Friday, November 26, 2010

On motherhood.........

Starry eyed had raised a question in her post on whether a surrogate mother, mother to an adopted child or a woman who has lost a child due to death or miscarriage and one who has been cut off from her children for whatever reason is still a mother. The inputs from her readers are interesting and most agree that a mother need not necessarily be a biological one to qualify as a mother. Surrogate mothers as well as those who adopt children are all mothers. Surrogacy and adoption are to my mind more superior forms of motherhood because society’s prying eyes keep watching them at every step and dealing with them is much more tough– this thankfully is a problem that biological mothers do not face. However, motherhood is a social responsibility in itself and however hard one tries on hind sight there is always a lingering doubt as to whether one has failed in this or the other aspect.

I have been a mother for 36 years and my role as a mother has seen its ups and down despite having tried my best. But one of the conditions mentioned bothers me. Does a person who is cut off from her child for whatever reason qualify to be a mother? Cut off from one’s children? Is it possible, I wonder? One may be physically cut off from her child but emotionally? Not easy at all I feel.

When I was growing up it was normal for children to be raised by grandparents’ preferably maternal grandparents. It was not unusual to have 4 to 6 children in quick succession so the older children would be conveniently left behind to make life easy for the mother. My own grandfather had at least 6 grandchildren staying with him since their fathers had transferable jobs and their schooling was getting disrupted. I often used to wonder how the children felt about it. While a mother may still feel connected to the child would a child feel the same way?

My father in law and his brothers had all left their oldest son to be educated and looked after by their grandparents mainly because Jamshedpur being far off they felt that this was a way to help their daughters. I had myself left my daughter with my mother for a year just when she had begun to recognize me and would refuse to go to anyone from my lap. It was not easy to not listen to her first words and watch her take her first steps. But then I had my compulsions and I hope I haven’t been considered less a mother because of it.

Having said this I come back to the original question. Who is a mother in the real sense? A biological mother has an edge over others in that she gets to decide what is best for her child. I know of a girl who did not conceive even 6 years of marriage and she decided to adopt her husband’s younger sister’s third child – a daughter. Within a year she got pregnant and had a biological child – again a daughter. As far as I can see she is good to both children and treats them at par. But her parents in law keep looking for subtle differences in their upbringing even where there are none. With time she got frustrated and showed them the door. According to her they were being over protective about the adopted child who was by chance their biological granddaughter too and were poisoning the child’s mind. It was impossible to raise the children as long as they interfered. If one’s own family views a mother’s intention towards her adopted child with suspicion why not the world around her?

A mother to my mind is one who knows to strike a balance between the affection that she feels for the child and the responsibility that she faces in making him/her a person fit enough to take his/her place in society. It is not easy but one has to try. When my children were in their primary classes my husband would drop them to school and they would come home by local transport. On rare occasions I would pick them up from school on my way back from college. The thought of my children standing in the sun waiting for a bus was not very comforting but I could not bring myself to leave a little early to pick them up. It was equally difficult for me to ask for favors from my colleagues in college on a daily basis. But then I encouraged them to go to school by cycle and they became independent pretty soon. So these little set backs actually worked in their favor – so what if the world considered me a bad mother who was hard on her kids.

And then what about mothers whose intentions are good but approach is questionable. Like a mother in a joint family who supposedly would carry a pail full of buttermilk with thick curd at the bottom. While serving her own children she’d take out the curd from the bottom and serve diluted buttermilk to other children in the group. While I agree that individual care for one’s own children is not possible in a joint family set up some middle path has to be adopted. May be the buttermilk and curd could be churned together so that all children get to consume a fairly nutritious diet. I feel a mother needs to be fair minded if she wants her children to get the right message regarding their interactions with their peers.

I’ve almost forgotten another group of mothers - the step mothers. They are the most maligned group among mothers. True, the step mother who has to bond with a child who is not her own and who is a constant reminder of a woman who was once an important person in her husband’s life. Like the case of mothers of adopted children she has to walk on tight rope. I had discussed about a few step mothers who were very caring and affectionate in this post of mine and pointed out that despite the impression one has about the group, there are several who are very good mothers and let us give them due credit.

I have seen women without issues being universal mothers. Having one’s own children has acted as a limiting factor. You love your own children and are so focused that there is no real need to look around and spare a moment for other children. But very often a childless aunt makes herself available whenever approached. She is able to treat a whole bunch of nieces, nephews and other children in the neighborhood with equal affection and one wonders whether her not having children of her own was because she was destined to be mother to more children than she could have ever borne herself? I know of one such person myself and remember her with the same affection that I have for my own mother.

I have to conclude by saying that the natural maternal instinct shown by a woman has little to do with bearing and rearing a child. It cannot be attributed to biological mothers alone. What makes one a mother in the true sense of the word is her ability to understand the responsibility that is involved in grooming children to become an integrated part of society. Anyone who fulfils the role is indeed a mother whether or not she happens to be a biological one.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Endorsing corrupt practices???

