More than a mother

They’re called “maa” by children they didn’t give birth to, and go beyond motherly duties to ensure their kids’ welfare. This Mother’s Day, Shrabasti Mallik talks to four unique mothers who have dedicated their lives to nurturing children without parental care

It is almost 4 o’clock. Tulsi Parihar is busy in the kitchen making snacks for her children. Any moment now, they will return from school, ravenous, asking her for food. But little does she know that they have a surprise for her. With colourful cards in their hands, they tiptoe behind her, trying to be silent. But their giggles give them away. Parihar turns around, and is accosted with a warm group hug. “Happy Mother’s Day, maa!” the youngest child smiles, holding out a handmade card. The rest follow. Overwhelmed, Parihar cannot hold back her tears.

She is mother to not one or two, but 36 children, all of whom found their sanctuary in her arms at one of the many SOS Children’s Villages across India. And she isn’t alone. Many unique mothers like her have dedicated their lives to loving, caring for and raising children without parental care. “Motherhood is a choice you make every day, to put someone else’s happiness and well-being ahead of your own,” author Donna Ball had once said. As a tête-à-tête with some of these SOS mothers makes evident, a woman does not have to be the biological mother of a child to shower him/her with affection. On the occasion of Mother’s Day (May 13), they share their incredible stories.

Tulsi Parihar, Bhimtal

It was on a sunny April day in 1984 that a 22-year-old Parihar stepped into the SOS Children’s Village in Bhimtal, Uttarakhand – and her life hasn’t been the same since. Having spent 34 years there, she is the oldest serving mother in the SOS International Federation that has 135 member countries across the globe.

A day at her house is filled with fun and laughter. Children ask her to braid their hair, button their shirts, cook their favourite dishes and complain about their siblings – something she looks forward to every day. “When I came to the village, I only had my two-year-old daughter. Here, I became a mother to three more girls. The moment they called me ‘maa’, I knew I had found my family. Over the years, my family has only expanded, and so have the love and bonding,” Parihar smiles.

Most of her children have grown up now – some pursuing higher studies, some employed and some married. “I have also become a grandmother!” she laughs. And she remembers all her children fondly. Every child of hers is etched in her memory – their pranks, their dreams, their likes and dislikes. “I have never differentiated between my kids. A mother does not do that. They might belong to different backgrounds but they live like a family and fight like siblings. Together, we share each other’s happiness and sorrows, and their unconditional love fills my heart. What else does a mother need?” she adds.

Just a year away from retirement, Parihar becomes nostalgic. The children have had her so engaged that she has barely been able to keep track of time. “Every waking moment spent with my children has been memorable. Every time they did well in their exams, got a job, pursued higher education or settled down in life – it made me proud,” she affirms.

Geeta Singh, Khajuri Kalan

In the quaint SOS Village of Khajuri Kalan in Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh, 45-year-old Geeta Singh starts her day with a small prayer for the well-being of her children before going about her daily routine – bathing the kids, helping them wear their clothes, feeding them, taking them to school and aiding them in their everyday activities.

In the 15 years that she has been associated with the organisation, she has looked after every need of her specially-abled children – all 13 of them. And her hard work, dedication and selfless love have borne fruit. Two of her children not only represented the country at the Special Olympics World Games Los Angeles 2015, but also brought home medals! Raising a child with special needs requires patience and plenty of love, and Singh goes beyond her limits to make her children feel safe, encouraging them to move ahead in life. “They are my children and I do not look at their special needs as something out of the ordinary. Every single one of them is very dear to me, and is exceptional in his/ her own way. Looking after them can be challenging at times, but I am trained to care for them and their smiles make me happy,” she says. “Motherhood,” she adds, “is something I have always prayed for, but I did not feel it till these children called me ‘maa’. They have taught me how to be a mother.”

Rosily Jacob, Kochi (Cochin)

At 25, most girls would either be charting a path to success, planning a solo trip or preparing to settle down. But not Rosily Jacob. She knew what she wanted – to be around children. Today, she is the proud amma of 29 kids! “Some are married, some have joined the army, some have settled abroad and some are pursuing their higher studies,” she shares with pride.

A mother at the organisation’s Kochi (Cochin) Village, Jacob’s life revolves around her children – their love, laughter, hugs,

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