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Homemakers never retire. Amma didn’t retire too, she continued doing her household work by herself, maintaining her creative streak in everyday life.
I sat staring at the woman sitting opposite to me, on the couch. The woman I had spent a good part of my life with, the woman who lived in the background of the place called home, who cooked, cleaned, ran the house, and raised her children. My mother.
“Amma, let’s go down for a walk, you have been reading all day.”
“Down?” Amma hesitated. “Okay, let’s go.”
Amma was visiting me after many years, for leisure, this time. No grandchildren duties, no helping hand, just to visit and spend time, with me, her daughter, a woman well into middle age now and my children who are not toddlers anymore. I’m a more relaxed woman now, with more time and patience to observe life around me. This time, I was observing my own mother, perhaps for the first time in my life. Amma, the woman, not the mother.
In the elevator, a memory flashed past my eyes. 35 years ago, I was with Amma in a small town in Uttar Pradesh, our hometown that we visited every vacation. As soon as we reached, Amma took on the role of the daughter-in-law of the house. From Day One, she’d join my Grandma and aunts in household duties. Cooking, cleaning, housework, she’d go about happily without a complaint or strain on her face, with her head covered with saree pallu, a tradition followed in the household. She’d do everything but I never heard her speak out loud, no opinions shared, never a harsh word, she was always present in the background, calm, peaceful, quiet.
As vacations would come to a close, tearful goodbyes would be bidden by the entire family and we’d hop onto rickshaws that took us to the bus station, for the onward train journey from the city two hours away. The rickshaw would trudge along slowly, reach the main street a few meters away from the locality and Amma would fling her pallu away from her head. Her smart boy-cut hair looked out of place in the small town but she didn’t care. As a five-year-old I would often wonder why Amma removed the pallu? It appeared to be a part of her identity there, she even looked good with her head covered, traditional, beautiful.
Amma came from an orthodox family. Married at 19, she completed her Masters in Political Science after marriage. She joined her husband at his place of posting after living with in-laws for a few years and earning her degree. She wanted to work but circumstances wouldn’t allow her to leave young kids at home and step out.
Embracing the role of a homemaker with some disappointment, she never allowed her education to rust. She read fervently, kept herself updated in her subject, followed current affairs threadbare and always held a sharp opinion. Radio was her companion and newspaper/magazine subscriptions, her few indulgences from the limited monthly budget. Her leisure time was spent in pursuing many creative interests, sewing dresses, upholstery or knitting designer sweaters following the magazine pages. She learnt many cuisines painstakingly, maintained a garden, kept the house like an interior designer would, created decorations from everyday objects.
After few years television came into our living room and the small tape recorder followed. She went ahead and created a classic collection of music tapes, ghazals, bhajans, classical music, all gems from different eras. Often, she’d sit up late nights to watch Satyajit Ray, Gurudutt, Raj Kapoor classics on Doordarshan. Mushairas were her eternal favourites.
I got to see a different side of Amma one day while returning from school with her. On the way, from a row of houses on the roadside, a young chap made some cheap comment from his balcony. Amma was infuriated. She went to that building, knocked on the door and gave an earful to the guy. Not stopping at that, she ensured the matter was reported to authorities. I changed my perception about Amma that day. Docile? Never!
After me and my brother grew up, Amma started taking tuitions at home. Her evening got busier and now she was earning her own money. I could see the glow in her eyes. Something I had not seen before. Few years later she started teaching at a local school for underprivileged children. Her dedication and commitment were exemplary towards the work, though the remuneration wasn’t very lucrative. She didn’t hire any help at home. Up at 4 am, she’d finish all housework by 6 and leave for school. “I feel good teaching those kids,” she’d proudly proclaim every time someone suggested she leave the job. Many years later, she left teaching with a heavy heart when her health issues started troubling her.
Once both her children settled in their respective jobs and started their own families, Amma was assigned grand mom duties. She fulfilled them with a smile, supporting both the families. Homemakers never retire. Amma didn’t retire too, she continued doing her household work by herself, maintaining her creative streak in everyday life, keeping a beautiful home, indulging in art, gardening and cooking. Her interest in politics remained unwavering, it is her favourite topic even now.
As I closely observed Amma this time through her stay, I realised she is not just an avid reader but a book worm. Most of the books on the shelf were done and dusted in a month. She was following the impending elections closely, debating, defending her views fervently. Some household chores were taken over by her to keep herself busy. She was dishing out new delicacies every day for her grandkids.
For the first time in my life I was recognising Amma, the woman and not Amma, the quiet, introvert, ‘in her own world’ lady. I was slowly getting to know her, and in a way, my own self better.
I knew now, where I had inherited the love for music, movies, literature from and that crazy passion to pursue exactly what my heart asked me to. I knew where my stubborn streak came from. From the woman who wore boy-cut hair and covered her head with her saree pallu.
Woman who applied thick red sindoor to go with silver toe rings, glass bangles and sleeveless blouses. Woman who was comfortable with her husband playing the role of a hands-on, sensitive parent who spoilt the kids while she was the tough parent who didn’t like to see or shed tears for trivial things.
Woman who wouldn’t answer back to her in-laws but didn’t shy away from slapping a rogue. Woman who learnt cycling at 40 and often came home with scraped knees and a childlike wide grin. Woman who started a career after 40 and did what she loved. Woman who did her parenting and grandparenting duties and declared one day that she wanted to live her life now, no more babysitting for anyone.
Woman who’d get into a heated political argument with a stranger on a train and wouldn’t relent. Woman who fasts nine days and wears the latest fashion. Woman who lived life as it comes, without any pretenses. Woman who taught me there are no full stops, you keep moving and paths will appear. Woman who showed me it’s okay to set your own bar and touch it, listen to and follow your heart and instincts, take risks and chances.
Woman who showed me that learning and education is lifelong. Woman who refuses to learn how to use a smartphone though. Books are a better investment of time, she quips. I agree.
I’ve stopped looking at her through the lens of ever supportive, sacrificing, loving mother. I chuckle at her wild side.
Every time I meet a headstrong quirky ‘her own person’ woman, I want to meet her mother. Because they are the original superstars. Our Mothers always remain the strangest craziest people we’ve met!
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