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It was 1981, or so I think, when I was about eight. Mom and three of
my siblings were returning from a visit to our grandparent’s house,
about five stations away from ours on the suburban train in Chennai.

It must’ve been a good visit. Grandma used to offer me sweets that I
greatly enjoy eating like ‘Thiruttupal’ or ‘pal kova’ (milk sweet

I don’t remember how the evening went on. The mental video screen
cliks into action from the time we entered the underground road
crossing and emerged on the other side after exiting the suburban
station on our side.

The sidewalk was encroached and whatever space left for the
pedestrians was too narrow that it was a struggle to walk free for
more than two steps. Mom carried my baby sister. My two brothers were
walking forward and laughing at something that amused them. In those
days, almost everything from a smooth brown pate of a balding man to a
monkey dancing to his master’s tunes amused them.

The street lights suddenly blinked out, plunging the sidewalk into
complete darkness. Light from the hurtling vehicles would momentarily
illumine the sidewalk and recede until the place became dark again. It
felt as if we were walking through the flashlights on a dance floor.

Something hit my eyes. The blow was so strong and painful that I
nearly fainted. My loud cry froze mom and the two little boys walking
in the front.

The blow shocked and pained me into stillness. Though my lungs
gathered air and mouth worked to produce the loud cry, I stood still
like a freshly made iceman. The hand I pressed to my left eye felt
sticky. Liquid Dripped between my fingers. And in my shock, I failed
to realise that I was surrounded by complete strangers.

Mom separated the men and knelt before me, still carrying my baby
sister in one arm.

To her great relief, the cut was on the brow. She spotted the wooden
slab covered by a sheet of tin with sharp edges slanted down from the
wall. Lottery tickets were clipped on a series of ropes running across
the slab. I was walking too close to the makeshift lottery stall and
the slab was low enough to hit my eyebrow.

Someone produced a glass of water or juice or something. Another hand
thrust a strip of bandaid on mom’s hand, which she gratefully stuck on
my bleeding brow.

It was a lucky escape alright. The blow missed my left eye by a few
inches. And what if the long and heavy slab unhinged itself from the
wall and crashed on my head?

But when I think of that incident, I wonder what would’ve been running
in mom’s mind? She certainly wouldn’t have thought about the glory of
motherhood or, as a Tamil saying goes, feeling rich with the wealth of
children around her.

But I know she wasn’t questioning the wisdom, or the lack of same, of
having four children, or blaming her husband for not being on her side
when the need was so great, or blaming us for being who we were. She
acted like how every commander would act at a sudden enemy attack.

Alas, no mother in the world wins the bravery medal.