When an 11-year-old English boy crossed the English channel in freezing weather a friend remarked, Well, he had to be English. An Indian mother would not even let him cross the road!. Indian mothers have been fiercely protective of their children and a good mother has always shielded her children from every difficulty, illness or even the chastisement of neighbours since the days of Krishna and Yashoda .
The mother in Indian society has all along been placed on a pedestal where she is deified and fertility is rewarded with respect and recognition through rituals and behaviours. She has stood by her children and has even walked out on her husband to support her principled son in many a Bollywood setting. In advertising too, the mother was always the demure super woman dedicated to the well-being and happiness of her kids. The children were usually passive recipients of her caring; seated at the table, playing in the garden, running at school competitions or sleeping in bed. She was the ultimate care-giver. Other forms of popular culture such as TV and cinema have fuelled this and the good mother has always shielded her children from every germ, problem or heartache.
She has never challenged them and has turned them into winners through her unflinching and unconditional support. Her kids are taller, healthier, smarter, faster, naughtier and happier than all others. This has been her victory and she controlled everything the children did as though in relinquishing that control she became the bad mother (kaisi maa ho tum)
Since Mother India and Nirupa Roy, she starved and worked herself to the bone to feed her kids and was never the society lady who neglected her children and went to clubs. She was demure, traditional and her world revolved around her children.
About a decade or so ago, we saw the surge of the cool mom a loving mother and an exciting friend packed into one. She broke the rules of the house and multi-tasked home and work responsibilities. She also broke away from mothers advice and listened to the doctor, used diapers and germ free products, experimented with international food and organised parties. She befriended her kids friends and frequently ganged up against the father in playing pranks.
She became younger and modern. In cinema, Reema Lagoo, Rati Agnihotri and other younger actresses started replacing the older looking women. They wore modern clothes and had a life beyond their kids. In advertising too, she had shorter hair, wore jeans and drove cars; but what didnt change over the years was her need to protect her child from the external world. She was attuned to protecting her child from the external. So be it bahar ka khana or bad company, teacher ki daant or losing a competition she shielded and assuaged every hurtful experience. From being a protector alone, she moved on to being a protector and a friend. She started looking like her childrens elder sister and was sometimes capable of receiving male attention from men who thought she was younger.
But this too is changing. Suddenly, we are seeing a new mother emerging. It started with Surf saying Daag Acche Hai. This is a parent who does not molly coddle and believes that children need to fall, make mistakes and get messy to learn life. She has realised that the child would ultimately face the outside world and as a good parent, she needs to prepare them and not protect them. This new parent believes in letting the child make her own mistakes and not rush in too early to help, giving her a chance to have successful failures rather than devastating ones.
The recent Bournvita TV ad stands out significantly and maps an emerging discourse in society. It not only takes the mother out of the realm of kitchen and the dining table, it also shows her breaking the easy-to give-in-mother mould to become a strict goal-oriented trainer. Here is a mother who instead of making her child happy by losing gamely, competes fiercely to make him understand the value of winning. The visual depiction of the mother also moves beyond the traditional or the feminine to track pants and athletic swiftness. For another age demographic, HDFC Life Insurance broke the mould by showing a grown-up daughter paying for her parents car/foreign trip. The reversal of roles, particularly brought in focus changing value systems towards the girl child as well.
The Indian parent is changing, surely and swiftly. While working on Avanse, an educational loan product for DHFL, we identified the emotional baggage of the fathers sense of responsibility about being able to fund his childs education. Taking a loan for education had to be his burden and yet the emerging Indian parent teaches responsibility by asking the child to shoulder part of the loan.
Who knows, an Indian child may cross the English Channel yet.
Alpana Parida is director at DY Works while Runjhun Pacholi is general manager strategy in the same company