Which music class aunty teaches English songs? Everyone knows I don’t go to music class now. Everyone learnt a song from their music class aunties. Everyone was laughing.
Ma looked at my small face and turned my head around. The Parachute bottle made weird whining noises like me that reminded me more of the day’s events but soon my head became cool and Ma started humming. Again that English song. I sat on the floor uncooperatively shaking my head and she started singing with full syllables to annoy me more.
He’s got the whooole world in his hands, he’s got the –
Stop it. Stop it!
I now hated the song that I sang jumping and stomping my feet to on the way to school for my first solo song competition. We had to sing a devotional song and Ma thought this was the easiest thing to teach me last minute. I went all chirpy and came back all embarrassed and angry and sulky. This was all Ma’s fault. When she would oil my hair at night, I’d tell her how stupid she made me feel.
I don’t like this song. No one likes this song. Only you like it.
Ma put extra oil in my hair that night. Maybe she wanted me to calm down and realise that it wasn’t the end of the world, or maybe she just wanted to sing a little more, because she sang and sang patiently until I forgot what I was angry about and accidentally joined her. I only realised I was singing along when she was done oiling my hair and I felt even stupider after that. If Ma could make me feel stupid, she was definitely not stupider than everyone in school who thought her song – and now my song – was stupid.
He’s got the little bitty baby in his hands, He’s got the whole world in his hands.
Even if He’s got the wind and the rain in his hands, Ma’s got oil in her hands, and nothing can beat that.
Ma was oiling my hair and humming Waka waka. My six-year-old brain was thinking only about tsunamis. We’d just sat in front of the TV – Pappa, Ma and me – oscillating between the FIFA World Cup and tsunami news. The whole concept of tsunamis blew my mind. And it was such a mighty-sounding word that echoed in my throat before I said it. Tsunami.
In my head, a tsunami was just one sudden very big wave preceded and followed by normal-sized waves. If a wave just grew a little too big and picked up a little too many tinier waves on its way to the shore, it could destroy things, it could come on TV, it could be named. It would be feared, loathed, revered, and talked about. And if Shakira said it with her powerful tangooo eh eh voice, it would wash away the world.
Ma’s soft tsamina mina stopped sounding like tsunami-tsunami and the fastly-forming, vivid image of a vast wave in my head was interrupted by a shriek and a tssk-tssk-tssk and then a very, very strong smell of Parachute jasmine coconut hair oil. The oil bottle cap was lying on the floor where I was sitting and having my tsunami thoughts and there was oil on the bed where Ma was sitting and softly being Shakira.
Ma! Tel tsunami!
Yes, yes! Haha! Tel tsunami!
This was the first time I’d used the word tsunami right and I felt hilarious and witty and smart and big and started clapping for myself to the rhythm of Waka waka. Ma started singing and laughing while cleaning up, and stopped looking at Pappa, who I forgot was there, sitting and looking like he could do tsunami things and would make tsunami noises if he opened his mouth, with small normal-sized waves all around him.
Every few minutes while wiping oil off, Ma and I would say tel tsunami in a news reporter tone, giggle, and wait for Pappa to shake his head and join our fun. If Ma hadn’t started singing along with my clapping and in that process turned Pappa into a smaller and gentler wave, the biggest tsunami that night would have been Pappa’s yelling.
But the real tsunami was Ma, has always been Ma. She is feared, loathed, revered, and talked about. Talked about every time I witness an oil spill of any sort or any time I chance upon Waka waka. Ma is a tsunami that might not come on TV, but one day, she will be named.
I might never be the one you take home to mother
Ma had listened to me hum, trash and grow attached to One Direction songs for some months after my first breakup. H loved 1D and I told H I hated them because I didn’t know who they were and didn’t know what else to say on the spot. Later, I downloaded all their songs and played them wherever I went. One day, H dumped me and I deleted the songs, but Ma didn’t stop singing them while oiling my hair.
Everybody wants to take her heart aw –
Stop, stop. It’s cringe.
