2.Mother as an Embodiment of Sacrifice: A Critical Study of the Selected Short Stories of Anjana appachana

                                        - S. Ramanathan

                                Research Scholar (English)

                                Bharathiar University




   On talking about the family system prevalent in the Indian society, mother plays a significant role in managing the family. In the Indian familial set up mother plays the pivotal role in shaping the character and personality of a child. Mother socially, biologically, educationally and emotionally guides a child.  Mother, as Githa Hariharan observes: “She was always our anchor rock, never wrong, never to be questioned, a self evident fact of our existence”.This paper analyses the short stories of Anjana Appachana; how she portrays the Indian mother and what kinds of decisive roles, she discuss as a mother plays in the family set up. It also analyses the various roles played by the mother—as a manager, a care-taker, an expert in weaving the personality and etc. as portrayed in the fictions. Different facets of an Indian mother is analysed in this paper keeping a close study of the primary sources i.e short stories. Through out the paper I followed the documentation style explained in the Seventh Edition of MLA Hand Book for Writers of research Papers.



                                                      Motherhood is priced

Of God, at price no man may dare
To lessen or misunderstand.
                                                   ~Helen Hunt Jackson.


Anjana Appachana is one of the most well-known fiction writers of our era, who has made her debut as a writer of fiction in 1991 with a collection of short stories, Incantations and Other Stories. Her first novel, Listening Now was published in 1999. She is the recipient of several awards including two Hawthorne fellowships, O. Henry award and a national Endowment for arts creative writing fellowship. She was born in India and educated at Scindia Kanya Vidyalaya, Delhi University, Jawaharlal Nehru University and Pennsylvania State University. Thanks to the kind of education, she could receive from various institutes and the impact of western culture; she became a staunch feminist echoing for the rights of women in Indian tradition and against their oppression and suppression in the male created and male dominated world. Presently she is in Arizona, USA. “Her Mother” from her first book, Incantations and Other Stories published in England, the United States and in India and was translated into German. Unlike her contemporaries, in both of her works she portrays the Indian traditional landscape rather than the political landscape. In both her fictions she delineates the problems, troubles and tribulations faced by women on all spheres of the world with an Indian flavour.

Mother in Indian tradition:

            Family, as an institution was to be found even in the most primitive of human societies in the world.  Mothers play quite an important and substantial role in the Indian families.  There is a staunch belief that as God cannot be everywhere with every one on all times, He created mother.  Such is our social setup that mothers are placed as equal to god.  William Makepeace Thackeray enunciates: “Mother is the name for God in the lips and hearts of little children”.  In our Indian tradition mother plays a very significant and crucial role in all the walks of life of children and on all the spheres of conducting and guiding a family.  She manages the family, responsibly brings up children and the development of children and family.  In our tradition mother plays a very significant and crucial roleon all the walks of life and is responsible for the welfare of the whole family by acting out various roles like a manager, guide, philosopher and friend. She suffers like anything in the process of building and unifying the family and placing the reputation of the family in a high position and at many times she loses her identity. Swami Vivekananda sums up:  “The ideal womanhood in India is motherland – that marvelous, unselfish, all suffering ever forgiving mother” (58). 

Any literature through out the world irrespective of the language glorifies mother. Indian literature is not an exception to this point. Irrespective of the genre, our literature glorifies and sanctifies mother. Nissim Ezekiel, one of the poets of Indian English literature narrates an experience of a mother in a scorpion nit night in his poem ‘Night of the Scorpion’. The mother was stung by a scorpion. All are curiously to devenomise the mother; where as the mother prays to God for her children and thanks Him for sparing the children’s life. Even in the death bed the mother is the only person who thinks about the welfare of the family and the betterment of her children. The mother prays:

My mother only said

Thank God the scorpion picked on me

And spared my children. (Ezekiel 17)

 Mother as a lover:

            Aristotle says, “Mothers are fonder than fathers of their Children.” A Mother loves her children above anything else in the world.  She passionately cuddles, hugs and kisses the infant.  A child narrates her experience how far here mother is affectionate to her in

 “My Only Gods”: “Her bed time stories filled me with delight for they were mostly about mothers and children and she would demonstrate how much the mother loved the child by kissing and cuddling me”(5).

