"I'm doing my makeup."

There is one characteristic my mother has that universally pisses off my family (or entertains, it depends on their mood).

And that is her inability to be on time. For anything.

When my grandfather was still alive, he'd be her alarm. Every time she had to catch a flight.

The poor man didn't even live with us, but he'd still set his alarm religiously for 5 AM (depended on the flight of course, but in my memory, it was always 5 AM). And he'd call her.

"Mimi, Mimila. It's time to wake up."

I'd hear her groan.

"Come on, Mimi. You can do it."

A few scuffling sounds. Another little groan.

And then, finally - "Okay, Daddy. I'm up."

You almost wanted to give her an award.

And then half an hour later, another phone call.

"Mimila. It's time to leave now. Have you finished packing?"

"Yes, yes, Daddy. Nearly done." A blatant lie. She was still doing her makeup. She's always doing her makeup. And she hadn't finished packing either.

And then we'd leave half an hour late, and make the flight by the skin of our teeth.

The reason I never missed catching a single plane as a child was because of my grandfather.


When her friends come to pick her up for a night out, they usually resign themselves to a long wait.

When I was still living in Calcutta, her friend Nandini would take it upon herself to call me.

"Trishaaaaa. Trishaaaaa."

"Hi, Auntie Nandini."

"Tell your mother I'm leaving."

"Yes, Auntie Nandini. She's already in the shower, Auntie Nandini."

"Okayyyyy. I can't come up, okayyyy? Tell her I can't come up. The car can't be kept waiting. Tell her to come down in twenty minutes."

"Yes, Auntie Nandini."

I don't know why she even bothered. We both knew how it would end. Auntie Nandini would end up coming upstairs after all, and having a glass of whisky or wine, before my mother emerged from her lair.

"Sorry, sorry, sorry. I was doing my makeup."

The more optimistic of her friends, the ones who don't know her quite as well as Auntie Nandini, choose to sit in the car downstairs. They think it'll take her only five minutes to join them.

The poor fools.


As our visit to London drew to an end last month, she spent a lot of her time nagging me to pack, to be on time.

"We have to leave at nine in the morning." She said, over and over again. "Don't be late, finish all your packing on time. Your uncle is driving us to the airport. You know what he's like."

Yes, Mama, I do know what he's like. I've seen him practically have an aneurysm because you're late every time we have to go somewhere with him.

(During the holiday, she was supposed to go to an exhibition with my uncle and two aunts. She wasn't ready, so my aunts carried on. She left with my grumbling uncle. I left the house about twenty minutes later - I was heading out to meet a friend - and bumped into my mother and uncle at the station. My uncle did not look happy.

"I thought you left ages ago."

"We missed the last train. Because of your mother."

"Don't be such a stick in the mud," my mother said shrilly. "The exhibition isn't going anywhere."

Ironically, it did. It got too late so they ended up drinking tea in Covent Garden. My mother also managed to get some shopping done. She was the only one who returned from that expedition in a good mood.)

Anyway, where was I?

Oh yeah, she was nagging me to pack.

Now this may surprise you, but I can be a little fiendish on occasion. My mother's packing had started two days previously. This is one of the great mysteries of life. She spends at least two days sorting things out and packing, and she still can't finish on time.

So on our last night, when everyone was sitting around watching television, I went up to my room and did my packing. Didn't take me long. Admittedly because, unlike my mother, I don't fold things. I just crumple them in a ball and throw them into the suitcase. And then I went down.

"Trisha," she snapped, as soon as I entered the room. "It's nearly ten pm. Go pack."

"I've finished," I said. "Just need to put the toiletries in - I'll do that after my shower tomorrow."

The look on her face was gratifying. It was exactly what I was aiming for.

Because, after two days of 'packing, she still had to wake up at the ungodly hour of five am, while I slept on blissfully.

I woke up at eight, showered, put the last bits and pieces in, and merrily sat around for an hour, drinking coffee and chatting with the family.

We left when we were supposed to leave. I won't lie. I was disappointed - the last time we were in London, I'd spent a memorable hour listening to my uncle bang on my mother's door, shouting that planes don't grow on trees, while she yelled back the words we all know by heart.


But this time, like I said, she was ready. Just before the car rolled out of the gate, she turned to me and said, "Did you take your medicine?"

I cursed under my breath. Ran out of the car, my aunt and cousins were still at the door. Looked for the medicine on the dining table. Ran back to the car, checked my rucksack. Wasn't there. Ran back to the dining table - eventually found it under the newspapers.

As we finally pulled out of the driveway, my uncle started lecturing me. You need to be more responsible, you need to be more prepared, you need to be more punctual, etc.

My mother was sitting in front, but I could still see the small, satisfied smile on her face. And the triumph that draped itself across every line of her body.