The Components of Motherhood

As published in the New Indian Express

Motherhood: being a mother; so much has been written about it already.

And today I’ve decided to write about it, again. After all, it is one of the biggest things that define me, no matter how I try to pretend it doesn’t.

I’ve tried to write something for a while, now. I’ve touched upon the subject several times. However, I have failed to talk about it in real terms; what it actually is, and I have a feeling I will fail again.

Motherhood is subjective. No two experiences are exactly the same, although some common threads may run through every scenario.

Motherhood is also an inescapable, all encompassing cloud of guilt and love. Both exist in their purest forms, for a mother and to a certain extent, for a mother to be.

As I look at my children, it is impossible for me to separate my existence from theirs. Although the umbilical cord has been cut physically, a more metaphorical, metaphysical one exists. This cord will never be severed, cannot be removed, not even by death.

I know this, because I see it in the eyes of mothers who have lost a child, and in the eyes of a child who has lost their mother. I see the one who has been lost, there still, like a watchful shadow, and there they shall remain, the silence in between words, in the space in between two worlds, summoned occasionally in a memory, a smell or a sound.

As I look at my children, one girl and one boy, one moon and one sun, as my daughter likes to say, I feel a weight upon my chest. All at once, it is a comfort and a burden. I only feel the burden during the nights when they do not sleep because of a fever or a cough, but that burden I will willingly carry just so my children can sleep in peace.

It’s funny how priorities shift. If we go out, I want my daughter to look like the most beautiful girl in the room. I will accessorise her like a little doll until all I can spare for myself is a quick shower and 15 minutes to dress and adorn myself in any haphazard way I can.

My tiger stripes and panda eyes don’t bother me so much these days, not when I look at my son hold his cricket bat or emulate his older sister when she does her homework. As he scribbles indecipherable symbols on to a page with crayon, I can see, the way only a mother can, all his potential brilliance, something beyond the ordinary and I am so very proud! Both of my children, I am sure, are destined for greatness.

I can take a million photographs of them and look at them again and again and again. I can watch candid videos of a giggle or a tumble countless times and still yearn to go back and watch, a few times more.

My children, as for any mother, are miracles to be witnessed with eyes wide and heart open.

I wonder why. Evolutionists will say a mother’s love serves to protect her future line. Is that why I growl like a panther at the very thought of anyone harming my offspring? Is it really so primal?

Oh, the guilt! Let’s not forget the guilt. That awful feeling chases you around your own mind until you succumb. In that space between logic and reason, a mother will find a place for blame, three quarters of it resting with herself, because surely there was someway to prevent this.

“If only, if only, if only,” a voice whispers in the dark.

Yes, love, pride and guilt. That is what motherhood is, light and dark, the sun and the space between the stars.

It lifts you up so you can see the face of the divine, exhilarated at the sheer heights you have achieved, but the fear of the fall and the very brightness of that which you were never meant to see, leaves you blinded. All can become black in an instant.

No, this is motherhood: love, pride, guilt and fear.


The Third Kind

Inequality exists everywhere, not more so, than right here in Calcutta. There’s rich and poor, there’s the educated and the not, there’s man and woman. In every walk of life, for every step I take outside of my front door, I am confronted by a different reality where everyone certainly is not born equal.

But we all have somewhere to go, people who can help us, rights which would stand up in court, I was told the other day. If you are a man and you’re being denied a place in a hospital you can complain. If you are a woman and you are being denied a driving licence, you can complain. If you are of a third gender and you have been raped, you cannot complain. Who will you complain to?

As I travel in my comfortable air-conditioned vehicle, towards the many malls the city has, I notice the huge amount of people who are not actually travelling anywhere, yet are still on the road. I notice men selling peanuts, blinds for car windows, random red blankets and chewing tobacco. I see women begging, old and hunch-backed, leaning on a stick. I see women begging with a baby precariously balanced on their hips and I see a third kind…clapping, demanding, tapping on my window. I ignore them all but the third kind are the most persistent; calling out to me, cajoling and then insulting in the same breath; “Pretty Didi, go on, surely you can spare some change.” And then, “tight-arse stuck-up bitch!”

