Grandmothers are traditionally repositories of many types of stories. Gifted narrators, they are able to transform the most mundane daily household experiences into absorbing yarns that keep the young ones around them engrossed and out of trouble, for hours. They have a finger on the collective pulse of the attentive listeners and can switch effortlessly from one tale to another depending on the mood of their audience. Folk tales, scary ghost stories, mythological and spiritually uplifting sagas of saints, gods and goddesses; they always appear to have an endless repertoire to tap into. Also, they are adept at concluding each narrative with a punch line to deliver a powerful moral lesson, intended to be engrained in the mind for the remainder of our lives.
Sisters tend to be sleuths. Nosing around to smell a fishy tale involving the brother when one might not even exist, or threatening to create one and plant a seed of doubt in the mind of their mother to exact vengeance. At the same time, sisters can be counted upon to provide yeoman services for their recalcitrant brothers who often seek a much-needed alibi and cover for activities that must never come to their parents’ attention. They can be a valuable conduit for introductions to the opposite sex and many years ago, when it was difficult for direct approaches to be made, would serve as a clandestine bridge between two suitors. Subject to serious cajoling and the occasional bribe, sisters also serve as “banker of last resort” for, being more prudent, they have access to saved funds that their perpetually broke male counterparts do not. I know, because in the absence of a sister my cousin played this important role to support me through my entire time at university.
Mothers of course, occupy a pride of place in our heart. They are special. Loving, compassionate, understanding, forgiving, caring. Mother embodies every good quality that comes to mind.
A mother’s concern for her child is poignantly captured by an Urdu poet Abbas Tabish:
“Ek muddat se mirī maañ nahīñ soī ‘tābish’
maiñ ne ik baar kahā thā mujhe Dar lagtā hai”
[My mother has not slept for ages, alas (tabish – also the poet’s pen name)
(because) I told her once (as a child) that I was scared]
Another “shaayar” (poet) Iftikhar Arif has beautifully captured the act of praying thus:
“Duā ko haat uThāte hue laraztā huuñ
kabhī duā nahīñ māñgī thī maañ ke hote hue”
[Lifting my hands in prayer, I waver
(For) no invocation was required when mother was around]
Several years ago, I was preparing to take on an important role in a new team being created at our workplace. Several rounds of interviews were conducted by a series of panelists to shortlist candidates. Among other questions posed, I was repeatedly asked how I felt about reporting to i) a woman and ii) someone who would be fifteen plus years younger than me. I was selected and took on what turned out to be my dream job. Over the next decade, I learned a great deal from the young lady to whom I first reported. Then, after a gap of a few years and other incumbents, I reported to another brilliant young lady. Separately travelling with these two young women for international business trips over long periods of time I witnessed first hand, each colleague’s commitment to her young children and family several time zones away; all the while remaining equally focused on the business at hand.
In this feeble attempt at developing a snapshot of the woman persona, I have saved the best for the last. Just the act of being with my wife as she went through labor pains at the time of our child’s birth caused my respect for women to go through the roof that day!
It is amazing how a woman is able to contain so much and give of herself in many different ways. About time that we trash all verbiage around gender equality issues and listen instead to Harry Belafonte, who has got it right that “The Woman is Smarter!”