Is motherhood, especially in India, overrated and a trap for women to give up on their ambitions to assume the more socially-accepted roles of a mother, wife, daughter and sister that they end up being placed on a pedestal and at the end, wondering if they have spent a lifetime doing a thankless job.
Indira Nooyi, Global head of Pepsico, once summed up the paradox of the modern Indian woman. In a public show, probably for a television channel, Nooyi narrated the incident on the day she was promoted as Global Head of the MNC and she had rushed home to break it to her family that included her mother.
Before Nooyi was allowed to break the most important news of her life, her mother directed her to hold on for there was a far important chore awaiting her. She was asked to fetch milk from the market! Nooyi asked her mother why she didn’t ask her (Nooyi’s) husband to buy milk, the old lady told her, “He has just come from office and is tired.”
Nooyi said she was brought up in a conservative South Indian family where though she received education and was encouraged to dream personal ambitions, she was also constantly reminded that she would have to get married soon.
Like Nooyi, many Indian women are today successful professionals and mothers. However, under the optics of powerful imagery of women in the country in reality Indian women are thrust upon greatness to remain skilful and more useful at home than the men are. This ends up creating a trap for the mothers to believe they are supermoms and striving for the family is their ‘dharma and culture.’
No wonder an Indian woman can juggle from fixing tiffins for work and school for children and other grownups in the family while sipping her morning tea to attending to a cranky baby in the middle of submitting a professional assignment without complaining.
Motherhood is venerated in India and it’s for this reason Maestro A R Rehman invoked his mother’s name while receiving the coveted Oscar for his music in Slumdog Millionaire. In his short thanksgiving speech, Rehman uttered the famous Hindi movie dialogue mere pass maan hai. The point that he felt blessed to have his mother present in the hall was lost on the largely western audience, for whom thanking a life partner is more important than the birth-giver.
Don’t get me wrong; mothers all over the world are born to nurture babies but when this role is expected to get extended to the grownups of the family, things go haywire for the lady on the personal front. To be a good role model to society, she must place her ambitions on the back burner and become a one-person service to people of all age groups in the family. If she is successful even then she is expected to take care of everything while men can get away with all this.
This veneration has placed the Indian Mom in a critical position: she ends up raising children who never share the responsibility of domestic chores. ‘Maan hai na,’ (Mother will take care) is the constant refrain in the family as children leave rooms unkempt; never help in kitchens and leave the house untidy to be with friends and for the Maa to set everything right. Instead of liberating them from the bondage, education and jobs have overburdened the mother.
After returning from the office everyone wants maa ke haath ka khana. She is emotionally blackmailed to be at the service of everyone while fighting the inherent gender biases at workplaces. Someone rightly depicted an Indian modern woman as Goddess with Five sets of hands, wearing a sari and a bindi for tradition, holding a broom, ladle, laptop, a bundle of clothes to be given to the neighbourhood presswalla etc. in her hands to depict multitasking.
The advent of social media and the press button for information and service has somewhat eased the life of a Mom. Swiggy and Zomato have replaced her as a cook; all the chores including Diwali cleaning is passed on to the service providers. However, by this time the mother is realizing she has nothing to do and wonders what she wants out of life.
She is left lonely and directionless as the cuckoos fly out of the nest. For many it’s too late to reboot their ambitions; others end up being intrusive in their children’s lives creating the infamous saas-bahu squabbles. She is so used to taking care of everyone that she is not able to understand the children she has devoted her life to have grown up and they no longer need her.
This International Mother’s Day, please do share a thought for the person that your Mother is; enough of placing a halo around her head and making her believe she is born to take care of everyone but herself. Women must thank Bollywood’s director Gauri Shinde for giving us English Vinglish; to the late Sridevi for depicting the quintessential Indian Mom who finally gets out of the mould of born-to-make-ladoos to a confident English-speaking Mom and a wife to command the respect of her family, and sensitising society about this issue.
(The writer is an editor with Awaz-the Voice and views expressed by her are personal)