Mom shot me her death stare. Her Punjabi genes never failed to take over when she was under duress.

Do you know how dangerous rock concerts are? With druggies and pot-heads who eve tease young girls for entertainment? There have been five incidents there this year.’

Three, actually,’ I corrected her. ‘And none of them at rock concerts.’

I daresay Mom had reason to be concerned, but that wasn’t reason enough for me to cede power by acknowledging her valid worry.

No decent girl goes to rock concerts,’ she said imperiously.

Well, that’s a bummer, because this decent girl already bought the tickets.’

You what? When? With what money?’ She sat up tall, her head perfectly aligned with her spine.

A flicker of excitement tingled down my spine. I could not, of course, tell her the truth – that Deepali had purchased the tickets for me online during math class. ‘Let’s just say it was a present.’

Mom slammed her hand down on the table so hard that her glasses slid further down her nose. ‘There will be no presents in my house.’

I pictured Deepali in my head and rolled my eyes like her. ‘There will be no announcements, there will be no presents … Will there ever be anything reasonable or fun around here?’

— excerpted from Operation Mom – How I got my Mother a Life & a Man

The thing about my life as a teen was that when Mother laid down the law, there was no getting around it. The law, of course was stipulated according to her whim. That it made very little sense to me was irrelevant.

“Can I go camping with my friends?” I’d ask.

“No,” would be the immediate response.

Right. According to my mother, campsites were hot beds for rapists but why I would always be their prime target, she could never exactly explain.

“Can I go to the party next week?”

Consent was unmistakably a matter of disgruntled approval. “Only as long as I long as I have the number of the parents, your skirt is below your knees, your arms are covered and you are home by 10 pm.”

I’d do everything possible avoid giving her the number. My biggest fear that she’d actually use it wasn’t unfounded because when the phone started ringing at the host’s house thirty mins before the party ended, it was always for me. Those were the moments that I wished the floor would open and swallow me up but my mother was always unfazed when I explained later to her how embarrassing it is for a teen to be chased by her mother in public. We didn’t have cell phones back then. Jeez!

“Can I go for a coffee with my friends?”

“No, decent girls from decent houses don’t drink coffee.”

What she actually meant was – they don’t drink coffee at 9 pm. No, let me clarify – her disapproval had less to do with the prospect of being caffeinated post dinner time and more with what people might think if they saw a her daughter cavorting around town after daylight.

Reenita, her mother Veena Malhotra and her daughter Ilya Hora in January 2013

Reenita, her mother Veena Malhotra and her daughter Ilya Hora in January 2013

Being Punjabi comes with serious baggage, especially if you are a girl.

My kids like to think of me as psycho mother on the prowl but give me a break! They have no understanding of how difficult it was to be a teen in my mother’s household but saying anything to them is a matter of barking up the wrong tree.

My neurotic mother would bark out “no” before I could even finish uttering the question. It didn’t matter what the question was. It was a habit that that she undeniably inherited from her own mother.

Growing up in Mumbai where diversity is pretty much taken for granted, you really notice these things. Punjabi mothers were the absolutely worst when it came to being unreasonable, a trait accompanied by symptomatic grumpiness that progressively became worse with age. Mothers from other communities were much more relaxed, especially Gujrati mothers. My incessant escape to Gujju friends’ homes on the pretext of getting good grub was in reality all about seeking refuge from my own totalitarian homestead.

How does a writer not draw inspiration from life?

When someone once asked David Sedaris if what he wrote in his outlandish stories was true, he classic response was “well that’s my version of the truth.”

I love Sedaris, he has been one of my strongest influences as a writer.

It should come as no surprise then that the antics of the Isham household are derived from the dysfunctional mother-daughter drama of my teenage years and frankly from my current existence too, only this time roles are reversed and I am get to play the cantankerous Punju matriarch. Ha!

All in good measure.

The other day, my teen daughter, sent me this text: “please don’t sit in the car for an hour while I am at practice. You look like a stalker. #StalkerMom.”

Stalking. It’s what we do. Compulsively! A personality trait underscored by the characters of Operation Mom – Veena Isham, Ila Isham and psychoanalyzed by Deepali.

What daughter dear doesn’t know is that she’s yet another chip off the old block. The day will come when she’ll realize that stalking is not a device for control as much as a method for seeking out stories. And for continuing passing the neurotic trait on to subsequent generations.

Thank goodness for daughters of mothers and mother of daughters, without them my daily existence would be void of humor, hysteria and hashtags.



Operation Mom: How I got my Mother a Life & a Man – A book trailer