Sharanya Misra

A writing prompt recently challenged me to write on “A Woman I Admire”. After putting much thought into it, weighing the pros and cons of writing on someone personal or someone I had just heard of, I finally made up my mind. I would probably be taking a risk here, of sounding ‘cliched’ if I told you who I was writing on. But I shall barge on because it’s a story worthy of being told. I am writing on my mother.

Argh the very same, some may remark. It’s always either about a working mother having achieved inspiring heights or a homemaker mom making an inordinate number of sacrifices, others may muse. After all, we have even gone on to glorify a mother’s sacrifices on a global stage, what more could I add? But no, today I share the story of a woman. A woman, who also happened to be a daughter, a sister, a wife, a homemaker and a mother. A woman I admire, even more so today, when I don many of the hats she did back then!

It all starts with her marriage. You see, back in the early 80s, she married a man she loved. What was even more scandalous was that they weren’t of the same caste. And while the story of the trials and tribulations the couple may have faced remain resolutely hidden from their children even today, what did trickle through in all these years was the fact that it definitely wasn’t an easy battle.

Lesson Learnt: A woman can make decisions on her own life and her life-partner. Her choices matter!

After marriage, she pursued her B.Ed. (having already done her MA) to secure a job as a teacher. I have often heard stories of her leaving behind my older sister with a full-day maid, who, while generally a good lady, very passionately fed her a revolting glass of milk with raw egg each day. Barring this daily episode of a bawling little girl running away from her nanny, I do not think my mother regretted having to leave her daughter behind to go to work. The stories she shares demonstrate her passion to go out into the world and find a purpose. I can almost imagine her (in a black-and-white mental picture), walking down the stairs in a breezy chiffon saree, hair plaited, a red rose secured behind her ear, towards the green scooter my Dad waited with and sitting pillion with her handbag on one shoulder and her other arm supporting the notebooks on her lap. She often reminisces of the lunch breaks in the teachers’ staffroom, when all the dabbas were opened and recipes were spilled. It’s evident she enjoyed her time there. Ever since I have known my mom, I have known her desire to work, and that passion has made its way into both her daughters. What leaves me in awe were the efforts she would have had to take to get there, a girl who grew up in Odisha all through, comfortable conversing in the regional language all those years, suddenly working in an English medium school in Chennai where she followed her husband to – that to me was some kick-ass self- confidence!

Lesson Learnt: Womanhood, marriage and children are not meant to be nurtured in lieu of your dreams, they are to be carried alongside! Find your purpose in life and go make it happen!

As children grow, they start to pick up nuances from the relationships around them. When I think back to the relationship my parents shared, I can clearly remember they were equals. I always saw my mother having an opinion and a voice of her own. Today when I look around and read so much of women who are resigned to submissive roles in their households, I now realise what a big deal that was! She is a woman who has a say in every decision that is taken for the family. From the kids’ dresses, their books, their schools to what the family ate, where the couple invested, which property they bought, my mother made her voice matter. She is never one to sit back and watch in silence, she makes sure she is heard when she knows she is right. Today when I share an equal relationship with my own husband, I attribute the normalcy to always watching my mother walk alongside my father.

Lesson Learnt: Your gender has nothing to do with the role you play. Find your voice. And never let it go.

When her first born neared standard 10 and her younger one was still too young, my mother finally quit her job. I guess, as parents, some sacrifices are unavoidable. And while she lost her financial independence, that was never a setback to her. Her thirst to invest her time in something useful has never been quenched. Ever since she quit her job, she works on projects and excels in them. First it was helping my sister with her board exams. Then, she began honing her cooking skills. Already an excellent cook, my mom became a cook excelling in multiple cuisines. Be it whipping up tasty South Indian or Chinese dishes or baking something mind blowing, she was an expert at it all. A few years later, she was a perfect gardener. We had people stopping by looking at our always blossoming rose plants trying to learn the secret. And while she busily explained tricks with the water and the manure, I knew it was all in the silent dedication. A few months later she was helping tuition a poor man’s child, a year after that she was organising all the society’s festivities and soon after that she got heavily involved in charitable activities. Today she is tech savvy, and loves posting her new poems and articles for her friends to read on her Facebook wall!

Lesson Learnt: Your age and your circumstances do not define you! Build your skills, make your life and your education worthwhile!

A few years back when my mother became a grandmother, a new side to this lady emerged. My sister’s maternity leave came to an end and she struggled to find a trustworthy nanny she could leave her baby with all day as she went to work. With days passing by fast, my sister was running out of time. None of the nannies stuck around for long and each time a nanny came anew the entire training had to be restarted and by the time the baby got used to her, she would leave. Soon my sister was frustrated and disheartened. How long could she go on thus? She loved her work and was very aspirational about her career, but surely quitting would be a much easier option, putting an end to this everyday struggle! And that’s where the woman in my mom stepped in. ‘Do you really want to work?’ ‘Yes!’ ‘Can you see yourself being a homemaker?’ ‘No! I don’t think I would be happy doing that!’ ‘Then there’s no question is there? Struggle if you must, but do not quit. This phase shall pass through and in a few years, your son will be grown enough to take care of himself. But if you quit today, you shall never forgive yourself’. A couple of months later, my sister found a nanny who has been with them for over 2 years now. I have come across so many women in our society who believe that a mother’s only responsibility is towards her child. I have seen working mothers who leave their little babies behind tagged ‘selfish’ and ‘heartless’. But this woman made me realise that being a mother does not make you any less of the person you have always been, and that while your child is undoubtedly your highest priority, he/she need not be the only one! So very often do we see women pitted against each other that this was an incredible act to me – A woman standing by and supporting another for whatever her choices may be!

Lesson Learnt: You will always find people and reasons to not do something, especially if you are a woman. If you still want to do it, Do it!!

An immensely practical woman, my mother always inspires us to explore our skills, find our ways in this world, be financially independent, forge our identities and always march ahead. Today when I look around and see all the patriarchal customs around me, I realise how much we were shielded from it when we grew up. Never were we asked to learn to cook or help with household chores because ‘that’s what we had to do in our own houses some-day’. Our goals as children were to study well and secure a job in whichever field interested us, never to ‘get married’ as many girls are told. We grew up with a sense of belonging and pride in our identities, not as ‘paraya dhan’ to be given away one day. I remember as children, the variety of projects our Mother would busy us with – a new craft some-day, a painting the next, a new song to be learnt, a handkerchief to be embroidered, a new essay to be written – we were kept busy honing our talents, she was preparing us for a busy adult life!

Lesson Learnt: What patriarchy?!

We all always let our mothers know how proud we are of her for sacrificing their lives to make ours better. I, however, am inspired by my Mother for not sacrificing her life, for not losing her identity to her family. I admire my mother for being a strong woman before being a wife or a mother. I admire her for being a feminist in a time and generation when the word held no weight. I admire her for letting me know through the way she lived that I had the right to think, speak, dream and do! I admire her for never making me realise that the society had certain rules for women to live by – I never saw it so I could never learn!

Parents have this huge responsibility, rather a power! The power to mold their children with thoughts that could help the next generation progress to a better life! The power to bring up children who know of no life other than genderless equality. That’s the life we experienced growing up. I guess it takes a lioness to bring up two stubborn feminist daughters. And this woman, my mother, is one for sure!!

//This article is available as an eBook on Juggernaut Writing Platform @ https://www.juggernaut.in/books/f367e177af354bcf

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