The Feminist Times
माँ : My first lesson in feminist thinking
Updated: May 14
A couple of weeks ago, it came up during a conversation with my younger brother. He asked, ‘Ma was so fond of you. She encouraged and appreciated you all the time. None of us have the emotional acumen to do that for you. How do you cope up with it, now?’ The truth is that I have not been able to cope up with the loss of that constant voice saying ‘You are doing great, Keep it up’, inspite of a wonderfully supportive family! My mother celebrated me in beautiful ways that instilled a self-assuring confidence, an indomitable spirit in the face of adversity and a genuine love for life as a pursuit of dreams and contentment. In a society, that is eager to push aside a young girl’s dreams whose father is no more, my mother protected my dreams fiercely, became the winds beneath my wings and gave me a full sky to fly! She instilled the same zeal for life in all her three children but when mothers celebrate daughters, magic happens!
As I reflected more on this, I realised that she had this innate quality to lift and support
women around her, from family to friends. She appreciated their efforts with full heart, supported them in every possible way and most important, never diminished their self-esteem and enthusiasm for life.
Stories of mothers and daughters are woven in threads of hard choices, resilience, pain and silences along with courage, strength, passion and love, across generations. Daughters find voice in making sense of mothers’ silences and mothers ‘rediscover’ themselves through free choices of their daughters. It has been more than a decade of my feminist engagements in academics, activism and teaching. The classroom discourses on patriarchy and feminism continue to inform and enrich my understanding of gender-based power structures in my own vicinities. I realised gradually with time, that I have imbibed my feminist passions from my mother. The moral dilemmas she faced as a woman and tough stands she took, were my first inspirations in feminist thinking. As I mapped her journey from being a fierce young woman to a determined wife, a protective mother and a doting grandmother, it gave me an insight into the tides and tribulations of a woman’s journey. The more I was able to ‘see’ her as a woman and not just my mother, it allowed me to pierce through ‘benevolent’ perceptions of marriage and family and capture multiple terrains of life from a woman’s perspective.
I learned a lot from her and her life which no classroom or books could teach. Sharing a few insights, I hold close to my heart and hope to pass on her legacy to my daughter Manishka and niece Ahaana.
Her adherence to a firm sense of righteousness in the face of adversity was remarkable.
Honesty, self-respect, fairness and hard work are pillars of a strong character irrespective of gender. Being a woman may come with its share of challenges, but do not indulge in self-pity. Work on your strengths and face your problems with courage and optimism.
Her belief in good education became a reason for her children to have gained the best of
education. My parents often used to tell me that they would support my education as long as I wished to study. She was a strict disciplinarian when it came to our studies and approached education with a strong conviction that education has the power to transform our lives especially for girls.
Through her multiple professional experiences as a college teacher, journalist, theatre artist, school administrator, podcaster, she taught us to value one’s work and vocation. Her
dedication towards her work was exemplary and she valued each opportunity that came her way. She taught me to think beyond ‘either this or that kind of choice’ dilemma that women often face and nurture a happy balance in life.
Her love for life and its manifestations in different art forms enamoured those around her.
Her life’s celebrations exuded through her love enthused cuisines, her hand knit art pieces, songs she composed and sang with her grandchildren with tales of love and longing with women in neighbourhood. She was secure as a person and shared her knowledge and skills with anyone who wished to learn. When traditional art forms were perceived as outdated as compared to professional skills, for and by women of her generation, she owned up and excelled in both , as an assertion of her free choice.
-Her greatest attribute was her support to other women in her life. Her unflinching support to her daughter-in-law helped her to make significant career choices without any baggage of guilt or scrutiny that women are often subject to. Being her eldest girl child, she did not marry me ‘off’ to another family. She always welcomed me with the same sense of belongingness and affection after my marriage and there was always a share of pastry, mangoes or jewellery kept aside for me. This may seem trivial but her small gestures like these gave me so much strength and security.
However, what I miss most about her is the way she celebrated my every single achievement, celebrated who I am as a person with my strengths and limitations and pushed me to break new boundaries. She ‘saw’ me through everyday moorings of life. The idea of celebrating our loved ones is often misinterpreted as flattery, a cry for attention or an exercise in vanity. It is not. It is an acknowledgement of love. It is a heartfelt appreciation. It is bringing to light your loved one’s efforts and achievements. It is simply to say ‘I see you’!
In a patriarchal world, when women are ‘invisiblized’, infantilized and pushed to darkest corners of households, my mother made sure her daughter shone brightest. I owe you Ma, for this invaluable gift as I am also learning to celebrate myself and those around me.
- Dr. Nupur Ray