it’s called sacrifice

Alli thantha bhoomi, Annai alla va, Solli thantha vaanam, Thanthai alla va. (Isn’t the ever-giving Earth like our mother, isn’t the sky that teaches you like our father?) I disliked this song even before I became a mother. The cloying sweetness of Malaysia Vasudevan’s voice and the lyrics had me pressing skip on my iPod. Now, post baby, the opening lines of the song are all it takes to give me a seizure. That’s saying a lot, considering I have a 10-month-old boy who likes to pull knives out of the dishwasher. Alli thantha bhoomi, Annai alla va. So there you have it ladies and gentlemen, motherhood encapsulated in one pithy line. And if you like your encapsulations even shorter, then the word you’re looking for is sacrifice.
Soon after producing an heir to the family throne, relatives and friends gathered round and congratulated my husband while I was taken aside by a coterie of maamis and given the bad news. “A mother’s life is nothing but sacrifice. You live only for your children,” they sighed before smiling.
It is a smile (or is it a grimace?) I have since come to recognise.
I realise that most women sign up to the ‘Mothering Club’ willingly and are aware that acquiring membership requires letting go of certain things. Like all-night benders and cocktails at lunch. High heels don’t really go with prams. Sleep, sex and Saturday morning lie-ins are all things that belong in history books. Body parts lose shape that no amount of Kegel exercises will ever tighten.
Ok, I get it. But what I don’t understand is the argument that we are supposed to accept all this quietly with a smile. Why are we not allowed to resist kicking and screaming? Why do we have to be all zen about motherhood?
Last week a reader wrote the following (among other things) to me in an e-mail. “It is a mother’s responsibility to take care of her child and if you did not want to do that you should not have got one.” And “ I understand you are from London and your mindset must be such but you are still Indian and I wish you would retain some of those characteristics with you.”
Now to be fair, I never wrote that I didn’t want to look after my son, just that it would be nice to have the occasional day off from child rearing. After all, doesn’t everyone get days off from work? And perhaps that’s where the problem lies.
Motherhood is seen as some kind of divine, mystical calling that fills women with inner light. In reality, raising a child is work. Hard, physically exhausting, unpaid, vacationless and without perks work that fills some of us with varying degrees of inner rage, self-pity and frustration. And the idea that Indian mothers somehow don’t feel this way, is as ridiculous as saying that my good mother gene has been corrupted by London, home to some of the world’s worst mothers.Example: Queen Elizabeth who refuses to just keel over and die and make way for old Charlie.

I don’t know whom to blame in all this. Movies are probably a good place to start what with their perfect maternal figures sacrificing everything from their vision to their last gold bangle. TV commercials aren’t helping matters with Horlicks ammas and cooking oil aathas. Or perhaps I should be blaming that entire group of martyred mothers who sacrificed and smiled and then asked the next generation to do the same.

(In this week’s Zeitgeist)

Also, happy Birthday to blogger, film maker, writer and mother of two who makes it all look so easy, is happy to admit that it isn’t, is always available when I feel like I’m about to explode with non-motherliness and refuses to tell me what she’s on. What would I do without you? Come on Ammani, percocet right?


17 thoughts on “it’s called sacrifice

  1. Gosh, I soooooo agree with you. I am going to have a baby soon and I am certainly not going to kill myself over being a mom! We need to take care of our little ones, yes, but not sacrifice our own individuality in the process.

    Just y’day my mom was giving me this dialogue that while delivery is a birth to the baby its like a re-birth to the mom!!! I wanted to roll on the floor laughing. Such ideas might have been true in India in the dark ages, but today the medical care we get is so good (esp’ly here in the US, UK), when is the last time we ever heard of some woman dying on the birthing table?
    You should write back to that woman to stop reading your blog if she doesn’t agree with your ideas! Whats she doing on the internet anyway?….instead of looking after her kid? Hahahaha!!!

  2. Ooooh!! My pet peeve. Totally agree with you. Flippin’ movies with their amma and thali sentiment!

    I’m not a mum yet, but these are the exact sentiments I have voiced, rather vehemently, to several people in the last few years. I’ve been warned (cursed?!) by some very offended souls that I’ll eat my words once I have a baby. 😀

    Not, I guess! And hope.

  3. As I commented at another blog recently, motherhood sticks on, whether or not your kids do. It’s like a body organ – sometimes vestigial. I live with it, often with great joy, often with immense frustration.

    Movies and AVM megaserials are much to blame, but I would place quite a bit of the blame, in my case at least, on my mum. Whenever I scream at the kids for meddling with my mobile, I recall Amma NEVER calling anything her own. Always sacrificing, always living for our sake. I continue to scream at the kids, but with a tinge of guilt.

  4. Grr…! I know exactly how you feel. And as inba pointed out, even if I don’t always have this contant pinging in my head that I “should not” even want to have needs outside of my children and family, I have dozens of female relatives who will helpfully point that out. Both my husband and I hate to cook – before our kids (my life is neatly divided into 2 segments now -BK and AK) and I remember(fondly) that we ate out anywhere and everywhere and if I cooked, it was with the understanding that that food would last us for as long as it was not growing stuff on it. Now I resent the fact that I worry about my kids’ nutrition and that they are not born with the ability to switch cuisines and the abitlity to eat whatever, wherever and I have to cook to keep my guilt from pounding me to death. And I hate it that people point with this smug “I-told-you-so” expression that motherhood changes you 😦

  5. I join the list of people who are as incredulous as me –
    wow – you get mails like this one?

    A little story – I had met Nirupa Roy for some research I was doing. I was Amitabh and Shashi’s leading lady in Deewar, not the character artiste. Changed the way i looked at the crying, sacrificing mothers on screen for ever.

  6. A few weeks ago, during the phone call home, on the eve of my cousins wedding, one of the chithappas enquired about the lad and even before I could ask him if anyone would be willing to adopt the young man, I was given one long lecture on how the lad is the future and that I should live my life for him. Bah

  7. I totally agree! As a soon-to-be-mom, I am so afraid of loosing my individuality that everyday I repeat to myself that I will not. This is construed as selfish as some…but eh if they can’t understand I really don’t care! This does not mean that I am going to be the best mom to my kid, I am hoping to do both!!!!

  8. I cannot blv someone actually sent a mail that way ; I am all the more surprised bcoz I have not seen any thing suggestive of that.

    These are the reasons why I think I do not want to have a baby.(I am not even married as yet!). Motherhood scares me – it is like knowingly signing urself for a lifetime of worry amongst other things.


  9. i totally agree. those who claim that motherhood is not a struggle are lying to themselves and others. look, lets all stop pretending to be perfect and be open about how we feel. it will benefit everyone in the end.

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