Tell me a story

“Oh, I thought you’d forgotten!”

“How can I, mom? I just got 20 per cent off of bread on Mother’s Day sale.”

My mother thought I’d forgotten about Mother’s Day because I didn’t wish her on Sunday. It came up when I mentioned it, with the flyaway tone it deserves, in a conversation two days later.

Every street corner has a flyer or a billboard reminding us about this celebratory day. Everywhere I look, there’re roses and pinkish red ribbons cajoling people to splurge, guilting them into buying things their mothers may never even enjoy.

But that’s just the tradition of Mother’s Day. Each year during this time, storefronts and in-stores promote maternity, maternal thankfulness, love, and forever gratitude.

What a story, huh?

Storytelling is now an unmistakeable chapter in marketing books. Almost every marketer I know understands its value, speaks about it, and in public forums vouches for it. But this “trend” came about only in the last three to five years. Before that, no one spoke as much about the great tactic that’s storytelling and its role in marketing and sales.

And yet, for years, we’ve been falling prey to some of the most wonderful storytelling the retail industry has ever divulged.

Yes, I’m saying Mother’s Day is a story. And a well-said one too.

In most of Asia, children live with their parents until they get married or go off to work in a different city. However, in most of the western world, children move out of their parents’ far sooner—sometimes as early as fifteen years. That is an excellent market for the Mother’s Day story. You know how it goes: the child takes one day off from their personal life to meet with their mother, praise her, thank her, and show her how much they love her. It’s the perfect story—with the right blend of care- and guilt-inducing narrative, the story can survive generations, as we see it has. The best part? As the Asian culture adapted to westernisation, more Asian children experience it too.

In a sense, the grand narrative of being there for your mother, at least one day of the year, has become such a relatable matter for so many of us that we give in to without second thoughts.

With today’s tech growth, we don’t need one day of the year to bond with our mother. Heck, I moved to Australia a month ago, and I still call my mom twice every day. I don’t always want to—when you’re talking to your mom that often, you run out of things to talk about much sooner than you’d imagine—but I still make time to call her. She would freak out otherwise, but it’s also a nice way to acknowledge her and what she means to me.

I’m not the only one either. A lot of people I know have regular interactions with their parents. But even they follow Mother’s Day ritual because it’s just so baked into our minds, and—gosh what would people think about them if they don’t?

That’s how compelling this story is. It’s so haunting that you can’t get away from it without going through with it. And like a vicious cycle, as people fuelled the tradition every year, we’ve ended up with a generation of mothers who’re accustomed to expecting the $100 wine bottle (which they know was on sale for $89.95) as proof of their children’s love.

As a marketer, I appreciate the mastery of the storytelling. But as a child, it just makes me a monster who’s so obsessed with work that she couldn’t even send her mother a card on Mother’s Day.

Oh, well.

The other mother

Why do we call her “mother” nature?

It’s more than personification. It’s a symbol. A mother—the one who births us—is a guide, a teacher for her child.

And nature, too is a guide, teaching our soul how to live. I used to think of nature only as a mother that bears us longer than a physical mother.

But there’s so much more likeness between mother and nature.

A mother is always there for her child, willing to listen and help without passing judgements. She’s patient and all-enduring, even the odd misbehaving child.

Nature bears with us despite every thing we do to her. We dump garbage on her, pump our waste on her hair, drill deep into her being searching for wealth, and yet, not once does she punish us for being as we are and doing what we do.

Sure, life isn’t always a walk in the park. Like my mom, nature has bad hair days, too. And sometimes the wind blows hard on our relationship, shaking pillars we’ve built over the years. Regardless, every catastrophe, every hard-to-face situation is a lesson for life. These incidents teach us to acknowledge and accept the bad things, just as we crave and cherish the good ones.

Looking back at the aftermath of those rough times, we can learn to amend our mistakes. For when we reflect from her perspective, we’ll see how much we’ve abused her selfless kindness. We’ll realise how we drove her into venting her frustration on us. Maybe we triggered a long-suppressed volcano of disappointment.

Just as we mature, so do our spiritual and physical mothers. We often forget that. Just as leaves, the hair changes, as seasons, the moods evolve, and then she becomes less intriguing to us.

Mothers don’t punish their children for bad behaviour, but even they have tipping points. And it often takes a breakout for her to get our attention—a reminder that we should spend more time with her. A reminder to call on her more often and listen to her. Because, once we’re grown up we forget how much we relied on our mother—how much we loved playing in the sand, dipping our toes in the river, and dancing in the rain.

A mother is an embodiment of everything we live for. We should preserve that relationship.

Let this mothers’ day be a happy nature day as well.


Thanks for this week’s muse, Kumud and #SpiritChat

Of Greatness

People talk so much about mothers and the sacrifices they make. For ages, people ignored their mothers and the sacrifices they made for their family.

But that’s changed now. Every mother’s day, people thank their mothers, speak so highly of their greatness and share photos on Facebook to show their gratitude to the rest of the world.

What about the other mothers?

She’s the one who starts work before you’re awake, sweeps your floors, cleans your bathrooms, refills your tissue rolls, clears away your empty cups, dusts your desk, rearranges your dishevelled papers, eats after you, and works on Sundays.

And yet, she’s not your mother.

She’s a maintenance staff. The people who make an office of a piece of construction.

So many of these maintenance staffs are mothers too. And it’s painful to see them working so hard for the people who don’t even spare a second look at them.

Most of them are my mother’s age. Every time I see one of them mopping the floor for the third time in a day, I wonder if I’d want my mother in the same situation.

I wouldn’t. Because it’s a sad job. Because people don’t see you for who you are; people don’t see you at all. And yet, not one of them walks past your place without taking away the cup you were too lazy to throw away. And if you happen to catch their eye, they smile at you — not the false smile you give your boss, but the one your mother gives you. What makes them do that?

I don’t think it’s passion for their work. A sense of conscience? Are they just loyal to their salary?

It’s not about the money. It was never about the money. Yes, it’s their job to clean, but it’s their choice to clean satisfactorily. Because they care. They care about you, they care for me.

It’s the human vulnerability. They look at me and they see their own daughter. The mother within drives them to do more, to do better.

I sat staring at the laptop one morning. It was the festival holidays and the office was almost empty. A maintenance staff came up and asked me why I didn’t go home for the festival holidays. We spoke for a while and she wondered aloud how hard it must be, living in a foreign city, away from family, not being able to go home for the holidays without getting crushed under poor roads and the terrible traffic of monsoon rains.

She works a 12-hour shift and her every break is valuable. She didn’t have to spend her time talking to me. But she did. She spent her free time consoling me. She didn’t know why I didn’t go home, she didn’t know I was too lazy to trudge through traffic.

She just assumed I couldn’t go, never once suspecting that I didn’t want to go. Because she’s a mother. And mothers don’t judge.

If that’s not great, what is?


Written for a contest run by Tata Motors to promote their campaign, #madeofgreat.