Happy Mother’s Day

So sing the commercial enterprises and their financial pundits. We suspect that business experts have a hand in its generation and popularity; after all it would be a wise move to capitalize on the strongest of human emotional ties and filial love that ever exist.

And the proof is that it is successful.

But the truth is that one century ago Anna Jarvis in the USA wanted badly to celebrate her mother’s huge social contribution, and battled vehemently to have a mother’s day earmarked by the administration. Finally in 1920 president Wilson agreed to have the second Sunday of May as an official Mother’s Day; but soon Anna had to fight on another front: to prevent the business world from hijacking her concept. She wanted that day as a personal, strong relationship between children and their mother – simple exchange of flowers, poems and small gifts — to celebrate the greatest emotional human relationship. One century later, had she been alive, she would have realized that her fight was in vain.

And what about the father? In fact one decade or so after Jarvis had had her Mother’s Day the Americans discovered that every child does also have a father! Hence there was need to celebrate a Father’s Day; and soon there followed even a Siblings’ Day!

Ultimately the majority of countries joined the jolly bandwagon – celebrating Mother’s Day on different Sundays or months of the year, maybe depending on the coming of spring, on local traditions, legends and famous national heroines’ anniversaries. Meanwhile we have the impression that Father’s Day continues to get just lip service. How many of us during a rare drinking binge of yesteryears have ever seen some young sentimental men crying for their fathers? Instead, many have wept on the absent mothers’ shoulders. Nor have we heard Tino Rossi or Luis Mariano rendering their best to extol their father in their songs; but soon in this month of May Tino and Luis will be singing their unforgettable ‘O Maman’ and ‘Tu est la plus belle’ morceaux on most radio channels. And Pavarotti may entertain us with his “ Ave Maria”, the mother of a prophet.

Father’s Day does not conjure up the same emotions as Mother’s day. Perhaps fathers around the world are subdued when their own children celebrate Mother’s Day, because it reminds them of their own mater, and sympathize with their offspring’s preference for their mother. Their memories immediately switch back to their own mother’ importance in their lives and they can only nod their heads silently, and do not mind having been sidelined again, year in, year out. After all most of us, male or female, cannot forget that we have had the most intimate psychological, physiological and emotional relationship with that unique being in the universe: mother. She has always been by our side when we had problems. If we pass by a mental institute or a prison, most probably we’ll see more women than men going in to visit their unfortunate siblings.

So many Mauritians will soon celebrate that auspicious occasion that is Mother’s Day. Children love Christmas, their parents shower them with gifts; it is children’s day so to say (different from ‘jour de l’enfance’). In Nepal the Hindus have “Mata Tirtha Aunshi” or “Mother Pilgrimage fortnight”, where it has been practised for centuries, long before Jarvis’ modern concept. Of course, it has acquired religious significance, just as “Ammen” – the Mother Goddess – has come to occupy the sanctum sanctorum in many a temple. Also in India we have ‘Raksha Bandhan’ where the love between sisters and brothers is extolled; the world has not taken up this cue yet, unfortunately.

A Long Tradition

And that modern success is the culmination of a long tradition that started about a thousand years ago. At that time our ancestors were known as hunter-gatherers, nomadic people who moved from place to place. The males, spurred by their testosterone, were the hunters; their masculine power proved their superiority in that field. The women staying back were the gatherers, most probably gathering tubers, fruits and edible leaves. Were they the ones who started agriculture and initiated a new way of life? Maybe.

Gifted by nature to bear their progeny they came to symbolize the centre of attraction for the child, helped by the right hormones and physiology. They provided the psychological support that would nurture a different and durable feeling for ages to come. Men went to war, conquered land for the welfare and security of the group while women provided solace to the individual at home. She was probably the one who tempered the virile and violent nature of the sons, who gradually learned to be more docile, at the mother’s knee.

This role of the mother, along with agriculture, played a great role in fashioning emerging civilization. This may explain how through many cultures archaeologists have uncovered statues of goddesses to whom men have paid homage and reverence. So much so that we have come to look upon nature, our earth, our planet as a female entity and call our country motherland. Of course we also have the fatherland, but that would appeal to those people who craved for the military and cherished warfare as a way of life, what has brought us to the brink of many a disaster till even today.

In some cultures it is the patriarchal system which prevails: the father is the absolute head of the family. He is the law and his concept of culture, and even of God, prevails, while some other cultures have adopted the matriarchal way of life, where it is the mother who has a big say in the running of the home. Here the males would be more subdued. In some states in India the matriarchal system still survives. We find that when the daughter gets married she, along with the husband, go to live with her parents. The son-in-law goes to stay with the in-laws! Further, when the daughter gives birth it is her mother who looks after the grandchild. It is said that such love and care showered on the newborns is more significant than if they were born at the paternal grandmother’s place, where the tendency is to look upon her own son’s child as the child of a foreign woman, the daughter- in- law. In the matriarchal system there is greater possibility to have more care for the newcomer, more tenderness and the chance of greater love. This is tantamount to initiation to a higher form of culture and civilization, according to some social scientists.

We can now appreciate why children cherish a Mother’s Day more than a Father’s Day. The relationship with the mother is special, while that with the father is more of a rational and social ritual, perhaps due to physiological and psychological forces.

Cultural Forces

In his book ‘The Seven Secrets of Shiva’ the author, Devdutt Pattanaik, talks of the special relationship of Kartikeya (Murugan) with his father Shiva. He is the father’s son, very militant and ready to take arms to defend righteousness in the world. His brother Ganesh, the mother’s son, being less of a warmonger is more concerned with the auspiciousness of the universe, promoting kindness. He is also the Lord of intelligence. He defends the mother Parvati‘s honour and would be ready to die in the course of that duty. He is always ready to stay by the side of the mother. He has most likely learned to temper his emotions by the mother’s side, and perhaps that is why the mother’s influence has played an important role in forming his intelligence and conciliatory character.

Who of the old generation has not been exposed to the toxic scenario of some Indian film where the rich, wicked son would throw away the old mother – and who would be there to take her in? The gentle, kinder and poorer brother who would finally be carrying the moribund mother on his back or in a push cart; all crowned by background music and song meant to trigger an outpouring of warm tears from the audience’s eyes. What poignant, heart-breaking and great moments! They were the memorable films, with unforgettable songs by equally unforgettable singers, Manna Dey or Rafi.

Mahatma Gandhi hoped that in time of war, women on both sides of the frontier should go on strike concurrently and refuse to cooperate with their menfolk, to abort the war .In the 21st century he would have been very disappointed. Nowadays, to celebrate their freedom modern women want to emulate men: they are joining the army and manipulating arms to go to the frontier. Will the new generation of children find solace and wisdom by the side of such mothers? Most probably not, for mom will be absent, being on the battlefield. What type of civilization and culture will the new generation be spurning? No one knows.

And what day will modern children of same-sex parents celebrate? Mother and Mother‘s Day? Double Mothers’ Day? Father and Father’s Day?

We know that Nature is very biased in favour of women. For every male centenarian we have in Mauritius, for example, there are ten women. Yet, just as energy and matter are intimately related, just as space and mass cannot be conceived separately, so also the male and female, the mother and father, the yin and yang need each other, and are bound to coexist. Is there another alternative?

Happy Parents’ Day.


* Published in print edition on 22 May  2015

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