The TV is full of news about corruptions and scams. A survey conducted by the news channel CNN-IBN points out that politicians and bureaucrats are mainly responsible for the present situation. I, for one, strongly believe that a situation, good or bad, takes a while to develop and take shape and if it were not for the indifference shown by the common man, no one, however highly placed, could have got away with being part of a multi - crore scam. So in a way I am as responsible as the scamsters for the situation.

Long back, when I had just taken admission in a local college to do my masters, I was told that one of my class mates had perhaps tampered with her B. Sc. Results. Those were days when results were announced in local news papers and according to the news paper the girl had obtained a second division but her mark sheet indicated that she had first division marks. She could not have otherwise got admitted to the master’s program since the cut off marks for the year was 62.5 and our HOD being a very strict person would not have allowed her entry. I was about 12 to 14 years older than my class mates and having worked in a college for nearly 5 years I knew that very often due to printing mistakes the results announced in newspapers are often incorrect and I said as much to my class mates. Just then the girl in question arrived and when confronted she openly said that her father being an IAS officer was in a position to influence people and she had indeed been favored. Had the rest of us been in her position we might have done the same. It happened all the time and her father in turn would oblige people with favors when his turn came. I was too shocked to respond. The girl however did not continue for long. She married a man in the administrative services and left within months. I can only make guesses regarding the favors her children might have obtained along the way since they had not only a father but also a grand father lobbying for favors on their behalf. Not that I could have done much but the least I could have done was to have voiced my protest/opinion in the matter. But I did not. I felt that she would not understand since her upbringing was different. She was brought up to believe that she was entitled to certain favors by virtue of her dad’s position.

We later had a student whose dad was a senior professor in a reputed college. The girl was bright enough to obtain a first division by her own efforts. But her brother was an IAS topper and had a brilliant academic record. She was under tremendous pressure from her family to top the batch. Her dad would ring up evaluators and examiners and casually pass on her roll number to them. However, the examiners were not influenced and she did not top the class let alone the entire batch in her undergrad examination. She went on to do her masters and was caught cheating on the final day of the university examination and was debarred. She later got married and left the town. If her father had not interfered she would have managed to pass with good marks. But the man wanted to flaunt her as being outstanding and she ended up being disgraced and debarred. I wonder why we could never bring ourselves to tell the father that he ought to leave her alone. He was a very senior academician and a good teacher. But is there any rule that says that his daughter had to be the best? We found excuses to remain silent and our respect for a senior colleague was just one of them.

Can we blame our politicians and others in influential positions for being corrupt? Are we not endorsing the practice by our silence? Do we not want to have it easy? Are we not suggesting to our youth that greasing palms and skipping the queue once in a way is okay. “Who has the time?…………” is the usual refrain. We catch hold of agents who in turn bribe dealing assistants to get forms submitted or for files to be moved from table to table.

What then is the solution? Frankly I wouldn’t know. I end with a story about the HOD of our PG department. He was a principled man and stood in a queue to submit his tax return form. He saw people paying the clerk Rs. 2/- each while submitting the form and ventured to ask why the money was being collected when his turn came. The clerk looked up and said “please wait I’ll let you know.” He put his form aside and went on to collect other forms. Finally after making him stand in the scorching sun for nearly 2 hours and after the last person left the man gave him the acknowledgement slip and said-

“Log apni khushi se diye aur hum liye. Apko koi taklif hai kya?”

(People gave me money of their own accord and I accepted it from them. Does this bother you in any way?)

This happened some 30 years back. No one knew why they had to pay the clerk. They paid him just because others were paying him and thought that it was perhaps expected of them. Like all other aspects of life corruption too has become part of our lives. They day it affects our dignity self respect it will probably die a natural death.

Monday, November 08, 2010

Down the memory lane - 2

I was upset when I heard that my good friend Prema’s older brother Raju passed away. No, he was not young nor did he leave behind dependents. He was schizophrenic and in the care of another brother who himself has retired from his services in the Railways. So, in a way it was good that he did not suffer from any prolonged illness and died a peaceful death. The news of his death took me back in time when Ramu, the main supporter and bread winner in their family died an untimely death just 6 weeks after his marriage leaving behind him his wife who had waited for 8 long years to marry him, his ailing mother and a schizophrenic brother. That was 26 years ago. His death was a shock not only to his family but to all of us who had bonded with them. The other brother had married a colleague and their marriage was not very well received by the family – at least not initially. Prema was Ramu’s right hand as long as she was unmarried but at the time of his death she was trying to adjust with the customs of the family she had married into and could not be of much help to them – neither financially nor emotionally. His wife was inconsolable and her anger was unjustifiably directed towards the family who she accused of having hidden the truth of his illness from her. That was however an entirely different matter and deserves a separate post.