                 Often mothers unselfishly sacrifice their joys and sorrows for the sake of their children.  They often live for their children.  In the same story the mother is recovered from a serious nervous break down. The child is not allowed to meet the mother and as a result. The child suffers in solitude.  After five days, when the mother is recovered from the ailment, the child meets her mother; her grandma tells the child: “She was back only because of you.  She was back only because of you, she could not live without you” (10).

            In the story “Her Mother” the mother intervenes through a letter with her daughter who is doing Ph.D. in America.  Throughout the letter we can feel the motherly love.  In the opening of the story the daughter has written a letter, the mother reads and she had a “good cry” (162), though all the words in the letter were fine, nice and okay, because of her physical separation  of from her daughter.  Appachana explains, “The mother let out a moan she could barely control and wept in an agony of longing and frustration” (162).

 Mother as a Care taker:

            Mother takes care of the whole family, leaving aside her dreams.  She gives shape to the dreams of the family members amidst all her anguish, frustration and dreams.  She manages the emotions of all the members in the family.  “My mother had dreams other than those of being a good wife and mother. She realized some of her dreams through us, her three daughters” (Appachana17). As a mother, she cares the child through out the child’s endeavours.   In the story, “Her Mother” the mother instructs her daughter to have her meals promptly “Eat properly... Have a plenty of milk, cheese and cereal” (163).  Every mother cares for the child to get married and give birth to children. Every Indian mother promptly feels her concerns and duty towards her daughter in the way of bringing them in the family line.  In the same story, she hints on the attitude of the heroine’s sister of postponing of having children and she writes. “... until one day when they are as old as your father and me, they will have nothing to look forward to” (164). 

In the story “Bahu” Siddharth’s mother is described as cruel towards her daughter-in-low whereas she is more kindful enough towards her daughter and says: “There is no one to indulge my poor child, no one to cook her favorite dishes. She cannot eat from a servant’s hand. Once I cooked for her” (20).  Such is the motherly tenderness and concerns.  When the children are grown up, the mother, want to experience the world through the eyes and experiences of their children and the mother writes to her daughter: “Describe the trees, the buildings, the people . . . Let your mother experience America through your eyes” (167).  Thus a responsible mother cares for her children sacrificing all her dreams and joyfulness.

 Mother as a personality developer:

            Etymologically personality as a word is derived from Latin ‘Persona’ meaning actors mask or character in a play.  Personality includes all round development of human beings physically and mentally.  Physical developments include the growth in body and its organs mental development can be done through the stories and literature.  Our literature teaches us how to live and adjust with the society regardless of the language.

            Mother teaches her children how to live eliciting more details form puranas. In the story “My Only Gods,” mother uses the Indian epics and puranas to entertain the child during the nights.  The child remembers: “My mother told me my bed time stories.  She alternate between Ramayana and Children’s stories (2).  All Stories have a moral attached to and the morals help the children to live better.  In the same story the mother insists that a child should not lie.  The Mother detects every mischievous acts of the child and instructed accordingly.  Once the child and her friend Bina burned the matches in the match box in the drive way.  The mother identified the mischievous acts of the girls and the girl refused at first and finally they accepted.  The mother says: “Look into my eyes... God tells me you are lying.  Don’t do it again (4).


Mother manages the emotions of her children. Managing emotions and purifying those emotions are the integral part of personality development. In the story “My only Gods” the child describes herself as the queen of all tantrums and the responsibility of bringing back the peace on the face of the child invariably lays on the mother. Appachana places an inter text with in the story and the mother in the story narrates the story ‘Peter Rabbit’ in which the gardener killed the father rabbit; the child started her tantrum for the mother has killed the baba rabbit in the story.  The mother goes the extent of apologizing to her daughter. The child in the story explains, “I sat quietly hiccupping on the floor and my mother apologized to me for having laughed” (3).

                Physical changes are also taken care of by the mother.  The mother wants her children to be dressed up neatly.  Also the neat dressing up forms the part and parcel of personality. The mother in the story, “Her Mother” who intervenes through a letter instructs her daughter to oil hair regularly and writes:


Oil you hair every week and avoid shampoos.  Chemicals ruin hair.... With all the hundreds of shampoos in America, American women’s hair is not a patch of Indian women’s.  Your grandmother had thick, black hair till the day she died (163).


Indian tradition demands women to have long thick black hair.  Once the daughter cut off her long thick hair.  The abruptness and sacrilege haunted the mother and the mother describes the situation:


“For days he (father) brooded in his chair in the corner of the sitting room almost in mourning avoid up even look up at her, while the mother murmured.  You have perfected the art of hurting us” (164).


