By Deepshi Arya:
Motherhood is a bed of roses, in the lap of thorns with no prior inkling of the sleepless nights to come. The newborn ‘bundle of joy’ makes sure that you enjoy the late-night tantrums and of course, the scented potty. All these seem to joys of motherhood. But for Kamla who lives in Manarsa village in the state of Uttarakhand, the concept of the ‘joy of motherhood’ is nonexistent. She doesn’t consider it to be a privilege nor is it a sacrosanct feeling – for her it is a normal course in life. She goes about her daily chores with the additional duty of making sure her three-year-old, whom she still breastfeeds, survives. She does not understand the whole idea of reveling in the little moments of Divya’s first step or her first utterance nor does she bother about wiping Divya’s mouth or nose every time they get messy.
Kamla is not paranoid about the hygiene factor as I watched the mother and child sit on the rugged floor and giggle even as the flies rested on them. Kamla could afford to spend these moments with Divya because the community was in mourning due to a death in the neighbourhood. It’s fascinating how all villagers live as a family and they rejoice as well as mourn together. The neighbours usually perform the role of babysitters for Divya when Kamala has to go for ‘ghaaskatai’, (cutting of the grass from farms for fodder), a duty which every ‘pahadi’ woman has to carry out. She is proud and not concerned about Divya being under the care a neighbour. The children are not given constant attention by their mothers and verbal encouragement for every little feat of theirs, most of them go unnoticed.
“Apne aap chali jayegi,” (They will go on their own) said Kamla, when I tried to help Divya who was jumping down the rocky steps carved out of the hilly terrain, which looked taller than her little frame, clearly not matching the safety standards for my city trained eyes.
The pahadi way of life poses more challenges to the children in comparison to those living on the plains. It was a breath of fresh air to see Kamla teaching her child to accept sweets from a ‘stranger’ didi, while she welcomed me into her home with warmth and affection. It’s a different experience when compared to the air of mistrust that lingers in the lives of city dwellers.
Many city-bred mothers are often fussy about sanitising their hands and also of others around her child, to ensure a germ- free environment. On the other hand, Kamla is proud of the fact that her little one ate every piece of her ‘toja’, even those that fell on the muddy floor while chewing away the plastic wrapper which is considered a ‘no-no’ by many.
Kamla may not teach Divya rhymes and alphabets but she makes sure that she teaches her life skills and values of their culture. The way Kamla is raising Divya does not match the conventional idea of motherhood or all that is considered safe and hygienic, yet, this to me is a different kind of motherhood created by the space they occupy; a motherhood that is usually not spoken about. A motherhood that is not about measuring the child’s height and weight regularly or paying attention to every babble and every smile. It is not a motherhood of the privileged; it is the motherhood that every pahadi woman knows to be true. Her moments of pride are not when the child recites a rhyme but when the child happily runs and plays with all and even a stranger, and is also independent in its own way, while the mother is away performing back-breaking duties from dawn to dusk.