My husband was present at the crematorium when Ramu’s body went up in flames. If anyone else had narrated the story I would have rubbished the entire episode. My husband is a serious minded person and would never have repeated what happened in the ghat unless it was authentic and this is what he said –

Those were days when Jamshedpur did not have an electric crematorium and wood was used for the purpose. It seemed Ramu’s body was taking very long to burn despite the huge amount of wood that was being used. People who had gathered there were surprised since his body was frail and wasted on account of his illness. Someone suggested that Ramu’s soul was not prepared to go since he was worried about his mother and schizophrenic brother and his brother G, working with the railways should make a promise that he would look after both of them. It was an emotional moment for all present when G spoke with tear filled eyes. He said –

Ramu, please leave in peace. I promise to look after amma and Raju in the best possible manner as long as they live. This is a promise that I‘ve made in the presence of so many witnesses and will always strive to fulfill it.”

Having said this he broke down.

Twenty six years have gone by and I must add that G did keep his promise to his older brother. He took his mother and older brother with him to the place of his posting. Ramu’s widow laid claim to his LIC and provident fund contributions refusing to consider the plight of his mother and brother. One could hardly blame her. She had not bonded with the family and she saw this as a means to settle scores with them. She had a job and parting with at least a part of his settlement money may not have mattered. However, the choice was hers and she chose not to have any consideration for them. She also took away anything of value in their house saying that all of it belonged to her. Ramu’s mother died within a year of his death and it was the responsibility of G to look after his brother.

And did he keep his promise. Fortunately for him G and his wife took good care of the mentally challenged brother. They saw to it that he was given his regular dose of medication and treated him as normally as possible. They involved him in household chores and encouraged their daughter to bond with him. She is now doing her Ph.D in Kolkata. Uncle and niece would have long telephonic conversations. He would tell her that he planned to buy her a gold chain.

And how would you get me the chain?’ she’d ask. “Do you have the money for it?’

In his naivety Raju would reply – “I have put aside money from the money your dad gives me as spending money and I’ll buy you a chain as soon as you get your degree.

Unfortunately for him, he did not live to see the day.

Prema told me that it was not easy dealing with Raju. He would get aggressive at times and refuse to listen to anyone. G and his wife would be at wits end not knowing how to deal with him. But they never complained or asked any of his sisters to look after him for a change. I can only pray that the Almighty showers His blessings on their family because they have done their bit without a grudge.

My faith in the goodness of mankind takes a beating when I hear of scamsters and conniving politicians. It gets restored when I hear about the likes of G and his wife. They are just middle class people with a modest income but they are large hearted and that is what matters in the long run.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Happy Deepavali

Let me wish each one of you a very happy Deepavali and a prosperous New Year.

Deepavali brings a lot of memories along with it - the main being the anticipation that we felt earlier and has gone missing now. When I was growing up it was an occasion to look forward to new clothes and a whole lot of sweets. My mother would wake us up at dawn and we would have an oil bath before daybreak. The sweets and savories prepared earlier would be distributed. Crackers would be burst and we’d enjoy the day with carefree abandon. We’d go for fireworks at the club in the evening and get treated to a sumptuous dinner following the fireworks.

Then came a time when we became parents ourselves and things changed a bit. Oh yes, the early morning bath, and distribution of sweets was all there. But we had been elevated to the role of planners. Deepavali coincided with the time my husband received his annual bonus. We’d revise the budget over and over again making sure that everything was covered. Starting from curtains and bed linen to a shawl for my father in law as well as shoes for school going children everything would be included apart from the new clothes for every member of the family. It was a pleasure hunting for the best deals and contrary to the claim I make in my posts about not caring too much for shopping, I’d actually enjoy the experience. Sweets and savories were always home made except for jelebis that I do not know to prepare. When the children were small I would put them to sleep and start preparing sweets after 10 pm with my husband to assist me and together we would put them away in air tight steel containers sprinkling a little germaxine in and around the area to keep away the ants. This continued for the first 25 years of my marriage.

Has it changed now? In a way it has. I still prepare sweet for distribution because this is one occasion that my friends look forward to mainly because it is home made. I keep announcing that this year was the last time I was taking the trouble and we would order sweets from the caterers from ‘the next year’ and like ‘tomorrow’ it never seems to come. But all else has changed. It is long since I stopped shopping for Diwali. I seem to have a saree or two that I hadn’t worn and bed linen and curtains don’t have to be replaced every year. Moreover there is no bonus to look forward to so we buy stuff whenever we feel like it.

‘Tata Steel has announced 20% bonus and Tin plate only 15%’…………

That was once upon a time it has no meaning now.

The only anticipation we have now is that of phone calls from our near and dear ones including our children.

“A Very Happy Deepavali” to one and all of you.