Thank you! for not being there
One question about my mother always intrigued me—how did she do it? As far as I can rewind, she woke up at the crack of dawn, poured steaming filter kaapi (a morning ritual) for my father and his parents, hummed to MS’s Suprabhatam (that played in the background) while making a breakfast of hot idlis, drew out kolam (rangoli) at the door entrance, packed our lunch dabbas, ensured my brother and I got on the school bus on time, cooked traditional South Indian lunch for my grandparents and finally, was ready to leave for work at 8 am. How did she do it?
It took me several years to realise that she did it because she did not have an option. This was her way to earn economic stability, live her life, enjoy her work, build a career and most importantly be a wonderful example for me to understand what independence and empowerment mean. In a traditional sense, a working mother would mean she is a selfish career-minded woman who is not around when her kids are growing up. This is a myth. And I disagree with it. My mother’s first lesson to me was “a woman’s place is in the home, is a thing of the past.” She taught me the importance of education, setting goals and working hard at it. Her absence made me accept and appreciate that to seek joy outside of the family is an important aspect of being empowered. I loved visiting her at work. She was a picture of contentment.
Today, thinking back, I realise that for a woman work and career provide a sort of fulfillment, which can be justified but not quantified. If a woman is expected to care and nurture, she should also be allowed to work and provide for. There were times when my mother wasn’t around—when I had measles, some day-events at school, and she always worked on Saturdays. But I learned not to grudge her absence simply because she made sure I knew she was just a phone call away. It didn’t turn my world upside down. Instead, her being away taught me to grow up faster. I began to appreciate my mother’s role better.
The bitter reality often is that once women become mothers, they are expected to center their world on motherhood. She didn’t believe it was necessary to do so. And I am forever grateful for that. She taught me to be my own person, have my own identity, my own life and that imperfection is acceptable because perfection can be dreary. I think it is time to start celebrating the woman in a mother and not merely her role as a supermom.
Unlike Macauley Culkin and his misadventure-prone family, I wasn’t left home alone by mistake. It sort of happened naturally. Apparently, I was responsible enough to look after myself. A compliment, I think. I had my own set of house keys long long before I was 21. I could boil rice, heat lunch, brew tea. Let me not deceive you into thinking that my after-school hours were devoid of entertainment. There were books that ought not be read by a 9-year-old; culinary experiments; wax sculptures and more. Of course. I had a blast on my own. So what did I miss? A lot... I think.
For one, the concept of a mom as confidant, hair-care expert, arbitrator of conflicts, psychologist cum dispenser of band-aides and advice that other girls had was alien to me. I French-plaited my own hair, bandaged my own wounds, fought my own battles and followed my own advice.
For another, I became my brother’s keeper, which meant I spent a sizeable amount of the time I could have used to get into mischief, ensuring that my li’l brother didn’t get into too much trouble.
For a third, with mum at home, everyday would have been a food fest — bread pudding, ice cream, other yum desserts; hot soups before lunch and dinner, in-between meal snacks. My wardrobe would have been overflowing, courtesy mum and the elegant Singer (sewing machine), which was typically sidelined until just before Christmas or other big occassions.
Without a taskmaster or cheerleader to enforce or encourage the practising of piano scales and art, skills slipped away. There were unregistered for dance workshops, swimming lessons, elocution competitions and so many other opportunities.
There’s a certain freedom that comes with having a mum on hand to introduce you to new places and experiences. Your world is somehow a little bit smaller without an adult in it. What’s worse, with every untoward incident, your world shrinks a little more. And so it was, when a friend and I were knocked down by a rickshaw on our way to Summer Club. Blood, screaming, people running. The rickshawallah blamed the bus driver. The bus driver blamed the rickshawallah. Guess who got punished? Well, not punished exactly. But that was the end of our Summer Club days.
With a mom who went back to work, three months after I arrived, I was practically raised by my grandma. My notions of God and even my mildly superstitious nature, come from my Nana, not my Ma, who is as practical as they come.
Practical enough to realise that she could afford us a better life if she worked; to rationalise that she could sew and bake when she had grandchildren; to believe that she would have enough time to spend with me when she retired. But life as usual has other plans, so I get married the day after she retires.
I think I missed out on her, and she missed out on me too.
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Thank you! for not being there
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