Angels in the bedraggled earth


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Category: Women Date: 14 May 00

As your eyes carelessly scan this page millions of women are in various stages of childbirth - in fields, and huts, homes, apartments, hospitals and health centres. A few are alone and scared, but many, even the poor or obscure, are not.


No matter where or how this happens, it is seen as an important event. Every birth is greeted with a unanimous astonishment and acknowledgement of the vast unknown. Despite the problems of overpopulation, India recently celebrated the birth of its billionth baby. The birth is greeted with shouts in every conceivable language and culture of “It’s a miracle!”


A lifetime of intensity is poured into these moments: the wave of undiluted pain comes pounding in, subsides and rolls back with a more forceful crash, forcing out cries that burst out from the depths of a woman. From her cocoon of pain she dimly hears shouts to bear down, hold back, push, as if they are from another world, nothing to do with her. The faces of doctors and midwives in crisp blinding white of glints of steel, masks and gloves are a blur. She barely feels the hands she is clutching for support.


Finally, wrapped up in red life-forming placenta, a tiny body emerges out of her ripped body. With the child, she is handed a lifetime injection of love tinged with the pain that comes from loving too much. Her tears, her sweat pouring from her brow, her flowing and clotted mess of blood is mingled now with relief, laugher, and exhaustion, wonder, and above all hope.


And something changes in the woman - she is no longer a human being with selfish desires. Even after cord is cut, even if she or her baby dies the mystical ties that bind her to the child remains tightly bound, flowing somewhere together into the stream of the universe.


Living Paintings


The mother and child, Madonna and bambino, have been immortalised by great painters, Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael, Botticelli; in Hindu Mythology; in the earliest cave etchings, in world art, literature and history.


But this is no static tableau to be admired at in an art gallery. There are millions of living paintings around us in our modern age. The images no less endearing for their ordinary-ness, perhaps more so, since they go unrecognised unseen. Consider a few:

·        A mother sits in her working clothes pumping out breast milk into a container for her newborn and swallows her tears after dropping her child to the baby sitter so she looks smart for the office meeting. Like a juggler she finds ways to somehow hold down a job, find time for her child, rush to the supermarket and drug store, make PTA meetings, and time to bake a birthday cake.

·        A mother gets her pay docked, and puts up with angry employers and threats so she can spend the day taking her sick child to the hospital. An inner barometer in her will happily forego self-preservation to safeguard her child’s health.

·        A mother sits in a camp where hundreds like her are battling famine, with her baby to her breast, too weak to even brush away flies, but her grip on her baby doesn’t weaken even after she or the baby dies.

·        A mother at home spends all day taking care of three children: makes sure they brush their teeth, get their meals on time, wipes bottoms, and tears, fights back anger when they don’t listen or disrespect her, takes them to school and lessons, spends time over their homework, admonishes, hugs, and praises, dispenses advice and medicine, separates fights, and tries to teach them the small curtsies like please and thank you and the big ones, like right from wrong.


In Between


In between there somewhere she forgets who she is, suppresses her longing for her paintbrush or office, travel or ambition. She wonders at night, when it’s quiet or over the kitchen sink, where all the years, and the carefree laughter and the sense of possibility went. Forgets that she has a body and mind that needs care. When her children are grown and sophisticated, they come and go, like butterflies, chastising her for her old fashioned ways. She continues to love them, and suffer pangs of pain when they are in trouble or go away, or buy a motorcycle or are out too late.

·        A mother sits by her critically ill child who nearly drowned for trying to save a friend. As she passes her hands over his brow she thanks God for his courage, his good heart, and then goes numb with fear, rocking up and down as if in a trance, “I can’t lose him, I can’t lose him.” She is not alone. A thousand mothers feel for her.

·        A mother thinks of the worst thing that could ever happen to her is her child dying before she does. The child dies. But she never lets the child go. She holds on to that child, and by a supreme act of will, keeps him or her alive in her heart, because if she didn’t do that she couldn’t live.

·        A mother shops and laughs, travels and gossips with her children who drop in all the time to see her. Somehow she is among the luckiest ones. She has learned to hold on, not with guilt, or recriminations, but with a wacky sense of humour and wit that never grows old. She has become their friend without asking for anything in return because she too has made a full life for herself. She has given them the gift of independence, of huge spaces and possibilities, of going after impossible dreams, because she was brave and wise enough to recognise that although she loves her children she has her own destiny. She may have had to go away for periods of time - may have not always been there to comb their hair or pick them up after a fall, but by allowing herself to fulfil her own potential she has given them the gift of theirs.


There are so many types of mothers. Call it a mystic tie, a finer, purer tie than any ties that bind. Whatever it is, you, our mothers gone, and mothers present, mothers to be, and mothers who’ve lost their children, working mothers, frail mothers, mothers who’ve adopted, and those who’ve had to give up their babies, will go on being what you’ve always been, angels in this bedraggled earth of ours.


The difference is even if it is just for one day, today, Mothers’ Day, we acknowledge you.


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All Articles Copyright Ira Mathur