I’m intrigued by this, slightly amused so I look back but she has moved on to another car. This time the window is wound down and a hand holds out a ten-rupee note. I wonder why. I’ve heard stories told of the third gender, or ‘hijra’, as they are popularly known here. They can bless your new-born, your home and your business. Spurn them, however and they will curse you. And as everyone knows, around here, you do not want a hijra’s curse upon you. Stories are handed down through myth and superstition and capitalized fully by some of the ‘hijra community’. What else can they do? Getting a job when you’re seen as ‘different’ is not easy anywhere, especially when you dropped out of school because of abusive peers and teachers with little sympathy.

I compare the hijra’s situation to the standing of the transgender community in the UK. Over there, equality is the buzzword. I suppose everything else has been taken care of, such as food, health and education. Every child, no matter what their preference of clothing will be given an education and parents will be prosecuted if found guilty of abuse. The United Kingdom is such a small place, almost totally homogenized from coast to coast, like a bottle of delicious multi-flavoured milk; everyone seems to know their rights and know what is and isn’t acceptable. Every child has a right to a loving home and a good education. It is not acceptable to mistreat anyone…ANYONE! There may be pockets of the country where people are still discriminated against, for almost anything especially the colour of their skin or their sexual orientation, but by and large, it’s a safe place to grow up.

Here, on the other hand, I learn from Ranjita, who runs a Community Based Organisation (CBO) called, Gokhale Road Bandhan, that not all children in West Bengal share the same rights as in other parts of the world. Her organisation is primarily working with HIV intervention amongst the people of the community. They are THE go-to organisation for the MTH community (Men who have sex with men, Transgenders and Hijras), I learn. However they do a vast amount of work just sensitising the population who are not so aware of the possibility of all grey tones in our lives. Ranjita also runs the network, Association of Transgender/Hijra in Bengal(ATHB), which is the first registered network in the country to focus exclusively with the issues of the transgender and hijra community. Currently there are twelve CBOs who are the partners and associates of ATHB and located at various districts of West Bengal.

Ranjita, a transgender herself, lives with her partner and works, literally 24/7 for the cause. The other day she received a call from a distraught teenager who was having his hair forcibly cut off because his father wanted him to be more masculine. Late at night, the child was screaming down the phone as Ranjita could only listen helplessly, but for some, that is all that is needed. She tells me, as she serves me fresh lemonade and a bowl of spicy pasta, that the transgender community is not so badly off in the metropolises. Exposure is high and life is relatively simple, though hard. However, jobs and health treatment are harder to come by; one must be manly if you are male and one must be a woman if one is feminine. There can be no blurring of the lines. She wants the MTH community to be visible, accepted and given the same rights as everyone else.

Recently the Supreme Court of India ruled that the third gender be legally recognised. It has directed the government to provide equal opportunities to the socially and economically deprived transgender population, including that of health care. Getting a driving license, however is much more of a challenge, according to Ranjita. She does not want to be issued a licence saying she is male, because, in her mind, she is not, so she sits at home with a shiny new car unable to legally drive it. Bigger issues include adoption, getting a loan, separate washroom facilities and hospital wards…where do you go if you’re not actually acknowledged for who you are? The paper work Ranjita, is told, has not quite caught up with the law and society as a whole, which leaves the transgender community in a bit of a quandary.

Meanwhile, out in the villages of West Bengal, things are worse; a fourteen year-old boy is sexually abused and tortured for being effeminate. Children as young as eight or nine, are being castrated by ‘quacks’, unqualified surgeons, so they might be initiated into the ‘hijra community’for pursuing the ‘hijra profession’, whether or not they actually choose it. Castration is not something all transgenders seek, yet are sometimes forced into it at an early age because in many cases they have been trafficked by gangsand forced into the sex trade.

