10 March 2023

Yet another mother’s day

Days. Dedicated days. Scam written all over them. One out of 365 days or 366 in a leap year designated to celebrate one category of people or one phenomenon. Just expresses something like this: alright, this day is for you (or ‘this’) but we go back to oppress the moment the clock strikes midnight. On the other hand, such days can be used to make people aware of things they seldom notice, be it oppression or destruction. Maybe lessons are taught and learnt. Maybe those who picked up something change the way they go about their lives. Not necessarily a bad thing.  

The 8th of May is for women and womanhood. Came and went. I too received some of the innumerable requests posted on this day: think about women who are part of your lives, think about women who changed your life, think about women who suffer, brave and courageous women, indomitable women, angelic women who grace your world with tenderness. And I did.

But women’s days and mother’s days came to me a few days ago in a different context. That they came to mind is obviously an outcome of the hoo-haa over such days over many, many years, but that’s ok. Women and in particular mothers came to mind when I picked up a copy of Maxim Gorky’s ‘Mother’ from a book sale at the Communist Party headquarters. The Sinhala version, ‘Amma.’

‘Mother,’ it could be argued, gave more impetus to the Russian Revolution than the Communist Manifesto. In my case, it helped formulate certain notions about injustice and revolution, the kinds of challenges there will be, the prices that have to be paid and the enormity and yet possibility of revolutionary social transformation. Indeed, I believe in Sri Lanka, among university students with a particular political bent, ‘Amma’ was compulsory reading along with Ostrovsky’s ‘Peralu Nevum Pasa (Virgin Soil Upturned)’ and Bruno Apitz’s ‘Vurkayan Athara Nagnava (Naked among wolves),’ among other such 'inspirational' novels. I doubt if they engaged in as close a reading of Marx, Engles and Lenin. That’s another story.

So yes, I thought of both women and mothers, as I reflected on the character Pelagueya Nilovna Vlasova. And I thought of all the mothers in my life. Mother. Grandmothers. Sister. Sisters-in-law. Wife. Daughters. Aunts. Cousins. Nieces. They all have names and their names are known. Then there are the mothers of friends whose names are hardly known but for whom I was ‘putha,’ treated just as their sons were treated. Strong, independent women who more than their husbands or brothers faced the tests that life threw at them with fortitude and wisdom, efforts taken for granted for the most part.

Mothers in particular. And four of them I have to name: Indrani Seneviratne, my mother, her mother Kisa Herat who was so much my first mother that I am told I called her ‘Amma’ when I was an infant, Samadanie, my wife, mother of my daughters and who in her own way has taken care of me as a mother would her child, and my sister Ruvani, the most tenaciously protective and yet creator of multiple avenues to freedom for her children that I’ve known.  All strong, independent, caring and generous women who have, in their own ways, challenged and triumphed over the patriarchies they found themselves in. You could replace these names with those you know and I am sure the descriptions will still be apt.

And there are, I am sure, innumerable women who do not share the name of the character in Maxim Gorky’s ‘Mother’ but are no different from Pelagueya Nilovna Vlasova. Revolutionaries by day and by night, revolutionaries in thought, word and deed, revolutionaries in the here and now and in the everyday, revolutionaries at the barricades and at clandestine meetings, revolutionaries who weep because they have not given up on love and poetry, revolutionaries in quiet moments, revolutionaries who know when to be quiet and went to go about things quietly, revolutionaries who keep shield hearts so the pulse of the collective will not fade or waver, revolutionaries who don’t necessarily use terms of address such as comrade or sahodaraya but are deeply conscious of solidarity, revolutionaries who are mothers. At all times. Whether or not they have children.

Today isn’t Mother’s Day but it is all mothers’ day. As all days are. It’s international workers’ day. Human rights violations day. Earth wrecking day. Environmental destruction day. Water pollution day. All that and more.  And, mother’s day. All mothers’ day.

And so, being a Buddhist, when I murmur every single day the following words, matu padam namamaham (I worship the feet of my mother), I think of and offer merit to all those who have been ‘mother’ to me throughout sansara and all those whose child I am yet to be, whether or not they’ve carried me in their respective wombs or will not in lifetimes to come.  

['The Morning Inspection' is the title of a column I wrote for the Daily News from 2009 to 2011, one article a day, Monday through Saturday. This is a new series. Links to previous articles in this new series are given below]

Other articles in this series:

A cockroach named 'Don't'

Colombo, Colombo, Colombo and so forth

The slowest road to Kumarigama, Ampara

Sweeping the clutter away

Some play music, others listen

Completing unfinished texts

Mind and hearts, loquacious and taciturn

I am at Jaga Food, where are you?

On separating the missing from the disappeared

Moments without tenses

And intangible republics will save the day (as they always have)

The world is made of waves


The circuitous logic of Tony Muller

Rohana Kalyanaratne, an unforgettable 'Loku Aiya'

Mowgli, the Greatest Archaeologist

Figures and disfigurement, rocks and roses

Sujith Rathnayake and incarcerations imposed and embraced

Some stories are written on the covers themselves

A poetic enclave in the Republic of Literature

Landcapes of gone-time and going-time 

The best insurance against the loud and repeated lie

So what if the best flutes will not go to the best flautists?

There's dust and words awaiting us at crossroads and crosswords

The books of disquiet

A song of terraced paddy fields

Of ants, bridges and possibilities

From A through Aardvark to Zyzzyva 

World's End

Words, their potency, appropriation and abuse

Street corner stories

Who did not listen, who's not listening still?

The book of layering

If you remember Kobe, visit GOAT Mountain

The world is made for re-colouring

The gift and yoke of bastardy

The 'English Smile'

No 27, Dickman's Road, Colombo 5

Visual cartographers and cartography

Ithaca from a long ago and right now

Lessons written in invisible ink

The amazing quality of 'equal-kindness'

A tea-maker story seldom told

On academic activism

The interchangeability of light and darkness

Back to TRADITIONAL rice

Sisterhood: moments, just moments

Chess is my life and perhaps your too

Reflections on ownership and belonging

The integrity of Nadeesha Rajapaksha

Signatures in the seasons of love

To Maceo Martinet as he flies over rainbows

Sirith, like pirith, persist

Fragrances that will not be bottled 

Colours and textures of living heritage

Countries of the past, present and future

A degree in creative excuses

Books launched and not-yet-launched

The sunrise as viewed from sacred mountains

The ways of the lotus

Isaiah 58: 12-16 and the true meaning of grace

The age of Frederick Algernon Trotteville

Live and tell the tale as you will

Between struggle and cooperation

Of love and other intangibles

Neruda, Sekara and literary dimensions

The universe of smallness

Paul Christopher's heart of many chambers

Calmness gracefully cascades in the Dumbara Hills

Serendipitous amber rules the world

Continents of the heart