Mum is the word in India these days.
Motherhood, Mother India, Gau Mata and Maa Durga.
This Women's Day, I choose to be a mum, without being mum.
Women's empowerment and motherhood discourses crisscross each other, often ensnaring the individuals in jargon and platitudes. For the sake of unravelling the tangles, let us take one role at a time.
Like many women across the world, I did not choose to be a mother, nor was I prepared. My daughter was born five days before my twenty-fourth birthday, two months before my first marriage anniversary. I was still at the university.
What defines my relationship with Nyasa is that we have been mutually cherished travel partners ever since she came into my womb. These journeys have transformed me into a woman that does not give up. Many women have similar stories: here are some glimpses from mine.
|With baby Nyasa in Jaisalmer.
Three months into pregnancy, I was pushed on the road by a rogue auto-rickshaw driver when I told him to charge by meter. I took the man to police, filed an FIR, and went to Tis Hazari court after three years to testify.
In the sixth month, my vehicle was gheraoed by the stone-pelting mob on a road in Baramulla, Kashmir. The mum in me chose to be mum there.
On the return flight to Delhi after a month, the aircraft was caught in unusual weather turbulence and the competing chants of Hanuman Chalisa and Aayatul Kursi filled the cabin. I resolved to protect my child's right to choose her belief, if we made it alive to the ARRIVALS.
After the separation of the umbilical cord, Nyasa and I have been travelling extensively across the country using all possible means of transport. We have attended literary, music and film festivals across the country together.
I have only recently read that travel is one of the best parenting tools.
Back then, it was not a matter of choice. I'd realised that I couldn't leave my daughter at the mercy of hired helps. When I travelled for seminars, Nyasa accompanied me. When I presented papers in that beloved Arts Faculty room in DU, my infant slept or cried in her father's lap who came down from the snow-capped peaks. He admitted that handling a baby was way more difficult than handling Kalashnikov-toting militants. The former disarms you in no time.
|In Kutch, Gujarat.
Apart from the family vacations, Nyasa and I have undertaken many trips together. Just the two of us. From hills to deserts to seas to plains. Travelling with her alerted me to a strange dichotomy. While women travellers, solo or in all women's group, are growing in number, very few women holiday with their children. It is still a full family affair. A woman-child duo, unaccompanied by a man, still baffles people.
During a hill vacation as I sat demurely with Nyasa watching people dancing around the bonfire, she forced me to join the group. A few minutes into dancing, a man approached me and said, "I don't understand your intentions. With child one moment, dancing the very next." I remember that my answer "Dancing mothers raise happy children" baffled him even more.
Similarly, during our road trip in Gujarat last year, even the most liberated minds found it unusual for a mother-daughter duo to traverse the state. "India mein aisa dekha nahi." In Gujarat, Nyasa grew up suddenly. All of six, not only did she learn to organise herself as per the travel itinerary; she learnt how important it was to explore the uncharted territories. I had my moments of doubt trundling her along to the crowded Kalupura neighbourhood, secluded yet pristine beaches of Diu or the Harappan ruins of Dholavira. She took all of it in her stride as her innocence put a protective blanket around her consciousness. "Mamma, this is the adventure place." Eating in random villagers' kitchens in Kutch, she learnt that Muslims also eat vegetables. In Diu, she understood that churches are as beautiful as temples.
The last trip we took together was to Amritsar and it has left an indelible mark on me as a mother as well as a citizen. Amidst the contending cheers of "Hindustan Zindabad" and "Jeevey Jeevey Pakistan" at the Attari-Wagah border, she asked me "Why do we think that our own country is the best? Others can also be as good or even better".
A quick lecture on nationalism was given. She responded by saying, "Mamma, I don't hate Pakistan. Do Pakistanis hate me?" I pointed her to a little girl on the Pakistani side who was waving at her frantically. She then asked me to take her to Pakistan soon. "But we are taking you to America later this year. You want Pakistan instead?" Her response struck me dumb: "Mamma, America toh kabhi bhi chale jayenge."
For a Women's Day column, I have written about my daughter not as a doting mother but a grateful one. She is the one earning me the "brave" tag. That's how my close friends and colleagues introduce me to their family members.
Nyasa and I maintain a long distance relationship, thereby challenging the traditional definitions of motherhood and, by extension, womanhood. Our to-and-fro travels empower us in ways more than one.
Many people get irked by women's heightened display of sensitivity as parents. I'd rather more men did the same.
Instead of silencing the doting mothers, let more fathers talk incessantly about their children. Bequest of joys and jitters of parenting should be egalitarian. As of now, Nyasa and I have our bags packed again.
Disneyland beckons the little girl, and casinos the mother.