The other day, my grandma was telling us about her childhood. She was the sixth sibling among the seven kids. Her mother had borne five daughters and two brothers, before succumbing to death during the birth of the eighth, a stillborn child.
My grandma was hardly four years old then and the youngest sister was around two. But the horrific part is that the people in the village pierced two long iron needles in the mother’s feet before cremation. This was done to ensure that she does not come back as a ghost or spirit to tend to her infants.
That reminds me of a story by Mahashweta Devi, “Bayen” about a mother who was declared a witch by society. She belonged to the family whose job was to bury the dead infants of the village. And as she was the heir to that tradition, she had to do the same. The job never affected her until she became a mother herself. The trouble started when she started imagining the dead child as her own.
Every parent in the world would be shattered at the loss of their child and that is what she experienced every time she had to bury a child. The torture was enough to affect her psychology and she begged her husband about quitting the job. But for society, it was not just any job- it was a duty that only she could perform. The husband followed their suit.
She cried at one such burial and since she was a mother of a six months old, her breast flowed with milk. This was enough for the villagers to declare her a witch and abandon her in the forest. She had to leave her family and could not see her child.
I always wonder as to how could people act so monstrously. I am amazed at the incomprehensibility of people to understand and respect the fact that a mother has borne the child for nine months inside and will always be worried about her children. I’m in no way saying that fathers don’t feel the same. But in a country where motherhood is glorified to divert women from asking equal pay and equal rights, how can people belittle the suffering of a mother?
A woman has to undergo extreme pain during childbirth, but still, people want her to keep on going through the experience again and again. And if that is not enough, if the child turns out to be bad, she is the one to blame. If she has undergone a loss of child or miscarriage, she is taunted now and then, leading her to feel guilty and hence, developing an unstable mind. She is declared a witch because she expressed how she felt. They won’t even let her rest in peace and declare her a ghost because she cared for her children.
This is all so confusing. If after the excruciating labour pain, people still term a mother a failure or a witch or foolish to understand the needs of her child, I think it is better not to become a mother in the first place. I am not saying that it is not a beautiful experience, but ‘traditional’ India is no place for a mother who finds strength in her motherhood; balances her professional and personal life; who, even after no contribution of the father in the upbringing of the child emotionally and physically, does not complain about her fatigue; who forgets about her personal space and loses her “self” in the process of becoming a mother.
I remember how my mother had travelled alone from our hometown to Pune just for me. My mom- who has never been out of the home without my father or aunt or some relative to even a distant store- she endured an eight-hour journey just because I said that I am unable to cope with my submissions and the hectic schedule of classes and surveys on my own.
I can’t even imagine how scared she must have felt when she was on the bus with only my dad’s phone which she didn’t even know how to operate. She had the strength of steel to have fought against the family to visit me on such short notice.
Motherhood surely is a miracle! But is losing oneself in the process of becoming a mother worth it? Why aren’t their questions raised on a father about being an absent parent in the process? Why does a mother have to struggle so hard to become a supermom?
Why isn’t it okay for a mother to relax or forget the favourite dish of the child? When will the society understand that a mother is still an individual and has the freedom of choice? When we have the answers to these questions, maybe we will be able to decide whether motherhood is a boon or a curse in a woman’s life.