This past week, I had an early meeting for which I had to leave my place by 7am.
My mom is usually up by 6am but I let her know in advance that I would not have time for breakfast. When I grabbed a seat on the train into the City, I found an aluminum foil smelling of ghee and discovered two hot, aloo ke paranthe wrapped inside.
My mother had found the time to prepare a fresh batch so I wouldn’t go hungry for work.
These are the small yet priceless pleasures of living with my parents.
My dad and I come home from work to a freshly cooked dinner, a luxury afforded to few. Occasionally, he partakes in putting dishes in the dishwasher and ironing his own laundered clothes. I fill in the gap over the weekend.
Though my mom recently found some part-time occupation, she still goes out of her way to complete all domestic responsibilities to perfection.
One Youtube video that went viral this year was titled “World’s Toughest Job” and to the surprise of the viewers and the candidates in the video, the Director of Operations post with no vacation days, no pay, and 24/7 hard work (mostly on feet) was in reference to mothers around the world. Indian actor Sharman Joshi also starred in a similar video. Granted this made mothers and other guardians happy to be acknowledged but it made me a bit worried about the set expectations when I may become one myself.
When you are missing even one sock or tie, your immediate reaction is to call your mom. Somehow, she knows how to find the impossible. If the world’s mothers collectively take a holiday for one day, I wonder if the world will come to a standstill. Just like the Operations Head of any company, we rely on them for the smallest of tasks so that the business runs smoothly. We may spend countless hours in worthless meetings, but the moment we face a minor delay in our train or bus commute, we cringe. This is also true for the systematic operations of our homes, where mothers are automatically assumed as the chief operator.
It is comforting to think that mothers (and fathers too) are so selfless, so overwhelmingly sacrificial, and so perfect with superpower like qualities, that they do nothing but give precedence to their family before themselves.
But a mother is a woman first. She has her own needs, which often get suppressed in the effort to play this role so aspired by society since the dawn of mankind.
Of course, there are biological factors at play and the bond between a mother and her newborn is truly that of an unconditional nature. Even men have been shown to go mimic similar changes, on an emotional level, when they become fathers.
But a woman is more than the mother to her kids, the wife to her husband and the other roles adopted by entering the husband’s family, so dramatized by Bollywood and serials. We cannot compensate her hard work with once a year Mother’s Day pleasantries.
My mother was married at a time when it was considered appropriate to marry off daughters by 23 or 24 at the latest. And since she was the eldest of three daughters, that deadline was even more imperative for her parents so that her other siblings may get married after her. It was an arbitrary rule practiced with no apparent merit other than harming the career goals of the women. Though I must mention that 23 is still not as frightening an age as my grandmothers who were sent off their new abode of in-laws as teenagers without even knowing the man properly, let alone seeing his face.
(Yes, yes, they are all successful marriages, in that, no divorce took place, mostly because the women did as they were told, keeping the invisible, patriarchal mold intact. This is true even today and this is why a movie like Queen is so refreshing.)
It was only years later that I came to know that my mother harbored aspirations to open her own clinic before being wedded off to a stranger. My father was respectful enough to help her complete her training (residency) so that she could put her qualifications to practice as a Homeopathic physician.
(Homeopathy, with its roots in Germany, is a cheap and holistic system of medicine popular in many parts of Asia and Europe. It is not as popular in the States mostly due to the powerful network of pharmaceutical firms and hogwash healthcare system that aims to treat and suppress the disease, not to cure — this topic is reserved for another blogpost.)
Post-internship, she was ready to jump-start her career but was soon pressurized to bear children by my grandmother. Psychologically speaking, when a person does not receive adequate opportunities to live life on their own terms, they are not too keen to let others do the same and this was evident in the way my granny did not want my mother spending time outside her domestic chores. My mother wasn’t very confident in expressing her goals either, so the kids quickly followed suit and her career was put indefinitely on hold.
