‘Mother India’ considered one of Bollywood’s classics, was released 61 years ago today (Oct 25). It was India’s first entry for the Oscars.
I saw the film when I was in my twenties, probably on Doordarshan. I remember thinking it was over-dramatic, over-emotional, over-the-top. It just seemed too much–one woman facing one tragedy after the other; struggling every day, every month; everyone out to exploit her. And still holding nobly to her values.
30 years have taught me quite a few lessons. One of them is that there is a Mother India in every street, in every lane.
This was brought home to me poignantly only last week, when I had occasion to spend a lot of time with the lady who takes care of our office. At personal inconvenience, she was going out of her way to help me in my time of need. The time we spent together gave me insights into her life.
Born in a family of agricultural labourers, she dropped out of school at 10, to take care of younger siblings. At 12, she joined her mother in the fields. Her father died of cancer, and things got even worse. She did any work she could get—from labour on construction sites, to digging wells, to everything in between.
At about 17 or 18, she was married off. Her mother was told that the groom was on the verge of getting a permanent government job, and she would live a life of comfort. The husband was semi-handicapped, but more devastating to her, completely lazy and good-for-nothing. As a three-month bride, she started work as a domestic help.
Life went its usual course. A son came along, on whom she pinned all her hopes. The husband worked at casual jobs about 10 days a month. The other 20 days, he lazed around the house. She slaved from 5 a.m. to 6 p.m. every day of the month, at multiple jobs, to put the son through a good school, and he got his polytechnic diploma.
She thought her troubles were almost over. The son, rather than find a job, announced he wanted to get into engineering through lateral entry. She was thrilled—an engineer in the family. She worked harder than ever, as the husband lazed, and the son bought himself a motor cycle and fancy phone in keeping with his status as an engineering student.
One year went by and then tragedy struck. She found that her son, not being able to cope with his studies, had quietly dropped out of college without even telling her; that he was using the money she was giving him for fees and expenses, on feeding his bike with petrol and hanging out with friends.
With the help of relatives, friends, and well-wishers all around, the son has been coaxed, cajoled, threatened and re-admitted into college. Several fingers are crossed. Who knows what he will do?
I have worked with the mother for four years now. It seems impossible to believe, but she has never taken a day off. She is there half an hour before us, and stays half an hour after the last of us leaves, to clean and close up. I have never known her not to smile. I have never known her to take any shortcuts. I have never known her to ask for money. I have never known her to not sympathize and offer a cup of tea if I complain of headache. I have never known her being backward in helping any of us. I have never known her to be less than dignified or gracious.
I have known this Mother India. Look around. I would wager that a woman you meet today will be a Mother India. The sheet anchor of her family and community. Acting with integrity and dignity in every situation. Holding up her bit of the sky with a smile, in the face of every hurdle life throws her way.
I salute the makers of ‘Mother India’. They say art is about capturing universal truths and presenting them in the idiom of the times. And now, when I have seen something of the world, I believe this is so, and that there is nothing over-blown about Mother India.
I salute the Mother India in every woman around me.
PS: I lost my mother last week. And I salute her cheerfulness, her courage, her love, her compassion, and the joy she spread around her through her long life.