The Making of Black White Etc
By Aakriti Pasricha
Motherhood is one of the primary roles that is expected out of a woman. These expectations are presented to her from very early on- beginning with the toys she plays with which tell her that once she grows up, she is expected to run ‘happy families’ with kids and all. So then what happens if a woman chooses not to have kids? Or, what if a woman can’t have kids? What happens to those who do decide to have children? Does the decision come with the sacrifice of something? Who is a good mother? What is expected out of her? And once she has a child, is a woman only confined to the role of a mother?
I might be able to answer the last question as I think back to the time when my maasi had a kid. For months after that the only thing I talked to her about was my cousin, when I met her, when we talked over the phone. Interestingly, I was not the only one who did that, everybody did. Suddenly, the only way I could look at my once friend-like maasi was as a mother. Why?
These are some of the questions Bani, Sreepriya and I had in our minds when we started writing the script for the play this year. Why are women with children always seen in context of their relation with the child? What about their circumstances? What about their needs and choices?
Mothers, they have defined and shaped us in a million ways, but how have we changed our mothers? How did we change their lives by coming into this world? And does merely the act of giving birth to a child make a woman a mother?
Our first scene in the play was originally written by Rabindranath Tagore and it shows the conversation between Kunti and Karna, characters of the Mahabharata, the former being a woman who abandoned her first biological child and the latter being the child she had abandoned. The idea of the entire scene was to bring to light the fact that one should, for a minute, stop seeing the way a mother has treated her child and take a look at the circumstances that caused her to take those steps. Why label a woman a “bad” mother without even pausing to see the context in which certain decisions were made? What about the guilt she feels? And why does psychology, a subject that prides on taking a holistic view on things, have such a skewed perspective on motherhood which looks at her only from the perspective of the child?
Next, we brought to light two scenes of a working and a non-working mother, both of whose relationships with their children were defined by the paths they chose and the elements of guilt in their life. The first mother, a working woman, made a decision to continue work even after having a child, she chose to fulfill her dreams and is every day torn by the guilt she feels since she does not get to spend enough time with her child. Her ideas of what is best for her child are nurturing the child’s full potential, providing the child with opportunities to grown and learn. Every day she is reminded of the societal expectations that have been ingrained in her since childhood, expectations that she ought to be always there for her child no matter what. But what is she expected to do? Should she give up on all the dreams she ever had just because she has a child? Would a man ever be expected to give up his dreams once he becomes a father?
The non-working mother, on the other hand believes that being there for the child is the best she can do for him. Her presence, in being there to be able to paint with him, teach him, keep a check on him are the ideals of motherhood that she chooses to follow. But as we look deeper, we realize she has her own sets of guilt, beginning with the fact that she did not fulfill the dreams she once had; that once she had a child, she did not have the time to work on all that she believed in. So then, is it only the mother who shapes the life of the child or is the relationship a two way wherein the presence of the child also alters the life of the mother? The paths she finally chooses?
We began with questions and we end with questions. Why should mothers be expected to be perfect and that too by definitions given by theorists and the society? Why can’t a mother be a mix of both, someone who may not be the ideal mother but still somebody who truly loves and cares for her child? And why is a mother believed to be the sole caretaker of the child? What roles do other people play, say, the role expected out of a father? What, across cultures, mothering has been stereotyped as ‘women’s natural duty’?How will the society be like if we make a giant leap from “mothering” to “shared “parenting”? Is mothering a biological or a socially constructed act?
And this is how we started working on Black White etc. With a very talented team comprising of Bani, Anukanksha, Damini, Mohana, Rashi, Sreepriya, Tania, Yamini, and of course, your very own Aakriti Pasricha, we set out to picturise the ideas in our head. I must say, the entire journey has been wonderful, probably teaching me more than a months’ share of lectures (the lectures I actually had to miss!).