Ranjita also mentions that even today, after the Supreme Court Order giving recognition to the third gender, there is not much of scope for those in the transgender community of finding a job in the mainstream workplace, so in order to ensure survival they are forced to get into the sex industry. She also adds that most of the community based projects are intervention based and primarily aimed at, and used as a tool to, fight contamination of HIV/AIDS etc. But there is also a need to have projects, which are income generating from where the people belonging to the third gender can earn some money.

The problem lies in the lack of exposure and education, I think. It’s also a lack of empathy and the ability to see people for who they really are, rather what their genitalia says they are. However the world is getting smaller. Every day one is learning something new. I know a few people who will read this and will still be scratching their heads…surely you’re either a man or a woman, everything else is just a choice.


You do not get to choose who you fall in love with, you do not get to choose who you are. We’re all born with a certain longing to belong…that is the only thing that makes me the same as you. It is about time people saw people as people. I’m sick of labels…I’m sick of the world dishing out more to the people who have had it easy their whole lives and taking away, from the people who have everything to lose, on a daily basis. I think poverty is also to blame. People can’t fill their bellies here, let alone care about the Supreme Court’s ruling on a bunch of ‘messed up lady boys’. I’m not sure what the solution is, except education. Throw away the superstition. Throw away the stigma. Start giving people the tools to compete with the rest of the world, because when I look around this vast country and overcrowded city, I see a world as was, 200 years ago.

Success and progress is not measured by how tall your buildings are, it’s measured by whether EVERYONE can say they are healthy and happy and free to be who they want to be.

From google images. A popular image depicting Lord Krishna and Radha as one...essentially the masculine and feminine in one being.

From google images. A popular image depicting Lord Krishna and Radha as one…essentially the masculine and feminine in one being.


Faith or Luck or a Way of Mind?


What is it? Why is it?

I’m going through stuff at home at the moment. It’s best not to elaborate…it’s private! But it’s stuff, nonetheless.

I thought I was dealing with it quite well, I thought I could handle the ‘either or’ of the situation but last night I was bowled a bit of a ‘googly’, as they say in cricket. There’s a third option or to be more precise, an infinity of options. Now, having worked out and mastered my reactions to the eventualities I thought were going to be upon us, I found it a bit difficult to remain composed during the whole situation when I find that there are other likely outcomes and not so easy, comfortable ones, either. But just at the right time, a friend appeared, pretty much like an angel and is leading me to something new, a revolution of the mind…’faith in something more than I’. It’s happened completely by accident, but at exactly the right time! And I find myself wondering how did I get here?

I’m not religious, but I’m spiritual. A friend described me to someone as agnostic. I suppose I could be that too. I believe in a higher power, but I don’t believe it’s quite God. I believe in the right time for things and that everything has a reason that we may not fully understand. The only reason I believe these things, is that time and time again, I have experienced it.

When I have sat back and waited for things to play out, believe it or not, they have played out beautifully. I have been happy and fulfilled. When I have been stuck in a rut and have looked for change without success, I have stopped and suddenly change came and dragged me into a situation I would not have even contemplated. I admit; I have been lucky. Or have I? Am I one of those people who have just simply accepted that things always happen for the best and then have adapted to it, consciously looking for the positive? What would have happened if I decided that I was the unluckiest person in the world? Would that shape my experiences in the opposite direction?

Is it age? I’m in my early thirties (yuck!) and I have reached a stage in my life when I say, some things cannot be changed and we should be grateful for what we have, because not so long ago, we did not have all this. And it is true, I have accrued a husband, two children and more laughter and amusement following these acquisitions than I ever thought possible.

