Why “Mere Paas Maa Hai” & The Agni Pariksha Are Symptoms Of The Same Malady

A woman’s identity in India is a product of very complex ingredients – from the mom complex and son fixation to the Agni Pariksha and Shakti. Confused? Read.

A few decades back Shashi Kapoor mouthed the most ‘genteel’ words ever spoken in a Bollywood cinematic context— “Merey paas Maa hai”. The ‘Maa’ of all dialogues was here to stay.

The mostly widowed, cinematic ‘Ma’ in tattered white sarees, was sewing clothes under zero watt bulbs and dying of TB, for want of medicine, just to see her ‘Son’ clear B.A. with first class first (whatever that meant). This projected socialist-era image of an all sacrificing, chaste, unattractive ‘Mother India of Bollywood’ remained ensconced in the post-Independence Indian mindset. Motherhood was the avante-garde status of a ‘virtuous’ woman, bereft of other human tendencies. So to say, ‘Mother India’ was a desexualized human, yet fantasized about by the vile village moneylender.

The ‘Waaris’ Issue (Pun unintended!)

However, we were marred by inherent contradictions. A woman was sanctified as a bonafide mother only if she bore a son, no matter the number of daughters she had. Just having a daughter for progeny meant a question mark on her existence and that of her daughter. She was pitied upon for want of a ‘Waaris’, and nobody to light the pyre when dead.

The fall-out of this son fixation has seen a skewed gender ratio and genocide of sorts, when thousands died on the altar of dowry or female foeticide. Sociological and familial subtle humiliation of women on such accounts got ingrained in Indian sensibilities as a way of life, via deep rooted physical, emotional and psychological abuse, and violence.

I remember an elderly lady who narrated her story. She was left on hospital bed unattended when she bore a third daughter. Her eyes welled up with hurt and anger as she recalled the ordeal, but at the same time feels vindicated and victorious to have ultimately borne a son after “millions of prayers and more arduous ordeals”. What a contradiction! All this an more, just at the altar of an ‘Oh so glorified motherhood’, where a woman is often compared to ‘Mother Earth’.

A very strange manifestation of son fixation and glorified motherhood has been the spiral of inherent rage that women carry all through their lives.

Consider just such a woman

The moorings of her existence have been so male centric, that in the pursuit of validation and subconscious male approval, she indulges in power play on many levels, in or outside the family. Oedipus complex is a subsequent fall-out of this attraction and legitimization, wherein the mother-son attraction and any interference thereof has been scoffed at.

The son-complex puts women against women, in the form of daughter in law v/s mother in law. The subsequent objectification of a man as a prized possession between warring female factions may sound like his glorification, but ironically patriarchy renders him nothing but a silly adage/tool at times.

The gender wars

The whole power complex has resulted in subsequent dynamics which eventually pitted women against men, and resulted in gender bias and gender wars. The so called shrewd maneuvers of females are nothing but attempts at power play, and survival in our social constructs.

It may sound outdated but the power play has set up the framework of our patriarchal sociological structure since ages. It’s slowly but surely getting eroded, but in the bargain women are rebelling, breaking stereotypes, intimidating or annoying, till the balance is achieved by default.

I wouldn’t shy away from saying that any paradigm shift also comes with its perils; at times women may go too far in that vindication to alter the fine gender balance that sustains gender chemistry in particular, and humanity in general. We see women venting out in form of #MeToo, baring a breast to undo the taboos of breastfeeding, holding up a soiled sanitary pad, blaming it on men for “supposedly” throwing semen filled balloons on pretext of shaming them on Holi.

Not critiquing these narratives; but my pointer is towards the simmering rage of ‘womankind‘, which at times is legitimate and at other times maybe totally over the top. After all, gender segregation to start with was nothing but a civilizational evolution from Agrarian to a Monetized system. It’s bound to shift gender roles, and hence needs to keep evolving.

Glorifying ‘Maa’, religion, and the Lakshman Rekha

Strangely, the pursuit of glorifying ‘Maa-dom’ revolves around the pivot of religion, which has the women centric theology of ‘Devis’ in all their avatars; from the ‘pious’ virgins to the all destroying ‘Kali’.

You name any perspective of bounty, learning, chastity, vanity, benevolence, vengeance or seduction; you had women embodying them to perfection. They could be worshipped as ‘Ardh Nari Nareshwar’, the ‘Poorak’, the all-encompassing ‘Shakti’; but in real they need to be straight-jacketed, not the whole SPECTRUM, mind you!

The spectrum was chained by a Lakshman Rekha, or an Agni Pariksha, a gambling match where she was put at stake or disrobed et.al, just to chastise or purify her.

In scriptures, she was also called supreme because she bore sons who tend to become kings in future. Well, no one thought of daughters as Queens I guess, because the equation was set; God was a male and the devotee a female. Call it guilt or hypocrisy, but the contradictions in approach to a mythic, and a real woman are there for all to see.

A woman’s identity

How do we really derive a womans’ identity within her defined role in society? More often than once, women are a nemesis of who they are supposed to be, rather than who they actually ought to be.

The expectations, as expected of a woman, create a jargon wherein she stays masked most of the times, to evade or hide. Unmasked, her aura is all pervading and intimidating, where she may be slotted as wayward, rebellious, ungroomed, immature, pretentious, enigmatic and even immoral. Our history is pock marked with events which attempted to rein in such “wild women” accused to be witches in disguise. That said, misfits really don’t sustain themselves for long but then misfits also tend to be the change makers.

Therefore, it’s mandatory to have a retrospective account of our societal placement, in order to rectify the odds, smoothen out the rough edges. Exclusion of women from narrative building influences mankind on the whole.

Let’s be done with the so called ‘honour’ bestowing adages, namely—“This taxi honours women”, “Beti Bachao abhiyaan” “Betiyaan humara Gaurav”, “Womens day celebrations” OR “Mom Shaming” in the garb of overglorified Motherhood #momshaming

For real gender parity, we need to empower at grassroots, across areas. Real honour is a spectrum across genders; it’s humanistic, not gender specific.

Published here earlier.

Image source: shutterstock

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  1. Another amazing piece of writing from manmeet… Very nicely written

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