A salute to mother

A salute to mother

This shloka from the Ramayana has a victorious Rama craving to get back to his motherland after vanquishing Ravana. The gold and riches of Lanka hold...

“Asichet Swarnamayi Lanka Na Mama Rochathe
Janani Janmabhoomischa Swargadapi Gariyasi”

This shloka from the Ramayana has a victorious Rama craving to get back to his motherland after vanquishing Ravana. The gold and riches of Lanka hold no charm for Rama who says the two most cherished things in life – mother and motherland cannot be found even in heaven. A mother’s nature is to nurture and the fact that she begets life carefully nurtured in her womb makes her the closest and most cherished presence in one’s life.

That is why believers say “God could not be everywhere, therefore, he made mothers” while atheists quietly acknowledge that there is nothing more ‘real’ in this world than one’s mother who they owe their existence to. A mother’s place remains supreme in the pantheon of those revered in our tradition, the order being Matha (mother) Pitha (father) Guru (teacher) and Daivam (God).

All civilisations of the world have celebrated mothers and motherhood as seen from the Greek cult of Cybele, the Roman festival of Hilaria or the Christian “Mothering Sunday”. Selfless and unconditional love associated with motherhood elevated it to a quality making it synonymous with caring and compassion. That a mother’s role does not end with pro-creation but continues right into adulthood with every step, every hurdle, every victory, registered under her guidance makes hers a strong presence even in predominantly patriarchal societies.

Strictly speaking every day is mother’s day in societies that believe in strong familial bonds. However, like all other days that are being singled out for their symbolism, we have ‘Mother’s Day’ celebrations spreading out from America to different parts of the world. Anna Jarvis’ memorial meeting to honour her mother and peace activist, Ann Reeves Jarvis who took care of wounded war soldiers in the American Civil War in 1908 became more than a daughter’s tribute to her mother.

The St Andrew Methodist Church where the service memorial was held in Grafton, West Virginia has become the ‘International Mother’s Day Shrine’ holding a service on the second Sunday of May every year to honour the role of mother’s in family and society. In a move that found disapproval from the Anna Jarvis, the person who started this personal tribute, commercialisation in the form of greeting cards, gifts, holidays and pampering (resorted to by children living in far off lands) set in, making it a worldwide celebration that is as symbolic as it can get.

Symbolism has really been a part of literature, film and every aspect of culture and is quite dramatic in the Indian context. Every aspect of motherhood has been explored with the “Maa Ki Mamta” (Mother’s love) theme dominating the narrative in many a film that can only be balanced in equal measure by the evil machinations of ‘Mother’s-in-law’ in our television serials.

From the iconic ‘Mother India’ to Sivagami, the powerful mother in the blockbuster film ‘Baahubali’, glorification of the sacrificing, suffering, all forgiving mother character has been a fixation for filmmakers. “Mere Paas Maa Hai (I have mother with me)”, the single phrase in the all-time hit ‘Deewar’, where Amitabh Bachchan is told that all the wealth of the world is immaterial because he does not have the good fortune of having his mother with him is still the most popular dialogue in the history of Indian cinema.

All regional films have exploited the mother sentiment to the hilt with recent films parading more glamorous and believable mother images when compared to the past. The image of Jhansi Lakshmi Bai striding a horse sword in hand facing her enemy with her adopted baby tied to her back is an enduring one that brings out the enormous courage that motherhood defines.

As we explore the various facets of motherhood unfolded on celluloid it is time to do a reality check. For all the progress achieved and talks of gender equality we still have mothers who attain that status only if they deliver a “baby boy” largely perceived as the one who will save them from hell. Heart-rending tales of female infanticide and abandonment of baby girls are commonplace in all strata of society.

That the government has to launch aggressive media campaigns to “save the girl child” speaks volumes for the fact that survival is a fact not guaranteed for a girl child. Violence, harassment, rape and sexual exploitation figure prominently in the long list of crimes against women, revealing scant respect for them.

What’s worse, it shows no sign of receding in a world making great strides technologically. We have grown exponentially as a society in terms of facilities and luxuries. However, we have shrunk in equal magnitude. It is not just our families that have shrunk but our vision, our approach to life and our value for relationships.

Just as birds leave the nest on discovering wings we are witnessing a large number of families shrinking in size as young adults leave homes and countries in search of their destiny in distant lands. However, mothers remain crucial in keeping families together unhindered by the distances that separate them.

They are the ones who understand the complexities of children and adjust accordingly. They may also be considered the world’s eternal optimists hoping that their children will keep getting better at what they do no matter what their age.

There may be exceptions, but by and large, motherhood is all about keeping the concerns of children beyond self. That is the reason why ‘mothering’ has ceased to be a word that is confined to its biological meaning. It extends to everything and anything that involves love and care. It encompasses all life and qualities that enhance life. It is no wonder then that Robert A Heinlein says “Being a mother is an attitude, not a biological relation”.

Mother’s Day celebrations must, therefore, move beyond symbolism if they have to acknowledge the universal qualities of motherhood beyond class, country, religion or colour. Mother’s may hold their children’s hands for a short while but hold their hearts forever. It is for the children to reach out at the heart level. That will be truly Mother’s Day.

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