I regard my tiny feet as those of a child, forced into the black stilettos of a woman, similar to the ones my mother would wear when I was barely anything more than an infant. There are minor differences—the way my feet barely fill the shoes, the way my stilettos are a few inches higher than hers ever were. And yet, I still see similarities—the way my legs look crossed when I wear a short dress are just like my mother’s shapely legs when she used to wear skirts when I was a child, and the way my bones and veins slightly protrude at the tops of my feet are just like the bones and veins in the feet of my mother.
People describe my mother as intelligent, fierce, powerful, and stunning, as a woman composed of blood, beauty, and strength. They tell me about her enchanting singing voice, about her intolerance for hypocrites, and about her need to stand against all that is wrong in the world. I see all of these things in my mother as well, and I see myself in my mother the way she sees herself in me. We are so similar, and yet so different. In some ways, I am a spitting image of my mother, both physically and mentally, but in other ways, we are so very different.
Where her lips are thin, very much like the lips of an ancient beauty lost in the pages of history, mine are full and take on the shape of a pout. She tells me that my lips are lips that could only be painted in a portrait, and when she says this, her approval makes me feel gorgeous. She is tall and strong, while I am petite and soft. She always tells me that I am so frail and delicate and, if anyone else said this, I would be angry at them for pointing out this enormous difference in my stature from that of my mother’s, but when she says it, I feel like the classic porcelain doll that I know she considers me to be.
I discovered recently that my love of language and my gift with words came from her, as well as the gentleness with which I can sketch the occasional picture. I find that my need to love and embrace baby animals is also something I acquired from her natural sense of humanity and empathy for the tiny and the helpless, which is perhaps the reason why both me and her are so fiercely protective of all that we love.
When I have my long, sharp talons painted, I think of my childhood, when I escorted my mother to the nail salon so long ago and she told me that I could have elongated, polished nails like hers when I grew older, when I became a woman. My obsession with my nails is not simply a matter of vanity, but it is actually a faithfulness to a lifelong dream I have held close, a lingering desire to one day grow into a woman like my mother, a woman who turns the heads of everyone she passes as they try to absorb, in a few brief moments, her eternal exquisiteness that only grows as she ages. When I apply dark red lipstick, similar to the ones my mother has always worn, I remember her dressing me up in tiny black heels and a touch of her lipstick as a child, and even though I always licked off that lipstick in just a few minutes, I felt a sense of importance as a little girl echoing the wondrous loveliness of her mother.
When I spend hours in the kitchen and go to bed with fingers that smell of garlic and onions and my hair is misted with the smoke coming from my meal sizzling on a pan, I feel the spirit and the warmth of my mother within me. When I check the time in the watch I wear on my left wrist, I see my tiny, bony wrist that is identical to the wrists of my mother, so like the necks of elegant swans that they remind me so strongly of.
When I cry, she holds my hand and showers me with her motherly love, and when I see tears trickling from her eyes, so filled with underappreciated wisdom and the hidden pain of life, my heart breaks and I sob with her. On my worst days, I glance into the mirror and I see myself, but on my best days, when I feel strong and beautiful and on top of the world, I gaze into the mirror and I see my mother.
She tells me that I am a better version of her, but to me, I can never in all my life compare to the perfection that is my mother. I take pride in everything she gave me, from her haughty temper to her fine, extended eyelashes. She sees herself in me, and I see myself in her, and our relationship is one of understanding and admiration for each other, as two women who share a soul, a combined identity that has only grown with our love for each other over time. When the dreadful day comes that she must leave this Earth, she will live on through me, and eventually through my daughter, and this will be her legacy, relentless like her endless supply of love and grace that she has selflessly gifted me with throughout my life.
Poem and photograph are the exclusive creations and property of Ami J. Sanghvi.