This mother’s day, let’s remember the original supermoms – our own mothers who taught us that the superpowers that make us “supermoms” lie in the simplest of habits.
Let’s start from the very beginning.
To my naïve 10 year old eyes, the sight of those white crisp envelopes that came out every month from my mother’s cupboard was sheer joy. It meant it was the day that I can feel important and go about doing things adults do – Count Money! My mother would put wads of currency notes and bills in front of me. She would make me count the exact amount required to pay off a bill and carefully place that amount into a white envelope diligently labeled in my beautiful cursive handwriting – one for the maid, one for the newspaper delivery boy, another for the milkman and so on. At the end whatever was left, a sum was put into her purse and the remaining into a special envelope that remained blank.
Years passed by and my interest in the monthly ritual waned. I reached out to those envelopes every month only to get my monthly pocket-money and stopped altogether when I started teaching French while in college to make a handsome sum for myself. The mystery of the blank envelopes lived on.
On a chilly December morning, hell broke loose. I was looking forward to the last day of my 3rd term exams for Master’s in Economics. My mom hadn’t called me in the morning for the usual “all-the-best” wishes. I dismissed it thinking home was only a few kilometers away and I would meet her straight after the exams instead of going to the hostel. A few hours later, elated that my exams were over, I switched on my phone to call my mother. Instead I received a call immediately from a distant relative – he asked if my father was doing fine. I don’t remember much of what ensued except that I landed in the hospital where my father had been rushed after a near fatal road accident.
My sister was away in London completing her Master’s course. My brother (a good 7 years younger to me), who was riding pillion that fateful day had escaped uninjured and managed to get my father to the hospital. And there, in the midst of all the madness stood my mother, strong as ever and our beacon of hope.
3 brain surgeries and over 6 months of recovery later, my father began to show signs of his usual self. We had occasionally resigned ourselves to the fact that he may remain demented, unable to recognize his own daughter and claiming to be a doctor. From a successful businessman running a chain of showrooms, my father had been reduced to a person who was heavily dependent on his family to even cross the road. The times were testing and we siblings matured overnight.
As we got back to our normal lives, I slowly realized the extent of expenditure. The bills from all the surgeries, unending medicine lists, and innumerable tests were mind boggling. Strangely, my father was the only one in the family who did not have medical insurance – which meant we had to pay for all the bills in full. Elsewhere, father’s business had come to a standstill during his absence, in fact within months it was reduced to a single showroom. Truth be told, I would be the only bread winner in the house starting that June because I had been placed in a decent company earlier that winter. My sister would stay back in London trying to find a job. My brother would soon be starting college which meant huge admission costs. The stress levels were mounting.
But I was in for a pleasant surprise. The moment I finished my exams in May, I asked my mother about how we could pay back. I had assumed that relatives around had paid hospital bills while Mom was running around. My mother smiled as she told me how all the bills had been paid for, we had not incurred any debt despite the fact that the showrooms had shut down. We hadn’t even sold any assets.
And slowly the mystery of the Blank envelopes unfolded – how Ma had for years been meticulous about saving small sums, making every rupee count. My brother went on to complete his studies from a premier college, my sister got married early next year and dad was getting stronger by the day. (He was never the same man I had looked up to, he was now the parent I looked after) And all through this journey we sailed on the power of those little sums in the blank white envelopes.
With children out of school, physical distancing as the new norm, and children’s rights under threat, the new world order has “turned back the clock” on years of progress made on children’s well-being. However, it’s not all bad. As a human race, we’ve been built to adapt: we’ve seen a tipping point in technology-enabled education and the promise of a new education policy in our country.