It was my father’s 25th death anniversary and my mother and I were reminiscing about events that led to his death, over a cup of tea. My mother said that after I had married and my brother had left the house to study further in the US, my father had missed us terribly. He had developed an underlying fear that my mother would leave him too (that she would die) and that he would be left all alone in this world and often remarked about it.
A week before he had died (in an accident), they were sitting in the balcony after dinner, when my father asked, “What would you do, my dear, if I were to die tomorrow? Who would look after you? How would you manage on your own? My mother had laughed and dismissed it as something preposterous, in the circumstances. “Why do you say that? Nothing is going to happen to you. You are fit as a fiddle. Besides, I am sure our children would be there for us if we needed them.” “No”, my father had said. “I don’t want to impose. We should let them be, to get on with their lives. You are strong, mentally and emotionally, I mean. Women usually are. But I don’t think I could carry on, if something happened to you... if you leave this world, before I do.... if you leave me alone...No, it has to me...I am sure I will go first but you don’t need to worry, dear. I have ensured that your future will be financially secure. You will not need to depend on anyone. ”
It was a poignant moment. My mother reminisced that it felt as though my father had a premonition about his death and had probably unconsciously voiced it. However, she believed that if it she had died first, my father could never have survived on his own this long, regardless. She believed that older men were never the same, if they lost their partners during the fag end of their lives. They felt lonely, lost and unwanted, turning into shadows of their old selves, even if their children had tried hard to make them a part of their lives. Women, on the other hand, were stronger and resourceful enough to continue with their lives with scores of activities to keep them occupied. They could either stay on with their children, being a source of support to them or look for fulfillment and gratification in social activities.
The concept of widowed older women remarrying, as opposed to their western counterparts is not very popular in India, as it is looked on with disfavor by the rest of the family members, including her children. The women choose to spend the rest of their lives with their children, feeling content in their happiness and welfare. and it is a characteristic that is rooted in her upbringing, culture, tradition and the role she plays in shaping her family's future against all odds.
In the ancient scriptures, there are a few theories that equate women to Mother Earth, who takes on uncountable knocks on her bosom by man and yet continues to give to mankind. As a woman spends all her life catering to her family’s needs, handling family emergencies, overseeing sticky situations, multitasking, taking on life’s punches and learning to roll with them, she is the embodiment of the Goddess Shakti (power). As a result, she is resourceful, adaptive, strong, confident, tolerant, positive demeanor, intuitive and above all, gentle. These qualities can get her going longer than a man ever could, in situations that calls for quick recovery and a faster rebound.
It got me wondering if women are mentally and emotionally stronger than men, after all. Although men are physically stronger than women and have laws favoring them in most counts – men made them, after all – the age old perception that women belong to the ‘weaker sex’ is taking a beating on account of several extraordinary breakthroughs by women athletes, entrepreneurs, political leaders etc. I think woman's liberalization is not about freedom from men nor do I believe it is about equality between men and women, but it is about man and woman’s need for each other, believing that each is incomplete without the other and promising never to leave the other alone, ever, till the end of their life.