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.
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?