Mother and Mothers | Daily News


In Passing

Mother and Mothers

Ammi Biso Menike Kiriwandeniya with her eldest daughter, Sagari
Ammi Biso Menike Kiriwandeniya with her eldest daughter, Sagari

‘You don’t love us, do you?’ There was hurt and censure in that question put to me by my mother. I was an undergraduate then. The question was a response to my answer to the previous question. She asked, ‘what happened to the shirts I gave you?’ When I entered Peradeniya University, she got me three new shirts. Nothing fancy for ‘fancy’ wasn’t part of our family, ever. New, though. I answered truthfully, ‘I don’t know.’

There’s a nidhana kathava  to all this. A back story. One day, short of money, I had borrowed ten rupees from a batch mate. This batch mate, having met my mother accidentally, with all good intention perhaps, had told her that I was borrowing money. Further information was furnished — ‘he’s borrowing clothes too!’

Correct. I borrowed money. I borrowed clothes. I gave money and clothes too. Didn’t keep accounts. Didn’t have to. Such things, among my closest friends, were considered common property. I figured that years later, if indeed accounts were kept it would be found that while some may have ‘lost out,’ other would have gained. I figured that in the larger scheme of things the numbers would be meaningless.

I answered her question. ‘I do,’ I said. Young, idealist and ignorant about a lot of things, I interjected a disclaimer. ‘Everyone is a brother and a sister, all children are my children, all fathers and mothers, my parents,’ I said. 

That principle of equality was warped. The true dimensions of commonalities came to me years later when as a father I could understand another father’s love for his children.

But back then, I treated the mothers of my friends as though I was their son. They all treated me like a son, so that also helped. Doors were never closed on us. Not then and not now. And so I had a mother in Bingiriya, another in Wathurakumbura, a third in Kumarigama, Ampara, a fourth in Divulgane and one in Madadombe. A more resident son was I in Sinhapitiya and Jambugasmulla Mawatha.

The years rolled by. I moved from all these homes and the homes moved away from me. Some of those mothers are now very old. Some are sick and feeble. Some are no more.  And even today as I murmur the Buddhist verse appreciating mother and motherhood, the ‘dasa maase ure katva’ gathava, I offer merit to all these mothers, those of my friends, my own mother, mothers who gave birth to me and nurtured me throughout all lives across sansara and all mothers yet to shower me with incomparable love.

My mother passed away 11 years ago. For all the love given and appreciated by all the mothers mentioned above and others too numerous to mention, I still recall that on that saddest day I remembered one other mother. I remember telling myself, ‘she is now my only ammi.’

She is a mother of five daughters and grandmother of 10 lovely children aged 12 to 21. She’s been a mother to four younger sisters, their children and their grandchildren too. She’s had many reasons to chide me for all manner of indiscretions and rank stupidity, but she never has. Perhaps if she had given birth to me, she would have been more stern, as my own mother was. Out of love. Yes, out of love.

She has always greeted me with the smile that I feel mothers reserve for their own children, delighting at arrival and wishing the protection of the Noble Triple Gem at departure. When I arrive at family gatherings which are more like clan meetings for there are so many, the last to come typically, she says my absence was felt. She makes me feel special. 

This mother is a matriarch. She is mother to thousands of people whose livelihoods she’s worked hard to improve. She’s indefatigable. She has thousands of things on her mind, but never forgets to distribute the choicest fruits of her ample garden among the families of her five daughters. She is, like all those blessed to be addressed as mother or ammi or amma, fiercely protective, tender in love and made for giving. And forgiving.

Biso Menike Kiriwandeniya is her name. To me, ‘Ammi.’  I touch her feet. With utmost love. May she be without sorrow, free of illness and always rejoicing in the unmeasurable quality of motherhood. I touch her feet with utmost reverence. 

‘Maatu paadam namaamaham.’

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Beautiful photograph and an equal inspiring story. Where in the world would you get such feeling and closeness. My Sri Lanka, this is my land, my own, my native land.

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