My Mother, The Unexpected Feminist

By living life mostly on her terms, my mother taught me to do the same. I inherited her intensity, her self assurance, stubbornness and assertion, and I learnt later that she was insanely proud of me.

As I almost turn 50 and surround myself with feminists today, I look at my mother, the disciplinarian, with soft eyes and realise, she was somewhat of a feminist herself and a smart one at that.

Quietly making changes so her daughters didn’t suffer

Born in the 40s, she understandably wasn’t empowered enough to take Brahminical patriarchy head-on, so she did what she could, bending the diktats here and there, protecting her daughters, trying to lessen the load patriarchy placed on us. She changed the rules quietly, subtly to make her and our lives easier.

Back in the day, when we were growing up, isolation during menstruation was slowly disappearing however, older relatives like grandmothers still believed it must be followed. By the time I came of age, she had garnered enough courage to find a way out of it for me, while still not antagonising the elders.

She learnt to tweak the kitchen rules, smartly substituting quicker-to-make options. She never asked what anyone wanted to eat. She decided the menu and served it to us. She was a wonderful cook but she’d find quick fixes to meals and would happily serve up leftovers too. My wily mom decided dosas for a family of four was unnecessary labour and switched to idlis. She’d go so far as calling them “little wisps of cotton”, selling them to us astutely, winning our grudging agreement.

Moving with the times instead of taking on too much

As she grew older, she switched to readymade products easily and coaxed both her daughters to do the same. She didn’t believe in working relentlessly in the kitchen and never tired of telling us, not to either. Her mulagai podi was one for the ages, but she found the ones in the store were just as good, and so when someone in the family asked her to make some, she’d tell them she’d stopped. She wasn’t a puritan and didn’t believe in the so called authentic handed down through generations, recipes. She’d advise me to cook up one pot dishes for parties I would host so my load would lessen.

She napped when she felt like and hated her sleep being disturbed. Very early on, she passed the responsibility of the morning tea to my dad, not subscribing to the silly notion of waking with the birds. Or bathing before sunrise and cooking. She made her own schedule and the family usually stuck to it.

She started buying jewellery for herself as she grew older possibly realising how much she had sacrificed in her youthful years. In her last decade, she led her life exactly as she wanted, whether it was reading late into the night, or adjusting the family’s dinner time according to the time of her favourite show.

Holding her own against patriarchy

She held up her own in any argument, and I can’t remember a time when she let gender get in the way of her making a point. By living life mostly on her terms, my mother taught me to do the same. I inherited her intensity, her self assurance, stubbornness and assertion and needless to say, we clashed often. After the difficult and tumultuous teenage and early adult years, we however found a way to connect. I learnt later, that she was insanely proud of me – my personality and character. That which I had inherited from her. And that which she stoked in me, knowingly and unknowingly.

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It took me a deep understanding of feminism to know that it is multi layered, that the feminist of the 1950s or the 80s is still as much a feminist as that of 2023. We would not be here today, with our freedom to hold a job or even write this piece if it were not for the feminists of the past who sacrificed a part of themselves so their daughters could breathe a little easier, walk a little further.

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About the Author

Poornima Kulathu

I am a banker, author, poet and an intersectional feminist. Speaking up on social issues, mentoring and coaching and cooking up a storm for friends and a certain strapping 21 year old boy are what read more...

19 Posts | 46,227 Views

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