As the Times of Amma continues to feature 'Inspiring Single Moms', here is a lovely guest post from Anjana Dhanavanthan who writes about her inspiring mother Maheswari who was a single parent in India, at the time when divorces were taboo.
Read her account of being brought by a strong woman who dealt with life's challenges with grit and resilience and zero drama.
The loss of one’s parent is a matter of deep grief, but in my case it was met with an ‘Oh! That’s bad.’ Yes, that was all that I had to say when I heard that my father passed away in June last year. Of course, my mother plummeted into a deep abyss of sorrow, but I had no emotion to share with her. All I could do was to not talk at all.
My parents got divorced at an age when divorces were the biggest taboo. You could be a woman-beater or your husband could have many women, but you most definitely cannot be a divorcee. The repercussions of this single move by my parents showed up in a little girl becoming a defiant rebel for most part of her life.
Divorces can be painful for the adults, but even harder for children. No, I am not talking about not having a dad attend your PTA meetings or watch you shoot baskets at the inter-school basketball tournaments. I am talking about times when society kicks you in the gut because you don’t have a ‘head of the family’. Growing up with piteous looks from relatives and moments where you had to walk away from a place because you just couldn’t relate to a ‘father’ emotion was hard. But let’s not go there.
The thing about being raised by a single parent is that it is a challenge. For most part of my childhood, I remember images of my mother riding a moped to work early in the morning. She’d return at night and only have energy to sign my report cards. Rest of the show was run by my maternal grandparents; So much so that I remember writing their names in the parents’ column of most applications in school. Frankly, until my maternal grandmother passed away in 2006 I have very poor memory of bonding with my mother. She used to work always (even on Sundays) because she had to bring food to the table. She had to care for a daughter, sheltering her from the harsh realities of being a single parent child. But props to my grandparents; not once have I felt the lack of the other parent. I never missed my father in the exact term of the word. It was more like a column in an application form that was required, but I just could not fill.
More about Amma: I am not sure it has anything to with her nature per se, but she has the will of a hundred elephants. In 1998, my mother was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. So there was this gorgeous 5’10” lady suddenly looking like a puffer fish within weeks, only to be reduced to a bag of bones relying on a walking stick for basic support. She went from stick thin to hot air balloon huge and deflated back into a puny figure. The medication and the ailment did that and more to her. I was ten when all this started. One would expect this to affect a child of such tender age, but I think it just made hospitals and medical stuff really easy to understand and accept. Amma, my grandparents and I just took it as a part of our life and carried on. No crying, no drama, no fuss whatsoever.
When you are raised in such conditions, I believe you become seasoned. Right from second marriage suggestions to being looked down upon just because she was a divorcee, we’ve seen and heard it all! So, nothing came as a shocker to us. But all this did teach me some very valuable lessons.
Standing up for what is right – When my mother saw that her marital life was a destructive factor not just for her but also for her child, she decided to stand up against it. I would run out of fingers trying to recollect encounters with my father that instilled psychosomatic issues in me as a child. My mother didn’t end her marriage because ‘it didn’t work out’; She moved away because it was causing me harm.
Living and loving life no matter what – Amma is always remembered by folks for her fine taste in life. Good perfumes, matching clothes with matching bindis, smart footwear and a charm like no other. Through her good years and bad, she has stuck to loving and living every moment of life.
Paying ZERO attention to bullshit – If I were in my mother’s shoes, I swear I would have picked up a fight with every human being who ever said anything about the divorce. But she didn’t. She simply would laugh it away. She would say ‘vidu da. Ellaam apdi dhaan’ (leave it, little one. Everything is like that in life!).
Being strong is not an option – Frankly, over the past few years I have been waiting with bated breath to see when my mom would finally break down. With so much pain (physical and mental), she just continues to be strong. She’s solely responsible for educating me from scratch to getting me married in a decent way. I don’t remember how money came or how it went, but she would always make arrangements so I didn’t have to stumble, stop or suffer. Her strength and resilience is scarily solid.
How single parenting has changed my outlook towards life:
The first thing that came to my mind when I got pregnant was that I would give my children what I never got – a family. It was one of the first few things my husband and I laid down on stone; whatever happens we wouldn’t take a step that would affect the children. Thankfully, my husband has no traits of my father and so far we have managed to find our way back through several outbursts. But what my childhood did to me was that it taught me an important lesson – our actions never really harm us directly, but they pass on to the generation after ours. I think my ‘happy family’ picture is the only bright outcome of parents’ divorce. The fact that even divorced women are capable of raising children who go on to be sensible, strong and ‘society approved’ (please note that the last criterion is being typed with utmost sarcasm!) is to be strongly noted, regardless of era, year and age.
As for my father, he died an ailing man alone in the ICU of some hospital with no kith or kin by his side. I haven’t seen him in 25 years and my only memories of him are some Shammi Kapoor songs sung by Rafi. To think that he died without talking to his daughter even once or seeing the faces of his grandchildren seems pretty harsh. That’s something that no one deserves and for that, I wish that man finds a space in heaven.
Call me biased, but the hero of this picture is my Amma for being the anchor that she is. Thanks to her today I have a life I can be super proud of and faith that come what may, I would be able to deal with it like how Maheswari does.
Anjana Dhanavanthan is a mother of two and blogs at The Lazy Parent.
Editor's Note: If you are an Indian single mom or you know an Indian single mom whose journey would inspire others, please get in touch with me on Facebook or on Instagram. Your story might help guide someone charting similar waters.