Early this week, as the world celebrated the international women’s day, I was contemplating over my mother’s personal journey in life; a bed time story she would often tell us in the pre-television days. A story, I fervently believe now, many Bhutanese mothers of her generation share as well.
The course of her destiny was sealed early in life when she missed the opportunity at education. It was as if her hands were meant to work the fields and not fiddle with pen and paper. As she was the eldest child in the family, my grandparents, ill informed and ignorant one might call them, they did what they perceived was the best possible thing for my mother, then.
Sometimes, I wonder how different she would have been had her parents not hidden her among the pigs and that she was sent to school. She would have been an educated daughter, wife, mother and now a grandmother. She would not have been subject to numerous tribulations she had to fight hard.
Nearing 60, my mother has no remorse whatsoever. Perhaps, she did not even remotely think about the myriad biases she was treated with much part of her life. More or less, it has been a stoic acceptance of the varying, often difficult, realities of being a woman. For me this quality is a manifestation not of weakness but of strength. She truly belongs to her own time.
My mother would not spend all her life in a rustic village, though. Her fate would change eventually. She would meet a young civil servant visiting his village – and in need of a wife. After the traditional courtship, she is married to the man, my father. And then, she would leave behind her rural home for a new world in waiting, with a surreal sense of exhilaration and expectation as well as that of intimidation.
The journey takes her through different experiences, a process of learning and unlearning, adversities and finally fulfillment. She bears the pain of giving birth to five children and then the burden of raising them. By no uncertain terms, her life was easy or comfortable. In my reckoning, as I introspect, rather it has been a really tough going all through.
My father wasn’t a civil servant of rank and file. He earned but a measly salary. With increasing cost of living and many mouths to feed at home, my mother put to use her skills she had learnt back in village. She wove day in and out to make up for the scarcity. The hearth had to be kept burning.
To top it all, my father had taken a loan to build a house. And every time a letter would come from the bank neatly folded in that familiar yellow envelope, darkness would descend over her life. But there was no giving up on the home that was built out of sweat and labor.
My family ventured into piggery and farming on borrowed land. It was one full circle for my mother. She came from the depths of a similar scene only to relive it far away- back to the fields. The only difference was the shift in the mis-en-scene.
Every morning and evening, my mother would collect scraps from the hotels to feed the pigs. And she did that for almost a year, until the pigs had grown into mammoth size, ready to be slaughtered. This thought sends a chilling sense of guilt across my mind for not having understood the predicament of the situation as a child, not that I could have done any good either.
Adversity is a good teacher. If my mother is frugal today, I guess, she picked up this ability through her years of hardship. She managed despite odds of all kinds. Yet, I have not seen her complain or feel bitter. Perhaps, deep inside she must have had her moments of longing for something better, a recess from the consistent cycle of struggle and deprivation. But she did not let it out, not even for a moment.
She was a person who played the second fiddle to my father but now I know how much she had given into raising the family that to her was the world, and beyond. And even without an education and the understanding of the world outside her little hamlet, she has come a long way. Today when I look at her, she is not just the source of my life but the very meaning of it.
There is nothing sophisticated about her. Everything for her has been simple, down to earth, even the way she looks at religion. She believes in basic goodness of thought and action, karma, and cause and effect. She wouldn’t be swayed by her educated son’s bragging talk on modern philosophies. Yet she will lend a ear.
One fateful day in 2003, when fire engulfed the house we were living in, my mother although shattered displayed an exemplary show of strength. All her life’s efforts, wealth and belongings were burning in that awful fire and moments later all that would turn into a heap of debris.
Later when the fire was doused and we moved into a makeshift camp, my mother told the exhausted and inconsolable family members: “We start from scratch tomorrow and start building our lives. There is no point being depressed about the loss.” She fought back tears when she uttered those words. Everybody felt a renewed sense of purpose. Only a mother, the giver of life, could have made it easier said than thought!
(Kinley Tshering is the managing editor of Business Bhutan)