Shaheed Ki Maa: The Mother Of The Warrior And How India Is Embracing Her Strength
Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman’s gesture of touching the feet of a soldier’s mother will act as a catalyst for change that will renew public consciousness surrounding the warrior’s mother.
It is a powerful and silent beginning in a psychological war thrust upon us by the enemy.
Behind every warrior defending India against the enemy, is an unsung mother and her motherhood. She is the emotional fulcrum of India's consistently tested patience threshold. Whenever India's brave sons rumble a military shift to redefine that patience threshold against the enemy, the brave mother, too, braces for the anticipated impact. Her emotional armour melts when the tiranga (tricolour) is handed over to her. Yet, she carries on. Hem Kumari, mother of martyr Ajit Pradhan, is one such courageous mother.
In Dehradun, when India's Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman touched her feet in respect, she was not prepared for this moving gesture. However, she seemed assured of her status — that of a brave janani to a warrior. She seemed convinced that she is cared for.
Sitharaman bent down in respect for the martyr's mother. The occasion was 'shaurya samman samahroh', a ceremony organised by Bharatiya Janata Party MLA Ganesh Joshi, in honour of the brave women. Uttarakhand is known as the Devbhumi. But it is also the Veerbhumi — the land of bravehearts.
Visuals of this meaningful gesture from Sitharaman were also shared by former Uttarakhand chief minister and current MP Dr Ramesh Pokhriyal, whose daughter joined the army last year. On Twitter, he wrote that Sitharaman's gesture was “adbhut, aitihaasik, bhavuk (amazing, historic, emotional)”. Pokhriyal in particular was speaking as an Uttarakhandi, a father and, perhaps, in his case, even a bit of a mother or on behalf of one.
According to a report in Amar Ujala, Sitharaman also mentioned that Uttarakhand continues with the tradition of sending brave soldiers to defend India. She also said that when she goes to other states, she talks about this aspect of Uttarakhand. This gesture and these words hold a lot of emotional weight in Uttarakhand. Brave mothers, who give their sons to protect India, are not restricted to Uttarakhand, nor is the remarkable show of respect, gratitude and faith in them expressed by the ordinary Indian citizen.
Wing commander Abhinandan Varthaman's mother, Dr Shobha Varthaman, witnessed such warmth recently when she was on a flight from Chennai to Delhi. She was with her husband, Retd Air Marshal Simhakutty Varthaman, on her way to receive their brave son. He was expected to return from Pakistani custody, in Amritsar. The moment, recorded by a passenger travelling on the same flight, shows the hero's parents walking down the plane's aisle. The passengers welcome the parents, clapping, cheering for them, some joined hands in respect to the brave couple. One gentleman can be seen trying to touch their feet - from his own seat. Shobha Varthaman can be seen placing her hand on her chest, perhaps in part gratitude, part awe, part relief.
One reason this video went viral was because you and I were as much part of this moment, as the passengers on that Chennai — Delhi flight. The happiness was unbound, because the ordinary Indian was watching, hoping and confident that Abhinandan was seemingly fine, and would return safely. Adding to the helix of pride nationwide, was a strong measure of curiosity emanating for Abhinandan's mother.
Everyone wanted to get a glimpse of the mother whose son had spread out a heroic sequence of events — he chased the enemy in hot pursuit, ejected from the aircraft, landed on enemy land, braved the impact on land, and even when blindfolded in custody, soared before the enemy wearing courage, uniform and moustache. Dr Varthaman rushed across the aisle hurriedly. It momentarily flipped her motherhood timeline.
To me, it felt as if this probably was how she would rush to collect her daredevil after just another moderately rough bout he played in the monsoon slush, 30 years ago. In a matter of hours, news channels got Dr Varthaman's story together and found out that she was 'no less a hero'. Her contribution to humanity over various assignments outside India does cut a heroic image. However, learning about her own accomplishments makes women of her son's generation, you and me, realise, that being a Janani of her stature in the modern times would take a lot more than womanhood and motherhood. It would require feet grounded to duty as dharm.
Dr Varthaman, according to news reports, has two sons. Signs of an action packed motherhood are still visible. So is the inherent joy. Darkness plays hide and seek for the brave mothers of soldiers who protect India.
Grief and sorrow have pushed their way into Mrs Bisht's life. last month, in action following the terror attack that targeted the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) men on 14 February. When I visited the Bishts at their residence in Dehradun last month, she was quiet, without a tear and struck by grief after initial waves of shock. One son was before her eyes and one not. "I don't know how she will emotionally comprehend that one of them is no more. For her, the names of her two sons came as one. Sonu-Monu. Motherhood for her was Sonu-Monu,” her husband said. Mrs Bisht, as any other humble home maker from Uttarakhand, would now struggle with the new emotional dynamics of the same space she has nurtured as home, and two sons separated by just a hyphen.
"Isee Ghar se,
Shaheed ka janaza nikla thha,
Tirangey mein liptaa,
Hazaaron ki bheed mein."
The lines from Harivanshrai Bachchan's poem ‘Shaheed ki Ma’ heighten the grief when I think of Major Vibhuti Shankar Dhoundiyal's mother. He was among the soldiers killed during the Pulwama gunfight, and her only son.
In Indic traditions, a warrior's mother is considered the sacred giver of his virtues. Recently, this aspect was covered in a celebratory spirit in Uri — the film dissed by its haters as “self-congratulatory”, in the lyrics of a fervent song. The robust song ‘Jagga’ sung by Daler Mehndi pays a tribute to the warrior's success by attributing it to his mother in a traditional refrain — ‘Ma ne hai janmaya ek soorma’.
