In the days gone by, roles were demarcated, men were the providers and women homemakers. This article is a tribute to those women who ceaselessly kept the home fires burning without any expectations whatsoever and without any thought of pursuing personal interests.
In our own home, my doctor father was the breadwinner, and my mother was the backbone of their nursing home. She would supervise the diets for all the inpatients, many times cooking the food herself, as my father was fastidious about the quality food his patients sampled. Utterly pampered, their whims were catered to, be it western diets, non vegetarian food, or a strictly vegetarian diet, tea with snacks and so on. I would always be amazed at my mother taking it all in her stride quietly 24x7, where bed tea soon ran into breakfast, then mid morning “chota”, then lunch at precisely 12.30. After a cat nap she would be up to serve tea for the patients, then early dinner. In between she catered to the demands of a young family which took her for granted. The staff and servants had to be fed, and I still recall the large balls of “kalli” (ragi balls) which were served to the servants along with piping hot curries, for sustenance and good health, not forgetting the mounds of rice which came later!
As if this were not enough, our home being the mother home as I call it, there were house guests and various droppers in. I still have the huge vessel my mother used to make biriyani in for her daughters and their families for every get together. Being hardbound non vegetarians, my father insisted on various kinds of meats and curries. Mummy as everyone calls her would be there to nurse us whenever we fell sick, care for our two grandfathers who lived with us, and duty bound, would take a walk most evenings to visit her sister and her family whenever time permitted.
This is just one example and in my mother’s time there were scores of other mothers who slaved in the home. Our annual visits to Madras even if it were in the heights of summer were enjoyable to us! That one month was the time my mother got a break. I used to admire my aunt who managed a huge mansion with a livery of servants whom she personally trained. She was another heroine who ran the household on oiled wheels and being open house, food was in plenty and absolutely delicious. The graciousness and warmth of the hospitality had to be seen to be believed, and in many ways we carry this tradition with us.
If I had my life to live all over again, I would have stood up and lectured the whole family on taking on some of the burdens these heroic women bore. Did any of us praise the householder? Did any of us offer to give her a break, taking her out for a movie, shopping, or a lunch out..? It was sacrilege to consider that, as shopping, accompanying the young things to movies etc was part of the schedule.
It falls to the lot of the woman generally to take on multifaceted roles and many a time as caregiver. Nature has built into the woman a different kind of psyche, which covers tenderness, caring and commitment. However good a son might be, it is impossible for him to care for his aged parents the way the daughter can, sometimes attending on them hand and foot. The new gen woman juggles with home and career, and it is an immense strain for her to cope with the mental trauma of illness, time management and running the household. Unlike her older counterpart, today’s woman needs appreciation and help from her partner, to ease the load off her multi-tasking.
The mother image changes with each generation. For us, mother was a constant presence, to kiss a bruised knee, or to apply the awful iodine, and blow away the pain. Her lap was there for us to lie on and hugs there in plenty at any time of the day. Fathers were unseen authorities, to be obeyed, because they made the rules.
Today’s fathers are delightfully different, even Indian papas! They bathe the baby, participate, change nappies, witness the birth of the child and are willing to share household duties, at least a large percentage of them, though side by side, one has to accept the hard boiled MCPs. Both parents make a concerted effort to spend quality time with the children.
One last word about a real hero, Manohar Devadoss who quietly attended to his quadriplegic wife, giving her a meaningful life despite her terrible handicap. With his delightful sense of humour, he pampered Mahema, pulled her leg, goaded her into attemping new skills though confined to the wheelchair. To attend cultural shows, he would carry her into the car, turn her around at night so she didn’t develop bed sores, and what he did for her was legion. All this when he was nearly blind, and it was a handicap which never deterred him from writing books, leaning on his wife’s vision, and painting exsquisite pictures. With Mahema’s help he donated large sums to charity. An exemplary couple, the Devadosses to me are role models who have heaped sunshine out of adversity. God give Manohar strength to carry on his life without his beloved life partner. This is one unsung hero I thought I would talk about, before I am accused of gender bias!