Ma's dear, her moolah more so

MOTHERS DAY SPECIAL

Ma's dear, her moolah more so

A recent shampoo ad showed a young mother looking extremely guilty at the child’s question, “Mere baal lambe kyun nahin?” In the earlier version of the ad, the mother said her own mother was a housewife and had time to tend to her daughter’s hair. But she, the little girl’s mother, was working and therefore kept her daughter’s hair short, suggesting that she was hard up for time to look after her daughter. The girl in the ad asked her mother ‘not to go to work’ if that was the cause of her short hair! Apparently after protests from working mothers, this ad has been altered to show that the mother fulfils her daughter’s dream of long hair by using the branded shampoo!

Such situations where children make demands on their working mothers are common in the lives of modern Indian women, who are under unbearable pressure to be exemplary mothers/ wives, successful career-women and ‘Bollywood-star-like beauties’.  
“Times have changed,” says Mridula Negi, a senior manager in a foreign bank. “It’s no longer enough to earn well, have decent children and lead a good family life.

My family expects that I will compete for the topmost job in the banking industry. I have changed jobs three times in two years and every rung up the success ladder brings more stress. There is back-breaking competition among colleagues, which means there is hardly any sincere friendship. There is also great pressure on me and my husband, an investment banker, to have a scintillating social life. We invariably come home late, order some food from the pizza joint or dosa restaurant and crash into bed, or go out with friends to keep up with the social race. In addition, my husband and I expect that the other will remain attractive and fit.

So we have to make time for gym workouts or walks. One ray of light is my loyal — and highly-paid — maid who sees to it that my young child eats well, goes to school on time and is healthy but I feel guilty for leaving the child with her. Any change in the routine throws life out of gear. I have not enjoyed the simple pleasure of arranging flowers in my drawing room for more than a year!”

If this is the fate of a young working mother, older mothers have equally torturous problems. “I worked for 35 years — without any of the opportunities of modern women,” says Asha Kiran, a college professor, “Neither did I earn such a huge salary. I did all the housework. Every penny I earned went to provide education and opportunities to my daughter and son. Both did exceptionally well and went to the UK for higher education. They married abroad. Both are unhappy that I could not help them with money to buy homes in the UK. Fortunately, I don’t have to ask them for financial help even after I lost my husband. It seems nothing I did was ever enough to prove my love or support for them!”

Between these two extremes stand millions of Indian women, fortunate beneficiaries of post-Independence India’s gigantic economic and social progress. They grabbed opportunities and competed in the employment market. Millions of women embarked on wealth-building over the decades and some rank among the most powerful and richest women in the world in the past six decades.

But with such victory came overwork, tension and too many responsibilities and expectations.

Most women still remained the primary home managers, nurturing mothers and general do-alls, despite their high professional positions. A famous example is that of Indira Gandhi who often entered the kitchen to supervise the preparation of state dinners whenever world luminaries were entertained in her home!
Lesser women have to perform their housewifely role every day and provide healthy food and housekeeping services.

The super-success of women also became a challenge for men whose egos are traditionally inflated by their families.

Kiran Mazumdar Shaw, chairperson and managing director of Biocon, remarked that she married Shaw, a foreigner, because she believed that an Indian husband would find it hard to accept her superlative success! 

Says Priya Singh, a senior management trainer, “A majority of men expect their wives or mothers to pamper them and do all the work. They consider themselves the primary breadwinners and therefore entitled to the freedom to travel, spend nights out and generally chill out while their wives work an inhumanly long, stressful day. Women in such families often buy peace by overworking rather than creating disharmony. In many cases, the  children want the privileges and financial support which high-earning mothers can give them but are reluctant to recognise their priceless contribution to their own careers!”

“Add to this the excessive media pressure on women/ mothers by Bollywood stylists and fashion designers to be slim, sexy, beautiful and perfectly-toned to wear latest fashions and make up, and you have generations of frazzled young mothers who just go under. The sprouting of spas, beauty parlours, cosmetic products and even surgical treatments tells us not only that women can afford all these but also that they have to be seen as ‘successful and sensual’ despite motherhood,” says Meena Thakkar, a spa operator.

 “Young mothers succeed but they continue to hanker after that distant goal of being perfect wives/ mothers/ professionals and lose their peace of mind,” she adds.

All in all, it is not easy to be a mother — single, divorced or married — in the quick-silver age.

Gone are the days when motherhood was placed on a pedestal. Today, children — while loving their mothers — expect too much of them. Whatever happens, mothers remain the safety net for their children whenever they enounter a rough patch. Be it financial difficulty, a messy divorce, work tension or failed love affairs, mothers have to stand by and share the pain. Motherhood for them is a one-way street.

As Vatsala Kumar, an IAS officer, says: “Life is a basket. If I put my trust, money, effort, support, love and co-operation in it, my children too must put their own contribution. If they put nothing and I am the constant, silent giver, something is wrong in that relationship. There is too much selfishness around. In the end mothers — and probably fathers — are the only people who will give unconditional love and support to their children at all times. And somehow, that is a satisfying thought for mothers, however harried they are!”

The only question now is whether sons and daughters realise the magnitude of efforts that modern mothers make to match the expectations of their children and family, their employers and society in general. Or will sons and daughters now use a new tag line: ‘Mere paas ma hai aur — uska paisa bhi hai!’

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