The sound of “Om” is believed to pervade the universe for eternity, transcending time and space. Since the dawn of civilisation, the only other word that evokes the same profundity is “maa” in its varied avatars of mother, mom, mummy, mata ji, ammi jaan, baa.
The soft emotions connoted by this word bear testimony to the unconditional love and nurturing that mothers have unilaterally given cutting across nations, cultures, religions, race and history. No wonder then that this is the first word that escapes a baby’s lips. It sends the mother into raptures that makes every painful cramp of pregnancy and childbirth worthwhile.
The succour that mothers give when one is besieged by anguish, pain, loss, and failure makes it impossible to consider life without them! As she inched towards her end, my mother bravely wore a smile to mask her pain and the debility of terminal illness to convince us that “with each passing day, she is getting better and better in every way”.
Mothers instinctively know that they are the bulwark of the family. Given an option they would like to live forever just to be there when the family needs them. Which is why losing them leaves a yawning vacuum that can never be filled. The only way I found to bridge it was to walk in her footsteps, fostering her memory and passing on this loving legacy to the next generation. It is no wonder that my father told us that we should bow to our mother even before we pray to God.
Huge demands placed by family and children on mothers and their time makes them natural multi- taskers. There are no textbook solutions to resolve the myriad challenges a mother faces every day. This daunting role playing of “family first” is fuelled by her unconditional loving and giving.
“Stay at home” mothers pack in a punishing, 24x7x365 days never ending routine of thankless household work. The sweat of her brow that makes the house run on oiled wheels is often taken for granted as it is not monetised or counted in the family or national income since she lacks the identity of being a doctor, lawyer, industrialist, or a bureaucrat. I am convinced that when Tennyson said in his poem The Brook that “men may come and men may go, but I [the brook] go on forever”, the consistent Brook denoted mothers worldwide!
From heading corporates to our regular working mothers, women juggle almost impossible double and triple shifts of balancing career, home, and social roles. Economic needs are driving more and more mothers to seek work outside of home or have a home-grown enterprise to supplement family income. Such jobs also give them the much-needed social recognition.
Ironically, to execute this expanded twin role playing as a homemaker and bread winner, mothers are now expected to become Superwomen without the charmed, fancy life of their DC Comics counterpart! Much of this imbalance is attributable to the unequal household burden that is still borne by them.
Often we mothers are on a guilt trip since we are no longer “full time moms” and rue having missed many of those cherished growing up stories of their children! The Covid work-from-home protocol has come as a blessing in disguise since I have had a unique opportunity to spend time with my son and daughter-in-law and discover many of naughty pranks, incidents, and feelings of their childhood. I feel more complete as a mother as I cling to this jigsaw puzzle of small shared episodes and moments.
The world has become a global village where generational change is happening every three years driven by new information technology skill sets! I see modern mothers confidently coping with new challenges beyond the threshold of home – driving through traffic snarls; holding their own in public and private lives; being in the forefront in the pandemic as doctors, teachers, law enforcers, compelled to learn digital outreach skills.
As children fly out of the cocoon of home to work in distant cities and abroad, mothers are filling their empty nests with more digital learning to cope with the virtual world. Their motivation to become digitally savvy even at sixty-plus stems from a need to communicate with their children.
The comfort of interdependence in joint families is rapidly replaced in small nuclear units with the need to do-it-yourself. So mothers are often nudged to “get a life” and “chill”. Taking a cue, mothers are now innovatively finding platforms to express their own Muse in hobbies, interests, activities that instil a more independent outlook.
Despite our fast-paced world being driven by the frenzy of each changing moment, we have the comfort of knowing that our mothers are with us in spirit if not in flesh and blood – our steadfast Pole Star. For us, they will move Heaven and Earth to bring taare zameen par. They hold the masterkey to our heart because tujhe sab hai pata meri maa!
(Purnima Chauhan is a former Indian Administrative Service officer from Himachal Pradesh.)