She did manage to serve several years at a local, charitable clinic while the kids were still studying in high school in Delhi. The happiest moments were seeing my mother come back from work and joyously speak of her patients, usually families of construction workers, maids, vegetable sellers etc., being cured of their diseases. When she received an Appreciation Award from the Board of Homeopathic Doctors and anonymous donors gave checks to aid her charity, I couldn’t be more fortunate to be her daughter. I’m sure you have similar stories with the successes of your own mothers/guardians 🙂
My father supported my mother a great deal especially since he was rid of his persistent tonsillitis right after marriage. He was able to escape tonsil surgery by taking a few doses of Baratya Carb, a homeopathic remedy for such infections. For a man who would develop a sore throat for days with just a taste of a cold dessert or beverage to eating all kinds of ice creams with greater immunity was nothing short of a miracle. Gradually, the whole family, including extended relatives, became of a fan of my mother and even today, they call her from India, asking for remedies for colds, pains, injuries etc.
Once my father accepted a position in the States, it was my mother who suffered the most – one because her degree in alternative medicine was no longer valid here without taking rigorous and expensive years of M.D. again, and two because she missed being in close vicinity to her parents. Like the movie Pardes suggests – “Jahan Piya, wahan main” and so she sacrificed once again and went from being an educated doctor to a bored housewife.
It was only when I received employment post-graduation that I realized how frustrating it may be for someone who has studied for so many years to ultimately not utilize that knowledge in the real world.
My father and I researched various options. While she succeed in obtaining a few certifications and partook in volunteering roles to keep herself busy, it was not the same feeling as practicing in her desired field.
Just last year, my mother went into depression as she was burdened by taking care of my father and his illness. I struggled to make her happy but her depression coupled with the cold winter put me into depression as well. It is true then that if the mother of the house is not happy, it will reflect on the family. Similarly, if the mother is content, she will go to great lengths to make everyone else happy and that contentment will naturally flourish at home.
It is debilitating to be depressed because you cannot simply snap out of it. One of the most precious things we hold is having the willpower to live and depression strips away the very essence of that will. Personally, I tried every soothing tune and meditation chant, read up spiritually empowering notes, and called close friends and family but to no avail. Kapil Sharma comedy shows, which usually worked like a charm to put a smile on our faces, too failed during those bitter weeks. Thanks to a visit from my brother who provided a necessary change to the environment, I managed to break free from my depression. My mother gradually healed as well.
It was not the first time she has dealt with depression but other factors in the past have been irregular doses in her thyroid medication and low Vitamin D levels which can be boosted with D3 supplements.
Society often asks if it is possible for a woman to have it all. They place imagery of these perfectly dressed actresses turned mothers or women with perfect husbands and children. They suggest that this is what other women should be so as to not let their man stray and be admired and accepted by society. If certain women have raised the ceiling or achieved balance of success and family, kudos to them, but suggesting perfection is not healthy, nor realistic.
Women who delay marriage for independence, who hold off on having children, or abort a child because of reasons personal to them and their well-being are often shamed and even persecuted for making a willful decision about their own bodies.
Why have we created such impossible standards for women and allowed it to persist for ages? Even Superheroes have their weaknesses.
No, a woman cannot have it all. No human being can.
One thing is for sure — I may not get my book published, or marry a South Indian who will cook me dosa, but I pray to God that I can help my mother realize her unfulfilled dream of having her own clinic in India.
In Jab We Met, Kareena urges Shahid Kapoor to look at his mother through a different lense of a lover. He did not care to think that she may have been genuinely unhappy in her marriage and thereby chose to leave. With Kareena’s guidance, he respects his mother’s decision and gives her the share of the company she worked so hard to achieve.
I hope we can all appreciate our mothers for their strengths and weaknesses and welcome their individual needs just as we do with our own.
Ok, my mom is yelling at me to stop wasting time on my laptop and do the dishes. Gotta go! 🙂