Uri surprised me with how succinctly it placed the mother at the core of the protagonist's journey, very much in the midst of a build-up. Uri brings the warrior's mother to the foreground. It shows the hero as human. Rajit Kapoor, who plays the role of the prime minister, moves things for the soldier, in order to prevent him from opting for an early retirement and to keep him around his mother, who is shown to be suffering from Alzheimer’s disease.
Uri's wasn't to be the regular mother-son interaction that Hindi film industry is used to delivering. It begins and ends in silence, except, she does remember his name and calls it out in the end — something we do not hear but only lip read. In Uri, the protagonist is shown making his fastest sprint in uniform, not towards a battlefield or a terrorist hide out or a prep drill, but in a residential area, to make up for the lost time in his chase to find his mother, who has stepped out towards the unknown. Beauty in his sprint is like that lone tear drop which flows out in anticipation of a looming danger.
The mother is shown shifting between consciousness and awareness of the grief that has befallen upon the family, when her son-in-law, also a soldier, dies in the terror attack. At the cremation ground, she is spontaneously hugged by her sobbing granddaughter. The embrace lands heavy on Swaroop Rawal, who plays the mother, and she shakes under its impact.
A creative effort from the previous decade. Rang De Basanti without Waheeda Rehman's presence would be robbed of a parent and spine. There is a moment in the film when she answers what being a wife to a soldier means. She says that he belongs to the country first. It's about learning to accept the fact. “Tum chaho ya na chaaho ye sach tumhe accept karna hee hota hai (whether you want to or not, you have to accept the fact)."
Later, her son Flight Lieutenant Ajay Rathod gets killed in a MiG crash. The event places Waheeda Rehman and her character as a mother at the centre. Prasoon Joshi's lyrics clothe Waheeda's grief with the warmth she would now need. Embracing it is Lata Mangeshkar's grief soaked and emotional voice singing the song Luka chhupi, which becomes Waheeda's voice in her silence. The emotional tide turns as expected, but Lata on Waheeda and Waheeda on Lata, makes this portion of narration, haunting, painful, unbearable and real. I hold an unpopular view of the film, which has remained unchanged since the film's release in 2006, but this song co-sung by A R Rahman immediately sucks me in.
Luka chhupi — meaning hide and seek — plays in the background as the cremation and ceremonial tributes unfold. The tiranga is placed in Waheeda's hands before the first line of the song wraps up. The song provides the longest and the most poignant conversation between the mother and son. "Mere chanda, tu hai kahan (where are you, my moon)," she asks. "Lagaey bin tere mujhko akela (I feel lonely without you here)," he confesses.
Evil apparitions lurking around the funeral pyres of our soldiers are not uncommon. Escaping their lust for malicious propaganda surrounding the families or mothers of brave soldiers is a tricky thing. Draining, too, but not tough or impossible. Uri bore the brunt of it post Pulwama. Make no mistake. Despite the united stand on India's counter strikes against Pakistan from citizens, the 'tukde tukde' tacticians will present your vigorous support to India's brave men their mothers and families, as asymmetric war mongering response. This is to free their own image of being divisive elements who camouflage Pakistan's consistent terror campaign against India from the nation's conscious grip on the scenario.
Some obvious gender-related complications. The concept of India as motherland riles them. Also piping them down is the heavy turnout of the average Indian at martyrs' funeral processions, where men they usually describe as 'war mongering Indians' are seen desperate to have the last glimpse of the soldier in his last journey. On a shallower plane, scratch a bit their strange obsession with Narendra Modi's masculine tone on nationalism or counter strikes, you would find their obvious dislike for Nirmala Sitharaman's tough words, actions, and moving gestures.
The warrior's mother, meanwhile, remains tough in her crumbling moment. CRPF martyr Ramesh Yadav's mother Rajmati Devi, as per a said “Aur maro, tabhi sabhi maon ke beton ki shahadat ka badla milega (hit them more, continue the strikes, only then the mothers would get the revenge of the martyrdom of their sons." The fulcrum has shifted. Public emotion has moved over, from the light bearings of anger against Pakistan, its sympathisers and cheer leaders living in India, to the ferocious calm of gratitude and concern for the soldier's life and well-being.
As citizens, we must have our ear grounded to every word from the warrior's mother. Her anger against the "system", or dissatisfaction with the government, if and when it arrives, should be accepted as a spark from her eternal aahuti. The warrior's mother, perhaps, is the living manifestation of Bharatmata, the tenth devi, herself. In her, are concealed the calm, fire and consciousness of Parvati, Durga and Saraswati.
If her son has given his life for the nation, move towards her — as a daughter or son. Be around her. Surround her. Touching her feet in respect and gratitude is a small and necessary beginning in our dharmic continuity. Nirmala Sitharaman — woman and defence minister — should be thanked for the gesture, and putting the warrior's mother back on India's visual memory. It is a powerful and silent beginning in a psychological war thrust upon us by the enemy.
The catalyst of this change is the renewed public consciousness surrounding the warrior's mother. She is the unseen hero, on whose back and womb rests the sanctity of this great civilisation.
In herself, she represents the trinity — sacrifice, valour, vatsalya. She has been embraced, she is here to stay with the men and women she has not mothered.
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