Perhaps it is where I am. I’m in Calcutta or Kolkata. It’s a city where people amble nonchalantly, rather than stride with direction. “Hoi jabe” is a phrase you hear often, meaning, it will happen, when it needs to. But then you also hear, “Hobe na,” with a doleful shake of the head, meaning, it will not happen, no matter how much of a bribe you offer. It’s as if in Calcutta, you resign yourself to a fate that cannot be changed…it has happened this way and will continue to happen this way, because broken as it seems, it still works. Your will has nothing to do with it. So I suppose I have resigned myself to that too. It was easier than getting stressed every time something was not happening in the way I envisaged, which was a lot!

Faith is a funny thing. I need it to survive. It’s arrived at the right moment in a form I can deal with. It is in the form of something logical and rational and resonates with vibrations, in a way I never thought possible. I just need to cultivate it, like a garden. The soil is finally soft and fertile enough to allow that to happen and flowers, I am sure, will bloom.Image

Thoughts on Love on a Grey Calcutta Morning

“When love beckons to you follow him, Though his ways are hard and steep. And when his wings enfold you yield to him, Though the sword hidden among his pinions may wound you. And when he speaks to you believe in him, Though his voice may shatter your dreams as the north wind lays waste the garden. For even as love crowns you so shall he crucify you. Even as he is for your growth so is he for your pruning. Even as he ascends to your height and caresses your tenderest branches that quiver in the sun, So shall he descend to your roots and shake them in their clinging to the earth……

But if in your fear you would seek only love’s peace and love’s pleasure, Then it is better for you that you cover your nakedness and pass out of love’s threshing-floor, Into the seasonless world where you shall laugh, but not all of your laughter, and weep, but not all of your tears. Love gives naught but itself and takes naught but from itself.

Love possesses not nor would it be possessed; For love is sufficient unto love. And think not you can direct the course of love, if it finds you worthy, directs your course. Love has no other desire but to fulfil itself.”

But if you love and must needs have desires, let these be your desires: To melt and be like a running brook that sings its melody to the night. To know the pain of too much tenderness. To be wounded by your own understanding of love; And to bleed willingly and joyfully.”

Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet

When I was about thirteen, I came across these beautiful lines in a poetry anthology I was given to study at school. I was in love then, so I memorised it, not knowing what it meant. I only knew it was beautiful and talked of love being vast and holier than anything that I had known before.

There is so much love inside us all. The love in me is destructive sometimes. It comes out with a fierce desire to protect and as a result it may destroy. I’m thwarted at every turn because the ones I love will make the choices that they must. I describe it as shouting at a soap character on screen, willing them to make the right choice but they can’t hear me. The script must play out, the show will go on, and in the end, the character will be heartbroken. There is simply nothing I can do.

The love here, in Calcutta seems magnified. Everyone loves to extremes. It’s like watching a strip of magnesium burn brighter than the sun only to be left with the remnants of a memory. It is a starburst in the darkness and clinical correctness of a laboratory.  I think everyone here is chasing that starburst, that momentary elusiveness of wonder and lust.

I’ve heard stories of couples who have been married for years, have children, respectable positions in society, just let it all fall away because they’ve ‘fallen in love’. It happens everywhere, I suppose, perhaps more so in the West. People get divorced all the time. But somehow, it feels like it’s been sought out here, deliberately. It’s necessary because the poets have written about it for decades. Tagore’s heroes and heroines must befall heartache and tragedy, as it is the only way to love. Despair is a prerequisite to happiness and truth, it seems.

But what is Love? I did not know what it was until it filled me up with contentedness and content. It is that which stopped still the longing and searching and swallowed the void until light poured forth from every pore.

Love will not ask of anything. It is self-sufficient. It will be you, who will give, willingly, as you are nourished with its enduring strength.

But I suppose we must all learn the ways of heartbreak and rejection first, like rights of passage. Perhaps our hearts need to be broken and set in the perfect shape to allow Love to enter. I don’t know.

All I know is that I am blessed with Love. I pray that those whom I love, will find it too, that many-coloured bird that sings of joy and strength and patience and peace.


Love, Kahlil Gibran from Google Images