Mothers — you are messed up without them and you are messed up with them as well!…” So writes a friend of mine when asked to say something about her mother. “I will probably get back to you with more, but don’t expect it to be anything sweet,” she warns me.

Single, independent, living abroad and running her own business, her mother is one person who, on the one hand can drive her totally nuts, and on the other, be there for her like nobody else.

This tie is precarious and precious — religious admonitions and cultural teachings demand the utmost respect; while ground reality can have one tearing one’s hair. You are ‘supposed’ to be respectful all the time and yet… yet the nagging, the scolding, the million questions, and the countless I told you so’s. The result — gut-wrenching guilt with oodles of confusion thrown in.

Amy Tan, (best selling author of The Joy Luck Club) says it beautifully in her autobiography called The Opposite of Faith: “There was never any one great fight that divided them (the mother and the daughter), just life itself over the years, petty misunderstandings, and the desire of the mother to give her daughter advice and the daughter’s desire to find her own way.”

Asking around for what people wish to say about their mothers results in many heart-to-hearts (at least with women.) B, a professional female, says, “Mother, a six letter word, is difficult to describe in just a few lines. In a man-centred society where daughters tend to love fathers more, I’m no exception. I love her and value her unconditional love and untiring efforts. However, the only thing that I always wanted from her and fail to receive is a more open expression of her affection. It may be the upbringing that restrains middle-class people in general and females in particular to just serve the family but not to express love. Apart from this, I know she’s my shelter, she’ll always be there to safeguard me and her prayer is my shield in this brutal world. I love her.”

Erum, a young mother and a successful marketing executive says, “My mother dedicated her life to the house, kitchen and children. However, all four of us, including our father, felt that in her mission to make everything perfect for us she, ironically, often neglected us. But time and again we all realised that she would understand everything that we did not tell her. In sickness and health, mum has always been there; ready to feed us, ensuring that we study, pushing our dad to fulfil all our whims and wishes, and worrying about us every single day of her life till today.

“When the time came for me to be a mother I promised myself I would do all those things with my child that my mum did not do with me. Today, juggling a nine-to-six job, my two-year-old, my personal needs, social requirements and my husband, I live with the constant fear that my little darling is probably going to resent me for not being in the bathtub every afternoon, splashing water while her duck goes quack, quack, quack.

“But then I get consolation from the fact that I have a special bond with my daughter, the times we spend together may be short but they are special, and the loud ‘Mammma!’ I hear every evening when I walk in simply says it all. I guess this is the bond that I cherish with my mother that makes my mum a rare diamond and, of course, the best mom in the world.”

Women, having children of their own tend to be pretty mellow. Dr Asmat (a busy dental specialist) and Seema (an independent consultant) talk about motherhood and sacrifice. Dr Asmat says, “Motherhood is full of sacrifices and challenges and if a mother is a working woman, then all the tasks get stupendously difficult. Now that I am a working mother, I can realise how much my mother sacrificed not just for me but for the entire family, yet sported a gracious smile at all times. Thank you, Ammi, for all the showers of love you continue bestowing on us.”

Seema again talks of sacrifice, “I feel so much closer to my mother now that I have a little son. I can feel her love and generosity in a way that I had not appreciated before. I now understand that motherhood comes with joy as well as sacrifices.”

Tazeen, working in the development sector, tells me it’s a mixed bag when it comes to mothers. A friend of hers was so nagged-to-death by her mother that she ended up going abroad for good. Her own story is sweeter, “Mothers are precious and we all love them, but at times we take their presence, their commitment, their affection and their kindness for granted. Most of the time, we feel that a mother will always stand like a pillar of strength no matter what she is up against. We tell them about our problems, frustrations and miseries without thinking, even for a single minute, that they might be facing problems of their own.

“It’s been 12 long years since my mother passed away, but I still miss her. I miss her when I come home, I missed her when I wanted to choose a college major and did not know anyone else who knew me as well as she did, who could have guided me. I missed her when I had a fight with one of my teachers and wanted unconditional understanding that only a mother is capable of. I missed her the day I passed out of university and wanted to share the joy with someone who would be just as ecstatic with my achievement as I was. I missed her the day I got my first pay cheque and I miss her every time I want to share my joys and frustrations with her but she is no more.”

And what about men and their mothers? It is difficult to get anything out of them. Either their ‘stuff’ is lying so deep down that they have no way of accessing it or maybe there isn’t any ‘stuff’ at all! There’s a special bond all right — Sumair Abro, a trainer at a consulting firm, talks of a recent workshop with an MNC where 24 of the 28 participants were men. The question of ‘Who is the most important person in your life’ came up. Majority of the men said it was their mother. However, getting anything out of the men I spoke to about mothers was a Herculean task!

Men may find their mothers exasperating but have a philosophical way of dealing with it. Haider, a sales executive just goes quiet with a ‘what can we do about it air’. Finance professionals, Ahmed and Farhan, both of whose mothers have passed away, take on a reminiscent note.

Ahmed, whose mother passed away several years ago, talks about the time when his sister was getting married and he was constantly arguing with his mother about (what now seems) a trivial issue. In a fit of frustration she threw a hanger at him. After which they both started laughing. This moment remains etched in his memory, “I miss her, there is no one who now dares throw hangers at me.”

Farhan too remembers his mother washing his hair when he couldn’t get up from the bed after a fracture, “who else would do that for you?”

At the end of her autobiography Amy Tan writes about her mother “So I did take her to China. I endured three weeks of being with her expert advice, criticizing my clothes, my eating habits, the bad bargains I made at the market. I hated it and I loved it.”

And so it is with most of us and our mothers. Smooth sailing for some, rough for others — but at the end of it all, one hopes there is less of the irritants and more of the love. Happy Mother’s Day to all moms!

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