Cringe or not, Ma enjoyed 1D now that I didn’t play their songs all day. They became a once-in-a-while catchy treat and I’d hum them along with her so that one day I’d finally have gotten so tired of their songs that they’d be out of my system, away from me. Tolerating and secretly enjoying 1D seemed easier than telling her I had a boyfriend and that he had dumped me. Ma and I soon had parts and song sequences and 1D became an integral part of our oiling routine.
Does it ever drive you crazy, just how fast the night changes?
When you break up with a boy, you try to break up with all the things he loved. But what do you do with all the things you hated? You give them to your mother so you can forget them but instead, you make them yours and hers.
I’m sure you’ve heard it all before, but you never really had a doubt
For three years, Wonderwall used to be the key to every boy’s heart at school. Every girl knew the lyrics to it and humming it would mean running the risk of being bombarded with questions and judgement. Singing it in the corridors and on staircases was as good as declaring your crush. We did this in circles, so they wouldn’t know who was singing, or which girl liked which boy. We didn’t usually know either.
And by now, you should’ve somehow realised what you’re not to do
Ma’s nightly humming sessions that coincided with my hair-oiling sessions had now turned into me chanting the most annoying parts of Wonderwall again and again until I got it right. I’d keep hoping she’d ask me to stop but she never did. She would oil and I would sing.
There are many things that I would like to say to you, but I don’t know how
One day, a rumour spread that one girl tried to sing Wonderwall louder than another girl in the throwball court when a tall, handsome boy came to watch. The boys thought this hilarious. Versions of the rumour spread. One particularly nasty version said the two girls tried pulling each other’s hair in the subway on their way home. At school, we decided to stop singing Wonderwall. It felt wrong. Ma didn’t have to listen to me sing Wonderwall that night and she didn’t ask any questions. I was awkward and she had Wonderwalls of her own to sing – Wonderwalls that didn’t have any ridiculous rumours attached to them and that went better with the process of oiling my long, flirty hair that I thought boys would like more if dry.
Two days later, when the all-girls choir was waiting for the mic to start working during the morning assembly, one of them started humming Wonderwall by mistake. The boys across the assembly ground started giggling stupidly. And then one of the choir girls looked down at her shoes and started whistling Wonderwall shakily but resolutely. The girl next to her sang along tensely, like Ma’s voice when she realizes someone is listening but continues anyway. Within ten seconds, the entire choir was singing Wonderwall. The boys laughed, but now nervously.
The choir held hands, broke out of their U-formation and stood around the mic in a circle like our shy, bubbly, blushing circles on staircases, looking mostly at each other and sometimes at boys passing. Slowly, the girls in the assembly joined the choir. For the first time, we sang Wonderwall only for ourselves, and were conscious of it. There was only one other person I’d sing Wonderwall to and that was Ma, my Wonderwall.
Every time boys heard us singing Wonderwall after this, they’d walk away nervously. It was no longer for them. It never was. It was about exploring sisterhood through crushes and shy looks and music. Wonderwall carried this power that only girls could wield. That boys knew of but could never fully understand. They hated it. They laughed at it. Whatever they did, they knew they could never be stronger than it. A group of girls singing Wonderwall in the corridor was a group of girls you needed to stay away from. Wonderwall was ours in ways only we’d understand. And that was scary. That was revolutionary.
I took Wonderwall back to Ma and she hummed it along with me.
I said maybe… you’re gonna be the one that saves me
I’d never heard Ma sing Wonderwall before. It was hers before it was mine. We hummed the chorus over and over again and she massaged my hair dry, said it didn’t need oil that night.
Ananya is a nineteen-year-old writer based in Bangalore, India. She is a student of Communicative English and Political Science at St. Joseph’s University. Her work is inspired by Indian city life, seasonal fruits, earring stalls, orange cats, female friendships, her mother and other women. She spends a large chunk of her day trying to find the perfect balance between the monstrous feminine and pressed flowers, which makes her a blahcksheep.