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The way she used Kipling to love her children

Updated: Dec 4, 2019

I have more than one post percolating on literature and motherhood. Tonight I offer you the first.

I have only ever read The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy once all the way through, long before I became a mother. I came away from that reading with several quotations exuberantly recorded in my quotations journal, and one passage I have savored ever since. It encapsulates a private moment of motherhood, a nurturing exchange between a mother and her children.

"The way she used Kipling to love her children before putting them to bed. We be of one blood, ye and I. Her goodnight kiss (The God of Small Things, Arundhati Roy, 155)."

Ammu, mother of vulnerable young twins, Estha and Rahel, dies, and as Rahel says goodbye to her beloved mother, she recalls this nightly ritual spoken in a soft whisper from her mother's lips to her children's ears, as she nestles them in to sleep. Ammu quotes Rudyard Kipling's The Jungle Books, nightly reminding her offspring of their kinship, that the same blood flows through their veins. That they are sealed in a irrevocable bond: mother to child, child to mother, and sibling to sibling. The first time I read this, it caught me breathless. I read it and reread it. And then recorded it in my journal to guard against losing it. I've never lost it.

While I don't repeat this same phrase to our daughters every night, the closeness, the intimacy, the warmth, the bond conveyed by Ammu's simple use of Kipling very much mirrors what I seek to cultivate with and between our girls. I like the way too that Ammu has appropriated Kipling for her own sanctified purposes: Kipling, who represents Imperialist England's influence in India, becomes a vehicle for Ammu's expression of love and solidarity with her twins. What could be a literature of oppression becomes redeemed on Ammu's tongue.

Maybe you don't use Kipling to "love your children" at night; you may or may not have young children or children at all. But perhaps you do use literature or art or music or scripture or some other hallowed reference or ritual to communicate similar threads of kinship and intimacy, whether with children or friends, spouse, siblings, parents. Maybe you recall the way adults in your own life have used simple, luminous passages from books, art, lullabies, sacred texts, prayers to underscore your value, to inspire, to console, to soothe.

Maybe you can't recall this kind of gentle exchange offered to you or issuing from you, but it occurs to you now that it's not too late to start.

It takes only a few words spoken eye-to-eye in earnestness, a few lines penned on page, a stanza from a song urged upon a loved one, asking them to "please listen; it makes me think of you."

It seems a beautiful gift to give another: something that costs not a cent but that has the potential to become a touchstone for that person, centering them, reminding them who they are, reassuring them of their inheritance, of their worth. Of where and to whom they belong.

We be of one blood, ye and I. Her goodnight kiss.

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