Indian mothers are a mystery to me. They baffle me every step of the way. Every aspect of their existence confounds me; every action of their lives confuses me. Yes, I am talking about all Indian mothers, every single one of them. No, I am not talking about Indian women. Just Indian mothers and what they do as a mother.
To start with, it is remarkable the influence they have on their offspring, especially their sons. Given how strongly patriarchal our society has been for a long time, and how deeply we have codified suppression of woman, it is almost a miracle that Indian mother have any say, let alone such firm hold of their family. Indian women are debased in any other form: as a daughter, as a sister, and as a wife. Do I have to remind you of forced marriage, honor killing, wife burning. The practice of sati is not just a shallow skin disease of our society, but a deep sickness sanctified by our scripture. I mention this only to show the contrast. While in any other role Indian women are debased, as a mother they are deified. No wonder Indian goddesses come only in one flavor: mother.
That is the only role Indian woman can get respect. And they surely know that. As mothers they can and do bring terror to the hearts of all their children, especially their sons. The invention of the incarnation of goddess Kali is no accident. Hell may not match the fury of a woman scorned, but still that is no match for wrath of a mother disobeyed. Ask any Indian who married someone against his mother’s approval. Or for that matter, did anything without her approval.
If Indian mothers simply were power hungry vindictive goddesses, they would not be any mystery. It would be a natural mechanism to vent all the pain, suffering, and neglect they endure in all other incarnations before they become mother. No, as mothers they are the most caring, nurturing, and sacrificing group of human on this planet. At least they are for their offspring. An Indian mother would sacrifice her whole life for her children without any hesitation. They think it is their purpose. And there is the contradiction.
Of course, they not only acknowledge but proudly proclaim their preference for sons over daughters. Indian women grow up in the toxic air of male chauvinism, and their hatred towards men is expected. What confuses me is that Indian mothers proudly perpetuate and promote the very system that suppresses them as a woman. Indian mothers surely share some of the responsibility for sustaining the tradition. Indian men, steadfast in their belief of superiority over woman, reduce to merely the spineless sycophants in front of their mothers. Talk about irony. I wonder, given all the pain women suffer in the male dominated Indian society, how much of it is inflicted directly by women themselves. Remember, a mother is not the same as a mother-in-law. Ask any newly wed wife. Or for that matter any wife.
The confusion starts at an early age. The divine nature of Indian mother is obvious to any Indian child. When we are children, our mother would do anything for us: protect us, comfort us, educate us, and most importantly, love us unconditionally. When it comes to raising children with affection there is no better example in the whole world. Indian mothers want only one thing: the best for their children. And there is the root of confusion. What they think is best- not necessarily what is best for the children.
Indian mothers are gifted at the art spending enormous amount of effort, time, and energy attempting to do the best for their children only to end up in ruining their children’s lives. Trying to run their children lives, they ruin it. Talk about construction material for the road to heave. Their selfless attention to their children produces codependent adults. Their unending worry suffocates them to death. It is strange that how quickly Indian wives detects the flaws in their mothers-in-law, but fail to notice their own even when their daughters-in-law point it out. Just like the supreme power in Indian mythology, only Indian mothers have the strength to contain such contradictions without batting an eyelid.
Indian mothers are oblivious to irony when it comes to their children. This realization came early in life. On one occasion in my boyhood, I overhear a conversation between my aunt and my mother. My aunt was much older sister to my mother, and at that time was in the processes of getting her children married. The day in question was a few months after her only son’s marriage. Her older daughter was already married for a few years then. Her purpose of the visit was to retell her account of how the new daughter-in-law is taking advantage of her innocent son. My mother being a little sister and a good listener was a prime candidate for sharing such personal grief. For hours, she described how conniving my sister-in-law was and how she manipulated her naïve son. She produced detailed factual accounts and incidents to back her claims.
“You would not believe what she did to my son,” she said. “He would do anything that wife of his and his mother-in-law would ask. These days he would not hear any word I say.”
Finally, she announced with disgust that his metamorphosis from bipedal primate to quadrupedal ruminant mammal was complete. She must have been exhausted, because there was a pause. My mother took the silence as a sign for her to say something comforting.
“Do not worry. After all, he is your son,” my mother said. “He will never forget his own mother. I can assure you -”
“No. No. I do not worry,” my aunt said. “You know there is god, and he knows what a good person I am. He always opens a door when he closes one. I am lucky. Look at my son-in-law. He would do anything I say. He loves me more than his own mother.”
My brain still hurts when I think of it. How one recovers from experience like that. My mother always told me not to listen to adult conversations. I learned my lesson not to disobey her.
If Indian mothers were confusing in my boyhood, it got worse as I grew up. I would not burden you with description of all the stages. I only would mention the melancholic end of this mystery called Indian mother. They give up their whole life for their children. After their life long sacrifice, all they are left with are codependent adults who are incapable of happiness. And soon enough there comes a time, when the children change their dependency from their mother to someone else. That leaves the mother either vengeful or virulent. I cannot blame them, but it is sad.
In the rare case, if the children grow up to be happy individual, they break free of the dependency the Indian mothers crave for. In their freedom, the children break the tie leaving the mothers without a purpose in life: the mothers cannot imagine their life without the only thing they cared for so long. I am not sure if that emptiness is any less depressing.