One was born in a remote village. Another was born in a well-known city. One grew up surrounded by people dabbling with ploughs, amidst mud and stones, harvesting food for the body. Another grew up surrounded by people dabbling with pens, amidst books and words, harvesting food for the mind. As they were growing up, one saw relatives of her father fighting for tiny pieces of land and one saw friends of her father, fighting over points-of-view! And so they grew up, with their strikingly different flavors.
Both had fathers, who loved their daughters and understood that the best thing he could give her was an education. Striving through a lot of hardship, the father in the village, put his only daughter through graduation and her education turned out to be in the practical domain of Economics. Another father, perhaps only struggling on the point of safety of letting his daughter study in a city, put her through graduation and her education was in spiritual domain of Tamil Literature. Economics sharpened the practicality of one’s childhood experiences. Tamil made another delve deeper into the humanity of her childhood experiences. Both became much admired and much loved teachers.
Then, one day, one married the man, who was to be my father. The other, married the man, who was to be my father-in-law. One was love-after-marriage and the other, love-before-marriage. Both men were atheists. My flexible mother went along with my father’s principle of not believing. But my firm mother-in-law went deeper into her religious faith.
Life keeps us on our individual tracks in tiny, small ways too. My mother was the one who took care of all the finances and managed the home. With her ability to plan, organize and actually do any amount of physical work, she was my father’s equal in the physical domain. My mother-in-law was a thinker and a creator. With her prowess in tamil philosophy and her creativity, she was my father-in-law’s equal in the mental domain. Standing shoulder-to-shoulder to a man in a man’s world, is never an easy thing and they both did that with excellence, in their own ways.
The practical one had two daughters and the spiritual one, two sons. In their individual happy lives, tragedy struck in different ways. One was sudden and immense, with fate striking a blow of death and taking away my father prematurely. There was my mother, with two young daughters, tearfully standing at the end of a road. How was she to be the father and the mother, in providing for her daughters and protecting them in this violent world?
Another tragedy was gradual and unnoticeable. For you cannot be a prolific writer of 50+ books and a lyricist of 5,000+ lyrics and also, be there all the time, for your family. It wasn’t my father-in-law’s fault. It was also a blow of fate, striking him with fame. My mother-in-law was increasingly alone and had to nurture the minds of these two young boys, all by herself. How was she to be the father and the mother, in disciplining her sons, in bringing them up as good men in this tricky world?
And how they showed the world that they could! Life had already given the skills they needed for their respective journeys. It was about harnessing those with a deep perception. My mother brought her daughters up, with her excellent financial planning through every step of the way, giving them a good education and marrying them off happily. My mother-in-law brought her sons up, with the best possible values and strong minds, making them such men that the world now looks at them, not just with awe, but with love.
Still, you don’t get to go through life’s hardships without getting yourself a few rough edges. Sometimes, I don’t understand the negativity in my mother’s lack-of-trust in people and have fights with her, on this count. In a few moments, it all melts in the understanding that these quick judgements of people and situations have protected me at many points in life. Also, at times, I cannot accept the unquestioning religious beliefs of my mother-in-law and have my disagreements with her. Then, I realize that it is because of this same strong, unmoving faith, that she conquered the odds of her life and instilled positivity in her son, my husband. As I observe and absorb the two very different qualities of these women, it dawns that this is life’s way of teaching me, balance.
Truly glad that life has made me know, love and be inspired by these two women. To have leaned on that down-to-earth, patient rock of a mother and to have wafted in that reassuring breeze of a mother-in-law. My salute to their womanhood!