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They sent me home after first aid. I had a chipped front tooth and a deep gash in my inner lip where my teeth had dug into the skin. I couldn’t speak the sounds that required the lips to touch each other. P, Ph, Ba, Bha.

I remember lying in bed later and discovering the magical arrangement of the consonants in the Hindi alphabet. The sounds travel from the back of the mouth towards the front. It’s the fifth line that requires the lips to touch each other. I couldn’t say Papa, Bhaiya, pani and so on. It must have been a soup and khichdi time.

Our school bus had crashed head-on into another bus on a blind turn inside Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University campus. The bus driver and some students in the front rows had serious injuries. My elder brother was in the back of the bus. He helped me out of my seat, picking up my bag for me. We forgot to look for my spectacles. After first aid at Safdarjung Hospital, Bhai was sent to attend class and I was sent home early in a school bus.

It was the 1980s. We did not have a phone at home. My mother opened the door around noon and saw her daughter standing there. Swollen face, bruised jaw, black eye. Blood on my white uniform.

“Where is Nitish?" she exclaimed. She looked behind me and down at the stairs.

“He’s in class," I mumbled. He’s fine, I gestured.

She led me to bed. I didn’t understand her anxiety for Bhai. This was supposed to be my moment with my mother. I was hurt.

From the moment of the impact, I must have just bided my time to the point where I would meet my mother. My Mum. And her first reaction was to look behind me. To look for Bhai.

A couple of days ago, I was reading a note from a friend describing a dream she had woken up from. I was in a bus accident once, she had written. I stopped reading.

The day of my bus accident came back to me. A doorbell rang. On one side of the door, a 12-year-old injured child. On the other side, her unsuspecting mother.

Today, I am the same age as the mother in the scene. Like her, I have three children. I am not Natasha the child any more, as much as I am Sudha, her mother.

Sudha had sent two children safely to school. One of them returned with injuries from an accident. It took her a nanosecond to judge that Natasha is all right, she is safe. What happened to Nitish? How badly hurt is he? Why is he not here? I want to see him. NOW.

Our older children complain to me that I never scold the youngest. “She ruins our games, she doesn’t follow any rules. She always gets to sit in your lap."

“She’s like a puppy," I say. “The mush in her skull hasn’t developed into a human brain yet. She’ll learn from you, just persevere."

They don’t look convinced. I feel angry. Guilty. I decide to set an example. I react sharply to the little one. There is yelling, stomping, whimpering. We find ourselves in the middle of a collective meltdown.

Later, I look back at the mess. Did I just lose my temper with a four-year-old for the sake of pleasing her six-year-old sibling? I sit myself down.

Sweetheart, Natasha, I think you misunderstood your role a little bit. The older children don’t want you to traumatize their sister. They are saying: “Be lovey-dovey and cootchie-cooey and weird with us the same way you are with the little one."

Quite the same way that l had wanted to see my mother anxious for me too, when I was hurt. When she was done being the protective tigress, I wanted her to be my gentle mother hen.

When I started writing here, I said to myself, write as if your mother is not going to read this. By now, I know I am writing a letter to my mother. And to the mother that I am.

Why do I need to revisit this story? I’m acknowledging that I felt very hurt. I’m letting go of that hurt. I’m sorry I misunderstood Mum. I am going forth to hold her hand to make up for the times when we were too distraught to reach out to each other.

Otherwise, the little palms of my children will slip from my hands and I will not be able to tell why.

Natasha Badhwar is a film-maker, media trainer and mother of three.

Write to Natasha at mydaughtersmum@livemint.com.

Also Read | Natasha’s previous Lounge columns

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