The Portrait of a Mother- Amma by Perumal Murugan

How often do we take our Ma, Mumma, Mummy, Mom, Aai, Amma, Ammi, and the numerous names that we call her, for granted? It is only during her absence that we recall her true worth. Perumal Murugan’s biographic novel about his mother, Amma, is an homage to motherhood. The story of a vibrant lady whose values are deeply rooted in the rustic, rural traditions, Amma stands as a metaphor of the saying Old is Gold in a constantly evolving world.

Remember Khushwant Singh’s Portrait of a Lady, Amma is today’s Portrait of a Mother. A village simpleton who excels in farming, household chores, natural remedies, and has a solution to every problem. She stands between Murugan and his father who share a strained relationship often butting in between to stop their fights and quarrels. Murugan’s mother is a pillar of strength and defines his relationship with the other family members.

Amma deals with a serious issue which most housewives in the village’s do- alcoholism. With Murugan’s father being addicted to alcohol it leads to a strain on the household finances. Amma takes to working doubly hard to make sure both her sons can continue their education, she can run the house sustainably, and most importantly she can cope up with the ever-growing medical bills of her husband. This leads to regular fights, abuses, cracks in the husband-wife relation but, Amma never lets such negativity come in the way of her family and destroy it. No matter how hard the situation is she fights with a smile and looks for ways to overcome it effortlessly without letting them influence the minds of her young sons adversely. But alcoholism is an addiction which corrodes the body and mind slowly and steadily, till it withers away. It claims Murugan’s father when he is only twenty years old and transforms his mother to join the white sari-clad women of the village.

Widowhood does not come easy to anyone especially those belonging to the generation gone by and from rural life. ‘If they dreamt about a woman clad in a white sari, they thought of her as Goddess Mariamman and rejoiced; but they didn’t approve of a woman in white appearing before them in person’. Such is the irony of being a widowed woman. The hypocritical society would only respect a woman till she is clad in red but the moment her husband dies, numerous traditions and rituals are forced on them. They are often isolated from the daily village norms and made to live a life following social distancing, embracing loneliness and away from the merry-making of the village life.

Through Amma’s eyes, Murugan describes the beauty of the rural community. A community constituting of farmers, the primary unit of food-givers for the Indian society; and yet how neglected they are as a community. The worse living conditions, lack of proper farming facilities and infrastructure, social and caste-based underestimation and bullying, ever-growing prices of food in the market and not to mention the several levied taxes often drive these innocent souls to claim their own lives to escape the burden of living. Yet, when the fields are nourished and nurtured by these very hands and grows beautiful yields many take to penning down their joy and emotions that they feel by looking at them. This is another situation in a polarised world where men find joy in the simple lifestyle and yet turn a blind eye when it comes to its preservation and upliftment in the society.

With time Amma grows older and gets used to living alone. She takes to loving her plants, utensils, house, and regularly works for their upkeep. She is fiercely independent and strong-willed. However, it is a universal truth that old age takes away the ability to perform various tasks and reduces the capability of working as before. But Amma having worked all her life endlessly finds it difficult to not work at all. She cannot and almost refuses to adjust to the newer surroundings where life has been made easier with the introduction of machines. She rejects any aid from anyone including Murugan as it becomes symbolic to her inactiveness and reflects her inability in certain cases. It also makes her overtly emotional with heightened sensitivity remembering her younger days. Elders are emotional and it is the duty of the younger ones to take care of their sensitivity and emotions.

Amma’s life has been that of a bittersweet fruit with its own moments of ups and downs. Her relations have taken different turns with each member of her family and yet she stands as a rock protecting them till all her life. Her ever smiling and ever young spirit needs to be commended by the readers. Murugan pens down about his mother but in doing so he has stirred the emotions of every reader and their relationship with their mother’s. Amma is quite capable of arousing buried emotions and sentiments for one’s mother through the journey of only a few pages. Sometimes, relations should not be taken for granted and Murugan beautifully reminds the readers of the same. Amma has been translated by Nandini Murali and Kavitha Muralidharan and without them, this beautiful story of a wonderful woman would not have reached hundreds of people.

No. of Pages: 191

Publisher: Eka, Westland

Available on Flipkart / Amazon

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