Changing role of mothers across five generations

A Mother Then, a Mother Today & a Mother Tomorrow
Changing role of mothers across five generations

Tejinder Singh Bedi
@tsinghbedi

Time rolls on. Priorities change. For someone who had the privilege of being fondled in the lap of my great grandmother, grandmother & my mother; I have had a unique opportunity of having observed the changing lifestyles and lifetimes of mothers in five generations already — with those of my wife and daughter bracketed in the same club later on! I was born in an era — the early fifties, when 99% of our mothers used to be housewives, just housewives or better and truly put — the rock-solid; sole homemakers.

My great grandmother came from a family of big zamindars and contractors of Kota, Delhi & Kathua from the lineage of the legendary K L Saigal Sahib’s ancestors and passed away at a ripe age of around 95; when I was about 7 and the latest mention of her in our big joint family, “Maan ji guzar gaye..” (Mother has passed away) from my grandfather still echoes in my mind. This moment was also perhaps the first when I heard of the death of a close relation.

An epitome of love, she was the universal Ma (Mother) of the family as her entire large lineage of all generations and ages addressed her as Ma ji only. Her mere presence in the family was enough to inspire all and spread divine feelings of love and compassion among all. And her extremely calm & composed face still keeps flashing before my eyes every now & then.

My grandmother took over the reins from the universal Ma after we lost my great grand Ma physically and guided the family with the legacy inherited with aplomb to be finally remembered as the RajMata of the house. My grandmother had finished her Matriculation from Rangoon around 1918 but her grasp of all the basic subjects from Hindi & Punjabi was truly amazing. Pharsi was lost from the family with the departure of our Maan ji though my grandfather could continue his love for that language for long thereafter. She took keen interest in ensuring that all of her grandkids — paternal, as well as maternal, learnt the basic scripts of Gurmukhi & Punjabi — while our grandfather, himself a topper of Prince of Wales University in BA(Hons in English & Sanskrit) took all the pains to teach us English & Sanskrit too. My grandmother inculcated in all of us a habit of waking up much before the break of dawn and lead all the household chores including managing three cows (including a jersey), two horses beside her own large family. Extremely agile, energetic and active all through her life-she would never miss the early morning Prabhat Pheris (Prayer Processions) — then very common in Punjab before taking charge of each and every happening in the house including maintaining an up to date inventory of the large kitchen and taking her grandkids out for all religious movies and Ram Leela shows. She made sure everyone in the house had a big glass of hot milk, chhachh, nimbu-paani (Shikanjwi -lemon water) a part of our daily menu beside the usual stuffed paraathaas with lots of Desi Ghee & Butter and pickles and that the dinner ended with a homemade dessert for each member even if she had to close the kitchen well after 11 pm.

The mantle of an operational mother of this large family establishment next fell on my mother though, for the reducing age difference among the growing siblings, she became the universal Bhabhi of all but remained my soul’s mother all along. For us, she remains the last unifying mother in a large joint family ever since — as all the siblings, relations started gradually branching out all over the country in pursuit of our individual careers or new abodes after marriage (in case of all her ‘nanads — sisters-in-law), one after the other.

As I was viewed as a relatively brightest student in the family, my mother made sure she remained awake till 1 or 2 am to support me for my weakness for tea while studying — to keep me inspired for my studies right until my qualification for the engineering entrance competition and used to be athletic alert yet again by 5 am every morning. But for her loving care and support, perhaps I would never have been able to win all of my scholarships all through nor could have become an engineer from a prestigious institute like the Punjab Engineering College of Chandigarh. Fortunately for us, our mother came from a Hindu family and we got the additional advantage of studying Tulsidas ji’s Ramayana & Sri Mad Bhagwat Gita during the early years of our childhood itself. Being an accomplished singer herself, she made sure this legacy was passed on to me too — which brought me so close to almost every living musical legend of our times and start focussing and reviving this childhood passion afresh again — that I have retired from full-time active Corporate engagements.

During all these three generations, the family’s Universal Ma, the RajMata and My Soul Ma — all largely remained within the four-walled boundaries of the house only, occasionally stepping out for the monthly refills for the large kitchen or other essential needs of the entire family. There were no aspirations and other in-house distractions like later days Television Serials other than managing and serving the family members beside inculcating best of the moral values in all the kids. At the same time, the society too was not quite open to offering the mothers of that era many opportunities for careers outside nor too great an environment for the same.

Fortunately for my mother, her sisters-in-law — (all four a little younger to her) though had stepped into a phase that opened more career options for the women after mid-fifties and all became qualified teachers after their Graduation and BEd or BT — (till then the most preferred qualifications) but had also become mature enough to support each other in sharing responsibilities for running the affairs of the family to the limited extents possible in good harmony despite a few differences of opinion on certain issues propping up of and on. The role of my mother in managing the home, however, remained upfront all along and this for me was perhaps also the first level of learning the basic skills of working in teams in a very natural atmosphere — definitely not available to the generations born after me. Being the eldest daughter-in-law, my mother remained the last She Leader and the She Homemaker of our large joint family till mid-seventies and remains etched in my memory as the Queen Mom of our house.

The role of the mother after my marriage in the late seventies saw a drastic change. We had to shift out on my job as did all our other siblings too. Back home, once a large joint family was now reduced to a family of just about 5–6 members at any given point of time with the rest visiting back only of and on. The modern mother had to look after just her husband and her two kids. The families started getting smaller. Hum do, Hamare do. The support of part-time domestic bits of help for all of the daily needs from dusting, sweeping, cleaning, washing utensils & clothes, ironing and even cooking has been available all through. There were no pressures to pack a tiffin for the hubby as the newly emerging work-cultures in industry or offices offered good food with most of the times even breakfast to start the day at workplaces remaining a no-no obligation and I think this was the phase during which women empowerment in another sense allowing them more free time to develop their vocations and interests commenced at least in the metropolitan cities and some enterprising mothers did start making a bigger mark in their achievements outside their homes too.

This brings me next to the current generation of mothers — who I would say are the real Raj Mataas of all times; well educated, devoted equally to both their personal career or passion aspirations as well as their family responsibilities. The mothers of today are not only fulfilling all responsibilities as homemakers but also all of their social lifestyles whilst also doing their best to teach their children at their homes for their holistic development in many an aspect outside the curricula including life-skills education. The fathers of today — most still like me — are still constrained to be doing much lesser for the kids as neither the State nor the employers have been able to appreciate the damage the ongoing needs of holding the male employees engaged 24x7 are causing to the kids and the families in general for loss of their much-needed presence or attention with the kids with the result that the mantle of grooming a kid now again lies squarely with the mothers only, if they give up their careers and opt to work more from home; which in most cases is happening of late for no other choices of support for the little kids. The maids are available but they can hardly play the role of a mother or a granny.

One hopes, we get more mothers, women in the parliament and better laws on the flexibility for their employment in due course through schools for kids integrated with their offices like creches, at least in large or better-organized Corporates. We can not forget that the mothers still continue to be the first and the best teachers for grooming responsible kids and citizens in due course in any society. I view the mothers of today as the true Queen Moms of all times and this Mothers’ Day, this is my humble tribute to them and all our ancestral Moms!

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Tejinder Singh Bedi

(*Author Tejinder Singh Bedi is a former technocrat, a people management, CSR Adviser, free-lance writer and a passionate singer)