So many designated days of the calendar have an apparently frivolous function. Mothers’ Day may appear to be one such- so the onus is to endow it with personal meaning, and imbue it with a relevant combination of nostalgic tribute and personal introspection.
My departed mother, Dr Louella Lobo Prabhu was a creative genius who enjoyed her share of fame in her allotted span of life, even as she deserved even greater recognition and renown. Traditional maternal instincts were perhaps secondary to her ardent pursuit of the creative life and performing arts, but her versatile span of activities and endeavours is my deepest inspiration. More than ever today, I revere her as my greatest role model, and feel grateful for the privilege of proximity to such a unique and gifted human being.
Mothers’ Day ought not to be limited in its focus on biological mothers. Many of us have known maternal surrogates who have nurtured us with the overflow of the parental spirit. Foremost of these for me was my beloved grandmother Dorothy Anne Castelino, who is a role model in my own affectionate indulgences with my children. A mother-in-law can often transcend the traditional stereotype to emerge as a compatible and caring individual. Though departed from our lives, I affectionately remember my husband’s mother Manjula Mehta – her lavish gifts, excellent cooking and most especially her valuable lessons in the care of my firstborn.
There are often enriching gifts of affection and encouragement from empathetic female elders – aunts, educators and mentors whose presence can make a significant difference in one’s life. It’s fitting also to appreciate those who embrace motherhood, not via the womb, but as a conscious decision of the heart as adoptive mothers. There is the often overlooked nobility of those who look after the orphans and marginalized as caregivers in the concerned and compassionate manner that deserves applause on Mother’s Day, beyond the automatic respect to biological labels. I would even include single fathers in this category. Not long ago, a habitation of eunuchs in India was gutted by fire, and many of these unfortunates with gender constraints perished. There was some controversy about awarding compensation to biological parents, when it was discovered that deep familial bonds existed in this complex and marginalized sub-culture. The surrogate attachments of offspring and parent can arise in almost any circumstance.
Mother figures, even in the abstract, have a certain impact on our lives. The most significant of these, of course, is Mother Nature, whose unbounded gifts are taken for granted to the shameful point of abuse. When you think of it, figures like the Virgin Mary and the Mother Goddesses of different faith systems translate to the spiritual realm of humanity’s trustful experience of the benevolent maternal spirit. One may appreciate also the benign mantle of educational institutions in achieving personal growth from the affectionate honorific of Alma Mater, Bounteous Mother.
With regard to personal parenting, one finds it is not even the dilemma of Kids versus Everything Else, but often the precarious tightrope walk between Kid A and Kid B, guided finally by whose need is greater at a point of time. It’s also a delicate balancing act between heeding their need for a parent’s presence, and giving them the space they simultaneously crave for personal evolution.
Even as I’ve benefited from multiple maternal figures in my life, I equally see my maternal instincts as being highly expansive in nature. The family pet is like another child with a special place in my heart. I’m conscious of a vast reserve of affection for my children’s friends and peers – a warm pleasure from interaction and a steadfast empathy with their concerns. The more troubled they seem the more I gravitate to them, often to the annoyance of my own. Equally, I feel grateful to all the wonderful ladies who’ve been there for my children in my absence- boarding house mothers, friends’ parents and many mentors.
Motherhood lends a peculiar combination of firmness and fire to the spirit – look around you at a parent-teacher meeting, and you will find mothers in a majority. I myself have never been short of articulation, whenever I felt children, (including or excluding my own) deserved a better deal, often leading to fruitful synergies for general benefit. My frequent speaking engagements in youthful fora, and forays into writing and directing Children’s Theater are an extension of the maternal role, inspired by the idea of positively influencing young lives. Likewise, the philanthropic spirit for me is strongly rooted in finding one’s own children mirrored in others, that prompts participation in feeding programs, educational sponsorships, various forms of assistance and reward.
Beyond my own species I also find myself expanding to a maternal sense that sees in every creature an entity once rooted in family, capable of the gamut of sensations in pain and pleasure that humans manifest. It’s a daily ritual, wherever I am, to venture out and feed the homeless creatures of the neighbourhood. Good mothers urge children not to waste anything on their plates. My own take is different – I firmly believe it’s a criminal waste to let inevitable leftovers rot in a bin – there’s always a hungry creature that can benefit, if we take the trouble to move out of personal comfort zones.
My ideal of parenthood increasingly embraces larger realities, like the environment, because I have to rationally envisage the kind of place that my great grandchildren and their descendants (or for that matter all present and future creation) must endure if we are thoughtless in this lifetime.
Here’s a warm wish on Mother’s Day, 2012 to every individual who has acted in a kindly capacity, with a heartfelt message to persevere in making the world a more thoughtful place.