“I have to get an article published for Mother’s day,” said a friend speaking of her work as a PR. The article, as my friend said, had an advertisement touch to it for a particular brand. When my friend said so, it reminded me of an argument that a senior friend, associated closely with the right-wing politics, said few years ago. He had said, as one can expect, “This is not our culture. This is western culture. We don’t have one particular day to celebrate for our mothers. Our culture sees mother in the earth, in the nation state, in water, in food. Ours is the land which said maatra devo bhava equating mother to God…” and a lot. Saying this he made a connection to market, marketing and the celebration of these days, which made sense. The sentiments attached to mother, as my senior friend saw, was being encashed, for selling of products and this made him uncomfortable and also angry.
As I listened to my friend speak of her official duties and recollected my senior friend’s arguments there were two narratives which I remembered. One, what Shabnam Hashmi recollected in an article which went unpublished. Second one, the story from the life of Tripti Mitra, as recollected by Shamik Bandhopadhyay.
Recently ‘Tribune’ asked Shabnam Hashmi to write an article on the status of Muslim women in Gujarat. Once she gave her article they refused to publish it and said they would publish her writings some other time provided it was less controversial. In her article Shabnam begins the series of narrative with the story where a mother, during the Gujarat 2002 riots, is hiding in bushes, clutching her two children close to her chest while her elder daughter is being brutalized, stripped naked, gang raped; her breasts cut off and burnt to death. Shabnam writes, “The helplessness of the mother, the choice of being killed herself along with the two children or letting the daughter be massacred without registering a protest haunts me,” and adds “In the initial months every time I met her she kept mumbling,’ I am ashamed to be a mother; I am ashamed to be a mother’.”
Shamik Bandhopadhyay sir, while speaking at Heggodu this year, recollected an episode from the life of Tripti Mitra which was narrated to him by the artist herself in an interview. Tripti Mitra, said Shamik sir, was working as a volunteer during Bengal famine. She was cooking food and distributing it to the hungry. This experience is said to have affected her a lot and its impact on her was seen later during her performance in the play Nabanna. Once near the food camp Tripti Mitra is said to have seena lady with her children who, once saw the rice starch flowing out of the kitchen outlet ran towards it and drinking it. Her children came running after her to get some rice starch. But the mother pushed them away and continued to drink the rice starch. The children cried as they stood away in fear. After a while the mother realized what she had done and feeling ashamed started crying. Recollecting this episode tripti Mitra said Shamik Sir that the children later consoled the mother.
The world which encashes on human sentiments for business purposes is sickening but what is more painful and sickening is the way we have structured this world where within the large framework of violence we see a mother helplessly watching violence being unleashed on her daughter and a mother who gets, I use the word hesitantly, violent over her own children.
But then I ask myself, how to understand the cases of honor killings where, at times, the mother herself leads the community in killing her own daughter or a son? Is it the structure of society which has shaped the mother in such a way to believe that honour is more important and get violent over her own children? Or am I romanticizing the idea of a mother too much, as a friend of mine tells me always? Then I remember the writing of a new friend where my friend writes in the lines of ‘my mother betrayed me’ without elaborating what the story is. No, I can’t buy arguments once placed before me by my parents saying, there can be a bad son or daughter but there can’t be a bad mother. I had argued saying that one doesn’t become a mother just for having given birth to a child.
But as and when I believe that every child gives birth to a mother, I do not completely believe that biology has much to do with motherhood. This is what Anand Patwardhan once told me when I told him that I feel sad because I can never be a mother. Then Anand had told me that a teacher is also a mother. Vaidehi, I remember, once saying that there is a motherly quality in men too. Quoting the example of Gandhi and many more she had said, “It is this motherly quality which will save the world.” So the warmth of a mother makes a mother, I think I can say. This warmth is important.
We have constructed a world of violence where mothers are helpless and we, in this world, need the warmth of a mother to make us more humane and liberate us from the violence that surrounds us. And what is also important, as another senior friend of mine (Shivasunder) says, is to have a motherly affection for the world.