to fix it.. In few minutes I managed to make more of Ammammai come alive in the painting.  But I also left some of Amma in. My hands refused to alter Amma’s reflection in her mother’s features.

I felt connected to my grandmother for the very first time in many years. Perhaps, seeing Amma in her was necessary for me to relate to Ammammai.

I sent the painting again to Amma. This time, the response was quicker. It was a smiley.

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