A wrinkled face with a beautiful smile, frail-looking strong hands, endless enthusiasm, undying hope and compassion to animals, Bharatamma, a washerwoman by profession and ‘caste’ (in ancient India people were divided into castes based on their professions – some like Bharatamma still own the profession of the caste they belong to) is one of those few people who inspire me.
Bharatamma loves her son and believes that he will look after her when she can no more work to make her living. Now, at 68, she along with her widowed daughter, she washes clothes and does laundry in five households. She works 12 hours a day and never forgets to go to the temple on every auspicious day to make an offering in the name of her son. She makes sure that she goes to only to those temples where the priest utters her son’s name clearly along with his other details like a surname, family name and father’s name, lest God be confused to whom the prayers and offers are made.
Bharatamma’s son and daughter-in-law have well-paid jobs and live in a fairly big house that has all amenities. Their family comprises a married son, a married daughter, their spouses and grandchildren. The son’s family hires maids to do the washing, cleaning, cooking, and baby-sitters. But Bharatamma herself works as a maidservant and lives in a hut whose roof leaks from everywhere during monsoons.
Bharatamma’s son and daughter-in-law ask Bharatamma and her widowed daughter to come and stay with them, not to support them but to replace the servants they have employed. Bharatamm doesn’t feel offended in the least. However, she wants to live on her own as long as she can manage as she wants to save some money for her widowed daughter.
Bharatamma feels sorry for her son because he has a big family and works very hard. Once in awhile her son comes to her and tells her that he badly needs some money and takes away both her and her daughter’s savings. Bharatamma does know that her son is selfish, sly and unsympathetic towards her and yet gives in. She tells herself that it is natural for a mother to love her son unconditionally.
Bharatamma wants to marry off her widowed daughter to someone who has also lost his spouse and needs a companion. She believes that her daughter would be better off with a husband than living with her son’s family. However, Bharatamma’s daughter-in-law does not allow this to happen because she is eagerly waiting for Bharatamma to pass on and have the helpless girl serve the big family of hers – a family of eight adults and three little children and an infant.
Sometimes Bharatamma wants to keep her savings to buy medicines for her daughter who suffers from stomach ulcers and migraine. On such occasions, the disappointed son accuses her of being selfish and greedy. His rudeness and indifference upset her but she never admits it.
However, Bharatamma like many mothers is proud of her son because he will perform her funeral rites when she dies. She is one of the millions of Indian men and women who believe that it is only the son who can liberate a person’s soul by performing the orthodox funeral rites. She believes that one MUST have a son. If you ask her what use is it to have a son who is selfish, cunning and above all indifferent to parents, she says whatever he is – a son is a son! Even if you have ten daughters who love you and care for you, they do not equal a son because your bloodline ends without him.
Bharatamma, continues to slog, lies to herself that her son will look after her when she can’t work anymore. Her son’s indifference is obvious and his thanklessness deeply hurts her but she never shares her grief.
She never forgets to thank God for blessing her with a son and prays for his wellbeing . When she comes across a woman who does not have a son, she feels sorry for their misfortune and feels proud of herself for having borne a SON.