Seeking God

The mother in us

We take a lot of things for granted, and when we do, we end up undervaluing them. Our mother’s love and attention for example. We figure it’s a given that she will take time off from work and be there in audience on an important school event. We figure it’s a given that she will set aside all her other issues and focus entirely on us all through, that she will click our pictures and laugh and congratulate us and hug us and generally have nothing else on her mind but us. We are supposed to be everything to her, after all.

We so easily forget that we aren’t everything to her. That we are only one part of her life, that she has other missions and griefs and things to do and people to think of and tasks on her to-do list. We forget she is a human who has been or is going through her own set of challenges — maybe she is the mother who lost her newborn during the Partition because her breastmilk dried up amid a burning neighbourhood in Lahore, and the baby starved to death, and there was no one to cremate the tiny corpse so it had to be swaddled and set afloat on a nearby stream, and the mother never really recovered from the trauma and it became a part of the great big tub of sorrow that accompanied her on school trips with her other four children forever after that.

Maybe the mother was one of those four children who — never intimate with her own mother — also lost her father just when she needed him most, and then brought up her own daughter with the conservative urban Indian’s passionate possessiveness, outwardly disallowing the child everyday liberties but subconsciously urging her to break free from the very boundaries she was moulding her to fit into. So that the girl, like a cow’s calf, grew up fearful, gentle and completely unfit for a ruthless world but then later — when the ruthless world had backed her up into a corner of do-or-die — broke out like a roaring lioness and refused to be enslaved ever again. And the mother cried — in sorrow that her daughter was now a misfit and in joy that she was free.

Maybe the mother was that born-again lioness who then voluntarily took on the burden of mothering the whole world so that she could pass on her knowledge but ended up being unavailable to her own girl child’s several needs, so that the girl hated her own mother with all the love of a longing heart and blamed her for everything that went wrong in her own life, because mothers, after all, are supposed to have nothing else on their minds but their children. They’re not supposed to be women too.

And so the circle of life goes on, and we take our mothers for granted, while they celebrate our birth, grieve about losing us long before we lose them, think of us even when they are not thinking of us, laugh when we thrive, and cry when we hurt. And in taking them for granted, we undervalue their contribution to the heart that pumps blood through our veins, to the flesh that we inhabit, to the eyes that look back at us in the mirror.

Every day is mother’s day because the mother is us.

Finding God

The God in grooming

Today morning, I chanced upon an endearing sight, once again from my laundry area that overlooks the service lane behind our building. A young woman (in her late teens, and most likely the wife of a labourer working at the new construction there) had laid out a charpoy in the winter sun, right there in the open. A bonny, naked baby boy lay on her legs stretched out in front of her, mewing and squinting in the sunlight as she oiled him with thoroughness and much affection. Her other son, a four-year-old, played in the dirt with leaves and stones. As I watched with a delighted smile (I dearly love babies! That’s why videos like this make me go all ‘awwwwww’!), she rubbed the baby firmly up and down his little limbs, then turned him around and massaged his little bum as he lay contentedly on her lap. She wiped his armpits with a soft white cloth (which turned out to be his vest), cleaned his ears, and put on some kohl in his eyes to ward off the evil eye. It was a beautiful sight, speaking quietly and effectively of a mother’s love and care, no matter what the circumstance. I felt very privileged to have witnessed it.

Then, when he started whimpering, she clothed him in his vest and a warm sweater, glanced around at all the buildings to see if anyone was watching, and proceeded to breastfeed him. I left them to their privacy and went indoors, marvelling at how just the glimpse of maternal devotion had left me feeling so touched and so high.

One of my favourite de-stress activities is brushing my dogs — combing with a sharp doggie comb actually. It revs up their circulation and removes all excess hair that would have fallen off at home anyway. It’s like a massage for them, relieving all those irritating itches, and they very gladly come at my feet whenever they see me pick the comb up. As I squat or kneel on the floor, one hand around their head or chest, the other brushing up and down, I feel a deep sense of motherliness that is hard to explain. It’s been a long time since my kids were babies, and a long time since I’ve had the joy of massaging any little being, so this is the closest I get to that oxytocin high — or whatever hormone that is equated with maternity. When I get up after scrubbing them down thoroughly and giving them lots of hugs and kisses, I can feel my heart all open and my head all light. It is unlike any other emotion. I am not sure if men feel this way too with their babies and dogs, but it sure makes me eternally grateful for being a woman.

When we groom another being — especially a tiny, helpless one — they enjoy the unequivocal attention, of course, and there must be several scientifically proven benefits of massages and body care. But to me, the greatest benefit is not to the receiver but to the giver. We tap into our power of creation, into our compassion, empathy and love. We become tools of God, expressions of Life’s love for its little beings. It’s a sublime way of expressing our divinity. I just love it.

I went to the market this afternoon and bought colouring books and crayons for the boy to play with instead of stones, a rattle for the baby, and a Hindi letters book for the teen mother to practice in. When I returned, I went behind the house looking for them. But they had gone, charpoy, baby gurgles and all.

Glimpses of divinity are but fleeting, after all.