Mother as a Guide:

            Indian mothers train, protect and guide their children on all their endeavours.  It is the mother who constantly intervenes in the development of the children rather than the father.  With their mother’s guidance and emotional support, the children can consecutively internalize their feminity or masculinity.  As Gita Hariharan elicits: “She was always our anchor rock.  Never wrong, never to be questioned a self evident facto of our existence” (16).

           In the story “Her Mother” the mother sends the proposal of marriage to her daughter.   She writes everything in support of getting married, as in the Indian societal set up marriage in considered as the traditional role of women, though it “almost always, annihilates woman” (De beauvoir 496). Marriage is the instrument of exploitation in the hands of feminist perspectives whereas the mother persuades the daughter to get married and also hints on how to select the bride groom through her letter.  She wants the girl to be cautious enough while selecting the bride groom. She persuades the girl to marry an Indian and also she gives reason for not selecting an American. “Now these Americans they will divorce you at the drop of a hat.  They don’t know the meaning of the phrase, “sanctity of marriage” my love if you marry an American and he divorces you and we are no longer in this world what will you do?” (171)

          Indian mothers do instruct and guide their children based on their experience.  In the story ‘Her Mother’ the mother’s is a love marriage and she instructs her daughter to have an arranged marriage and she narrates:


I know what a romantic you are, but believe me, arranged marriages, work very well.  Firstly the bride is readily accepted by the family now look at me ours was a love marriage and his parents disliked me and disapproved of our marriage. Because my sister had married out of the community they thought I was fast because in those days I played tennis with other man, wore lipstick and bras.  I wonder why I bore it.  I should have ban cold and distant as them but I was ingratiating and accommodating.. Now in an arranged marriage you can choose not to have liabilities.  I am not material ting but I am not a fool either.  Responsibilities are responsibilities...That is why arranged    marriages,work                                                                                                                            (170-71).


           The mothers pre-cautiously instruct the girl about how to live in a sophisticated and hypo critic society like America.


“Keep distance from American men you are innocent and have no idea what men are like.  Men have more physical feelings than women.  I am sure you understand platonic friendship between the two sexes does not exist.  There kissing is as casual as holding hands.  After that you know what happens one thing can lead to another.... if there is an Indian association in your university please joins it”. (174 – 75)

                   The mother prescribes a remedy when the girl is in chaos and turmoil, as it may be evident in a sophisticated life in a country like America during the routine transaction of every day life.  If she lives in India with her, she can make her feel comfortable.  But she lives in America in isolation.  So the mother prescribes to seek the help of God.  She writes “Sometimes when one is in trouble . . . and there is no solution for the trouble prayer helps.  It gives you the strength to carry on” (177).

              Mother is a traditional woman who wants to keep control over her daughters as she is afraid, they might worsen their good name, and as a result of which they will not be married in respectable families.

Summing Up:

            India is a land familiar for traditional and cultural background; a land which is archeologically the origin of the Indus Valley Civilization, first well known civilization in the making of the world civilization. India is the only country which successfully commemorates the familial system even in these days of great chaos as compared to the rest of the world. In the short stories of Appachana covers the traditional landscape. Mother, in the family, loses her identity and significance in the day to day life because of her continuous involvement in caring the family members and looking after the affairs of home. Though Appachana lives in America, she commemorates the Indian tradition and culture by commemorating and sanctifying mother in her short stories. As our tradition gives important and role in the family in the family set up, she commemorates the identity of mother. She considers mother as a lover, care taker, personality developer and a manager. Various facets of a mother in a family is presented by the writer in her short story collection.


Works Cited

 Primary sources:

    Appachana, Anjana. Incantations and Other Stories (1991).  New Delhi    

                                                                      Penguin Books, 1992. Print.

 Secondary Sources:

    De Beauviour, Simon. The Second Sex (1952). Trans & ed. H.M.Parshley,  

                                Harmondsworth : Penguin, 1983. Print.

Hariharan. Githa. The Thousand Faces of Night. New Delhi:                             

                                                               Penguin, 1983. Print.

  Vivekananda, Swami. The Complete works of Vivekandanda Vol VIII

                                                          Calcutta : Advaita Ashrama, 1971. Print.

On-line Source:

            http:// www.quotegarden.com/mothers.html