There was always a distance between my mother and my writing. For the longest time, she rarely read what I wrote. It bothered me a lot. And I often drowned in bitterness about it.
When on Friday, May 30, 2014, I was invited to do one of my biggest literary readings in NYC at KGB Bar; I lined up a series of “Mom jokes.” The event was a couple of weeks after Mother’s Day; I figured the mom-humor was in order. But on 30th morning, I received a phone call in New York that Mom was in the hospital in New Delhi.
My parents were headed to Kashmir, also known as “Paradise on Earth,” for a vacation. Instead of checking her bags at the airport, Mom checked herself into the ICU. Instead of showing up to my reading in Manhattan, I showed up to catch a flight to New Delhi.
In the plane, I started to write poems from my heart. Simple, conversational, confused, angry, emotional, raw, vulnerable verses. I used other words for my mother—mom, mummy, ma, mumma—hoping my persistent helplessness would keep her alive.
On my way to India, I wrote to stay awake because I feared I would dream of the worst. I wrote because I felt my prayers, pain, and poems would keep Mom breathing. I wrote when I saw the stewardess bring Mom’s favorite breakfast: croissant with strawberry jam. I wrote when we flew over Libya, a country where I had spent part of my childhood.
Writing helped me stay strong.
Ironically, Mom would complain, “You never write about me, beta.” I would roll my eyes, “People on a writer’s shit list appear in their works, Ma. If I haven’t written about you, consider it a good thing.”
Loss has a mind of its own. At the end of the week—from the time we received the phone call in New York until we cremated Mom in New Delhi and completed her last rites in Patna, I went on to complete an entire collection of poems, Saris and a Single Malt, which came out in August 2016. Those who have read the book appreciate the vulnerability and accessibility of it.
Truth is, I haven’t always written for the right reasons or from the right place. Or shared a healthy relationship with writing.
In 2009, when I officially “came out” as a writer, I would blog once a week. Big words, Thesaurus, verbosity, and ego became my guiding principles back then. Growing up in a boarding school in the Himalayas and managing my school’s prestigious magazine had led me to believe that flowery language and dense writing were marks of a public intellectual. We were rewarded for memorizing the Oxford Dictionary.
When my first novel, Perfectly Untraditional, came out in the summer of 2011, my Mom kept the book by her bedside but didn’t read it. I felt perplexed by her behavior; I knew she was both proud and happy. I had witnessed the beaming in her eyes at the book launch in New Delhi. My parents had flown down to India’s capital for my big day. Mom, an elegant woman, had proudly pulled out one of her finest saris and jewels for the evening. She had taken the longest to get dressed. “It’s my daughter’s book launch. I have to look good tonight,” she’d insisted.
Why the heck wouldn’t she read my book? I asked myself a million times. Finally, before leaving for New York, I called her on it. “What did you think of Perfectly Untraditional?”
“Beta, I haven’t yet read it.”
“I have been very busy.”
“Busy with what, Ma?” I broke into tears. “You have the entire day to yourself and a house full of help.” My tone can be caustic when upset.
She pulled out her glasses. “Beta, truth is, I tried to read the book.” Her voice became mellow. “But I didn’t understand. I tried very hard and maybe my English is not good enough.” She cried inconsolably.
My Mom’s tears taught me that if my writing was making others feel inferior about them then I had failed both as a writer and a human being. I am glad she and I spoke about her desperation at wanting to read Perfectly Untraditional but feeling inept at doing so. My intention was never to hurt her or anyone. I wanted to change the world, give voice to the voiceless, and help others with my writing. But I was approaching it wrongly.
Something shifted inside of me that day. I stopped writing to prove a point to anyone or to impress my readers. I still believe in what I do, but I have started to write stories truest to me in a way that seem authentic to who I am. Leaving the ego out of writing has drastically improved both the quality of my writing and life.
Now, every morning as I show up to my yoga mat at sunrise, without ego or expectations, I express gratitude for a lot of things. After my yoga practice, I burn incense and whisper to my laptop, “Writing is its own reward.” I am grateful to be a writer.
Sweta Srivastava Vikram (www.swetavikram.com), featured by Asian Fusion as “one of the most influential Asians of our time,” is an award-winning writer, five-time Pushcart Prize nominee, Amazon bestselling author of 11 books, writing coach, columnist, marketing consultant, and wellness practitioner who currently lives in New York City.
Her latest poetry collection, “Saris and a Single Malt,” ranked #1 on Amazon under several categories. Sweta’s work has appeared in The New York Times and other publications across nine countries on three continents. A graduate of Columbia University, she also teaches the power of yoga, Ayurveda, & mindful living to female trauma survivors, creative types, entrepreneurs, and business professionals. Sweta is also the CEO-Founder of NimmiLife (www.nimmilife.com), which helps you attain your goals by elevating your creativity & productivity while paying attention to your wellness.