It’s that time of the year again, when our news feeds are spilling with selfies of our friends with their mothers, and companies are bending over backwards to bring out ads saluting the spirit of a mother. Having had long WhatsApp discussions with my brother about what to gift my mom this year (and eventually sticking to the good old flowers), and having finally found and uploaded a picture in which both Mom and I look good, I sat down to think of what Mother’s Day is really about.
Interestingly, the origin of Mother’s Day is not as cheerful as the holiday itself. The inspiration behind Mother’s Day was a lady called Ann Jarvis, who lived in Virginia during the mid 1800s. Ann Jarvis bore about a dozen children over a period of 17 years, but only four survived childhood diseases like measles and typhoid, and unsanitary conditions. As someone who had experienced immense loss due to poor health and sanitary conditions, Ann began Mother’s Day Work Clubs which aided and educated families to reduce infant mortality.
During the American Civil War (1861-1865), Virginia broke into Western Virginia, and saw some of the earliest conflicts. Both the Union and Confederate suffered huge losses, and Ann’s Mother’s Day Clubs started working for the soldiers of both the camps. Ann Jarvis felt deeply for the mothers who had lost their sons to the war. After the war ended, she organized “Mothers Friendship Day” for soldiers from both sides and their families, to start the healing process. She had always wished for someone to start a day to honor mothers. After her death in 1905, her daughter Anna Jarvis took it upon herself to fulfill the wish.
Three years after her mother’s death, Anna Jarvis organized a special memorial service in honor of mothers. She also sent five hundred white carnations, which were her mother’s favorite flowers, to all those who had attended the service. She campaigned vigorously to make Mother’s Day first a national holiday in the US and then an international holiday. In 1914, President Woodrow Wilson signed a proclamation making the second Sunday of May as Mother’s Day. But Anna’s happiness about this was short-lived.
As is still prevalent, this sentimental holiday was quickly commercialized, and greeting card, flower and confectionary industries made immense profits from selling Mother’s Day special commodities. Of course, we all see why! Even Facebook introduces the “Flower/Grateful Reaction” in May, riding on the association of carnations with Mother’s Day. Anyway, Anna Jarvis felt that these industries were exploiting the idea, and felt that the ideal way to celebrate Mother’s Day was to actually pay her a visit and spend quality time with her. She was so resentful of the commercialization that she held protests to rescind the holiday. She was arrested in 1948 for disturbing peace, and was reportedly placed in a sanatorium. She dies a year later.
While I understand the sentiments of Anna Jarvis, I also feel that giving gifts, or even posting stuff on social media is not a lesser way of celebrating the day, as long as you actually care for your mother. Of course, it’s a personal choice – it’s completely acceptable to not make a fuss out of it, and show your mom, and not the world, that you love her. Many people are quick to judge people who are celebrating, or at least posting about this day, calling it westernization of culture. And while that may be true, it comes from a good place.
Now I won’t go all mushy about the importance of mothers in one’s life – it is undeniable, and there are already enough videos and songs doing that. It’s difficult to be on Facebook during Mother’s Day weekend without feeling homesick. Add to it an online playlist dedicated to the woman, especially with the song, “tujhe sab hai pata, hai na ma!”. I remember the first time I heard the song, and saw its video. My family and I were watching the movie Taare Zameen Par, from a DVD. When the song came up, I was crying, true to the label of the emotional fool of the family. But when I turned around to see the others, I found that I wasn’t alone. It really is a powerful song, and I felt its effect again when I saw Shankar Mahadevan perform it during my college's cultural fest. Getting thousands of young adults, who are looking to party, misty-eyed at once is no small feat. But it’s not my favorite “Ma wala gaana”.
My favorite is this gem from Khoobsurat, called “Ma ka phone aaya”. It is symbolic of how crazy and intuitive our moms can be, calling us when something is going wrong, especially when we are going wrong. It is also a reminder of how terribly important it is to not miss her call, and the drama that follows if you do. And that even our moms dread missing the calls from their moms. The song is fun, like our friendship with our moms, and it makes them human.
For a very long time, moms have been idolized as symbols of selflessness and sacrifice. And don’t get me wrong, I do believe that mothers give up a lot to bring us up. As I see some of my friends and colleagues bear and have kids (with joy for them and dread for the process), I realize that it takes immense strength and unlimited patience to raise children. (Seriously, how does one do that?) But, if we constantly condition them to become epitomes of sacrifice, or super-women, or goddesses, we take away from them the freedom to be human, and make mistakes, and make choices better suited to them than to their children. It makes us trivialize their struggles, for we expect them to wear them as a badge of honor. If we start seeing them as humans, and start taking our share of responsibilities, we might help them better than by singing odes to their love and courage. Of course, it is easier said than done – it means we have to work, and not call Mom every single time there is a confusion or difficulty (something I am very much guilty of). But it might give our moms more time for themselves, and help us become better children, and truly display the spirit of Mother’s Day.