Much like Tania, the main character of Queuing for the Queen, I was never much good at controlling my emotions.
It was a regular occurrence during my teenage years, when something had gone wrong. Perhaps I was being made to go to a cultural festival I wasn’t in the mood for, or my views on the philosophical merits of agnosticism weren’t being heard and understood. I always wanted to remain calm, and get my points across in a measured manner. I wanted to be so enduringly reasonable that no one could help but agree with me.
Instead, tears would sting my eyes. My throat would ache and I’d gulp and stutter, I’d shout and cry. I’d be a quivering mess, incapable of coherent speech or thought.
Opposite me, every time, my mother was exactly what I wanted to be: unruffled, cool, stoic. Enduringly reasonable; maddeningly so.
My mother had little choice but to stay strong in her life. She had to stay strong when she and her family established a brand-new home in a foreign land. She had to stay strong when, after years of intense difficulties, she left her husband. She had to stay strong, stronger than strong, when she was raising two children by herself. Had she not stayed strong, her entire life would’ve crumbled. So a single tear was never allowed to escape her eye.
Her strength is the reason I’m happy and thriving today. There’s no question about that, and I’m always inspired by her fortitude. But the traditional Indian method of keeping quiet about your problems isn’t sustainable long-term, because if feelings aren’t expressed outwardly, they’re repressed inwardly. And the more they build inside, the more they erode your soul. My mother’s strength is to be admired, yes – but so is my expressiveness. There is strength in emotion too, in passion and sorrow, in enduring them and showing them.
As I’ve grown older, I’ve become a bit more like my mum, and she’s become a bit more like me, too. She’s more open and honest about her feelings, no longer keeping them locked inside, while I no longer erupt in tears at minor provocations. Neither of us has changed who we are, but we each took a step towards each other. And that move towards compromise, towards moderation, can be transformative.
The central relationship in Queuing for the Queen is partly based on us. Where thirty-year-old Tania is flighty and spontaneous, her mother Rani is stolid, quiet, unassuming. Tania grew up in Britain, while Rani moved here as a child. Tania effortlessly has opportunities and freedom which Rani had to fight for.
As they spend time together in the queue, with very little time or space for respite, Tania and Rani inevitably argue and upset each other. But just as with so many British Indian mothers and daughters across the country, their differences are their strengths. Just like with me and my mum, friction and misunderstanding can give way to a beautiful, harmonious relationship, without anyone needing to change who they are. It just needs each person to take a single step towards the other.
Queuing For The Queen by Swéta Rana publishes on 6 July 2023 in Paperback and audiobook by Aria