Mother’s Day 2020: Why aren’t there any memorials for mothers?

An ode to Mothers, who nurse and nourish life

Oft have I wondered why we have memorials for warriors—known and unknown—but none for mothers? War is an orgy of death. A warrior kills; not because he wants to, or likes to; but because we want him to. And we create the canard that it is a glorious thing to kill sons of mothers for our sake.

Mother is the bearer of life. She gives birth. She nurses and nourishes new life out of her own being. She mothers humankind. She embodies the mystery of life. We belittle her giant agony and call it ‘labour’. That’s the word we use for what a daily wage worker does: ‘labour’. In the crowning moment of her life, a woman is in labour. She attains the blessedness of motherhood through the invidiousness of labour. We don’t say a factory worker labours. No, that wouldn’t be dignified enough. He is a worker, not a labourer. Those in the oldest profession are sex ‘workers,’ not sex labourers. A woman, in the most sacred and mysterious state of her life, is in ‘labour’.

To add insult to injury, religious men pronounce her impure for having been in labour. She must be purified by a priest! But the man who was the cause that she has had to be in labour is not impure. He doesn’t need to be purified. A priest daren’t proffer such a favour to him.

On mothers’ day at least we must take leave of our socially-patterned hypocrisies and prevarications and face the truth. We cannot valourize violence all the year round, and pretend to ‘remember’ the mothers of the world, one day a year. The body of every son who falls prematurely to cold-blooded violence—in war, in terrorist operations, in communal pogroms—is washed in the tears of mothers. Our valourization of violence and our lip-service to mothers cannot go hand-in-hand. The time is come to choose between the two.

Mother is love. She is also the authority of love that orders, “Put down the sword; he who takes the sword shall fall by it”.Mother is compassion. She is a caring hand stretched out to bind wounds and to pour, out of her own heart, oil and wine to heal and to restore.Mother is forgiveness, with her face turned away from the foibles of man. She is the forgiveness that fills the world with second chances and new beginnings.

Mother is sanity. I do not know what I would have been but for my mother; she who died half a century ago guides me still along the narrow way of life. As I walked the valley of the shadow of death, it sufficed that I recalled her words, “Son, there is light within you. Time will bring it to light.” I soldiered on, in spite of thunder… not because I was unafraid, but because I remembered.

A mother’s love is the loadstar of manliness. I am a man, not because I have a beard, broad shoulders, rippling muscles, and throbbing springs of testosterone. I am a man because once upon a time my heart beat in unison with a mother’s heart, when the sinews of my being were being woven on the warp and woof of mystery. I am a man because I have a mother’s heart.

I weep over rapists and sex-criminals. Were they not starved of mothers’ love? Can a man even think indecently of a woman, much less violate her, if he has ever tasted the sacrament of a mother’s love? Starved of such love, how does a man maintain his equilibrium? And how long pretend to be normal and human?

“A sword shall pierce your heart also,” Mary was told by the angel in the run up to the birth of Jesus. Shocking; for it pertained to the birth of a son. In a sense, in this man-centred, power-hungry world, every birth is a metaphoric sword-thrust through the heart of a mother.

My memory goes back in time by some four decades. I was in Calcutta, as the city was then known, training to be a priest in a seminary. The training involved visiting homes. I happened to visit a wizened old lady, of over ninety years, living alone. She had been widowed for years. Her only son had migrated to Canada twenty years prior to my visit. He would never find the time to come and visit her. “He will come… Surely come…,” She told me, her eyes twinkling with hope. That’s a mother. She never gives up. No, not on this side of death.How was such a son born to a woman like her? Who will ever unravel riddles of that order?

From the Cross of Calvary Jesus said to John, his disciple: “Here’s your mother”.  The systems of the world will rob a mother of her son; especially if he is a righteous one. But mothers who have raised righteous sons deserve to be not sonless. They become Mothers: Mothers of humankind. They transcend the logic of blood and attain the logic of the Spirit. The highest calling of a woman, said Herman Hess, is to mother martyrs. Also, the most unbearable. Can there be a sorrow like her sorrow?

So, mothers’ day is here. Which mother? Whose mother? What mother? Who among us knows Mother? Or cares for Her? We who play bloody games with the fruits of her womb, fashioned in the furnace of a suffering that we dare not understand? We who insult her sorrows with boorish chests spread out in callous pride? We who mock the heart of mothers with the macho image of cruelty that makes a carnival of despoiling the souls she forges in the furnace of unutterable agony?

I heard a voice crying in the tempest: Sons of the world, behold my daughters… Cleanse your hearts in the milk of humankind-ness before you take a step closer.

Cover Image: Amrita Sher-Gil, Mother India, 1935, National Gallery of Modern Art, New Delhi

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