A woman plays many roles in her life: a daughter, a sister, a wife, a mother and so on. After her marriage, a woman dons the role of a wife and motherhood follows, but what happens when a mother ceases to be a wife? Yes, this Mother’s Day we speak to single mothers.
In families headed by women in a patriarchal society, how does a single mother survive, how does she take care of her offspring, how does she bring them up to face the world and to become independent and successful? These are questions that will be answered by the stories of these single mothers who have toiled hard to bring their children up.
She fought the world like a tigress
LILY BAWA (62)
Lily Bawa is today a municipal councillor from Panchkula. She runs a gas agency with over 60 employees and is involved in social welfare activities in her ward. She has two children. Her son is a colonel in the army and her daughter an MBA settled in the US.
She has lovely grandchildren and her life seems perfect, except for the fact that she has built this life with hard work, grit and sacrifice.
Bawa’s husband Lt Col Inder Bawa was the commanding officer of his regiment and laid down his life in the Sri Lankan civil war where he was part of the Indian Peace Keeping Force. Bawa’s son was 14 and daughter 12 at that time.
“I got the news of my husband’s demise at night. I did not wake up my children as they were asleep. The next morning I told them that their father had died for the country, he was a war hero, a ‘shaheed’ and this means that he will never die, and he will always be around us”, says Bawa.
Post her husband’s death, she was shaken but her children had to be taken care of. Both of them were at sensitive ages and Bawa took it upon herself to play the role of both a mother and father to them.
She resumed her studies and took up the job of a teacher. In 1988, her husband was awarded the Maha Vir Chakra and when she went to receive it, then PM Rajiv Gandhi told her that she should take a gas agency. She was soon running her own gas agency.
“It was a difficult time; I was a single parent and had to take care of my children and my business at the same time. I was like a tigress that was fighting the world to care for her kids.
I would run around from my home to my business to make sure that I play both roles perfectly. My husband and I had nurtured many dreams of seeing our children become successful; I had to make those dreams come true. It was these dreams and aspirations that drove me on,” she says.
Bawa says that it was tough for her when her son claimed that he would also join the army, she was apprehensive but allowed him to live his dream.
She remembers the time when her son first boarded the train to go off for his training. That day, and the day she married off her daughter, were the most difficult days for her as a mother.
She claims that she always taught her children to be like a lotus, “There may be muck, troubles and difficulties around you but you have to blossom,” she smiles. She signs off with, “My employees are like a family to me.
Even though my children are all grown up, I never cease to be a mother. Be it for my grandchildren, my employees or the people of my ward, the process of mothering is always on.”
Her children are her strength
HARBIR K SINGH (73)
“When your child calls you ‘ma’ or hugs you with little arms, you feel so blessed. This is why motherhood is a great blessing.”, says Harbir K Singh, a Reiki grandmaster, spiritual healer, author of books and a single mother to her three children.
Tragedy struck Singh’s life when she was just 29 and her husband, who was in the Indian navy, lost his life in an accident on a ship.
Her youngest child was barely two years old at that time. Not letting the misfortune tie her down, Singh took up the job of a college hostel warden in Chandigarh to support her family.
She says that between her job and her children she never had time for negativity or self-pity.
Staying in the hostel itself, she had a sense of security for herself and her children; this helped her balance the job and her family.
Problems arose at different times like helping her children choose their careers, marrying them off and so on. Singh says that her children have always been her strength; they never let her feel alone or disheartened.
“I have two sons and a daughter. Both my sons are engineers from Punjab Engineering College (PEC) and my daughter is a postgraduate in English.
They are all well settled and happy. When I look at them I feel blessed. I never complain about the trials I’ve had to face. I believe that I have faced every challenge well and I have full faith in the Almighty. If He brings you to it, He will bring you through it,” she says.
Three daughters always by her side
KANAN DIWAN (71)
When 31 years ago, Kanan Diwan lost her husband to a sudden heart attack, she was devastated. He left her with a massive responsibility of educating and bringing up three daughters. Diwan immediately took over her husband’s business to support her family.
“It is indeed a tough job to play the dual role of both a mother and father, in my case I was not only mother and father but also a brother to my three little daughters,” she says.
She maintains that her relatives supported her immensely but more than anything, her own daughters were like pillars of strength for her.
She repeats that her daughters never made her feel lonely and were always by her side. It was initially tough to run a business and a household simultaneously but she was able to do both with the help of her children.
Her youngest daughter was barely four when her husband passed away. “My youngest daughter does not even remember her father.
I have been everything to my children and they mean the world to me. My eldest daughter was selected in many medical colleges all over India but chose to pursue her MBBS from Patiala in order to be near to me.
Even after her marriage, she had several opportunities to migrate to the US but stayed in Chandigarh for my sake.”
Diwan asserts that a mother is happiest when even her daughters turn out to be excellent mothers.
She says that when she sees her daughters and grandchildren become successful individuals; she knows that she has done her job well.
From 3 to mother of 500 children
NEENA TREHAN (70)
For Neena Trehan, a mother of three, losing her husband was immensely traumatic. They had been together for many years when he died after a massive heart attack.
“It is absolutely crushing to lose a partner when you have been together for so long because you are so used to being together. It is as if a part of you has died. It is really numbing. For my children too, it was traumatizing,” she says.
During his lifetime, Trehan’s husband had been working to set up a school. After his death, Trehan and her children came together to fulfil his dream.
Together, they went from pillar to post to complete all official formalities and get the school up and running. Today, Holy Child School en route to Morni has about 500 students and Trehan works actively to nurture their lives.
“It is no doubt that playing the role of a man is difficult. I had to help my children in so many ways where I wished their father could be present with us. Yet, my children were brave and we overcame all hurdles together,” she claims.
While her children grew up and married, settling down in their respective lives, Trehan is still mothering the students of her school. She believes that she has a huge responsibility of making these students ideal human beings and bringing them up with positivity, just like her own children.
All of Trehan’s children are post-graduates; her son works in a French Company in Mumbai while her daughters too are managers in big companies.
Standing up for the girl child
KIRAN BALA (60)
Kiran Bala is a single parent not by destiny but by choice. She was just about 20 when she was married off but it wasn’t happily ever for her.
All hell broke loose when she gave birth to her first child, a girl. Her husband refused to have anything to do with the baby but somehow Bala brought up her girl with love and care.
When Bala delivered another child, who was also a girl, her ties with her husband were snapped forever. She took the reins of her life and that of her daughters and set up her beauty salon.
“When I started out, I was scared and weak but my daughters gave me strength. When I used to go off to the salon, my elder daughter who was only 6 at that time would take care of the younger one who was barely a year old.
I also had the support from my family and I was determined to give my girls a happy life and a bright future,” she says. Bala narrates how, as the daughters grew up, they began helping her not just in housework but also in the salon.
“There was a time when I had to buy a house and property dealers were trying to trick me, my daughter would research all day on property and thanks to her we could get a great house,” says the proud mother.
Her elder daughter completed her MA and B.Ed., while her younger one did her BCA before pursuing another degree in London.
Today both are married and well settled and Bala claims, “My sons-in-law are so nice and loving, I don’t think if I had sons they could have loved me as much as my sons-in-law do.”