You, Shiva, and My Mum // Ruth Padel

Padel’s poem can be categorised in the theme of relationships, specifically mother-child relationship, while it also looks on to the intermingling of races and cultures and gives off a sense of cultural identity. ‘You, Shiva and My Mum’ is among the few poems in our poetry anthology which follows a conversational tone to set the narrative of the poem, as the first person persona seems to be engaging in a conversation with the ‘you’, which we find at the last stanza of the poem to be the persona’s lover, about the third person which is the poet’s mother. The mentioning of ‘Shiva’ – one of the many deities of the Hindu religion – devises the sense of religion and spiritualism, almost making the act of motherly compassion demonstrated as something holy, which ornaments perfectly with the use of traditional Hindu wedding items.

Padel draws in readers with the very first sentence of the poem which acts as a question, ‘Shall I tell you how…’, and thus engaging both the reader and the lover that Padel is talking to. Padel uses a strict format of twelve stanzas with three lines each, something that can stand as an illusion to the twelve shrines in India dedicated to Shiva. This connection between religion and the rhyming structure formulates how this religiousness is integrated into the fundamental layer of the poem, as well the actions of the mother’s, who with her varying levels of escapades achieve a sense of divinity and inspiration for Padel. The age of the mother is also highlighted at the beginning of the first stanza, which emphasises how despite being old, at the age of eighty, she still embarked on this adventure to show her motherly love to her ‘last unmarried son’ who was getting married. The semantic field of religion and tradition is encapsulated by the setting in which the poem takes place, where it is in Orissa where, a village that despite being non-Hindu, people believed that a goddess named Maa Markoma protected them, and so this provides a sense of comfort and safety that connotes with both religion and motherly affection. The place was also renowned for human sacrifices in the 19th century, which resonates with a sense of peril that can be identified with the mother’s journeys to pay homage to Shiva and accept the norms of this religion that was not her own, and so there’s also an atmosphere of unfamiliarity, yet this is trespassed by the mother. The poet uses possessive noun when recalling her mother who had ridden a motorbike to journey through a ‘jungle at full moon’ – ‘How this mother of mine rode a motorbike’. This could present how the poet looks at this with admiration for her mother, who wasn’t deterred at all by the unknown and the fatalities that could fall her on the way, rather accepted the challenges and went all the way to show her pure love and devotion for her son, building this fascinating and unbreakable bond between the mother and the child.

The poet also shows how the mother who had surpassed her hate and conformed to acceptance where she shows respect for other cultures and norms and religious traditions, despite being religious sceptic, ‘lifelong sceptic that she is’. She who hated designs and ornaments, had her feet painted in ‘scarlet henna’ without complaint, and hiked up to the shrine of Shiva on a mountain, ‘barefoot’. All these squeamishness and narrowness that the world subjected to her, she gives everything for her love, which can be connected with the images of sacrifice that dominates the setting of the poem, where Padel sets it in a place known for sacrifices, with ‘puddled shaves of sacrificed calves’ near beaches. Padel is also very image-specific where she describes objects through different levels of colour, from the ‘yellow turmeric’ to the ‘scarlet henna’ to the ‘navy blue’ Shiva and finally to Shiva’s vehicle, the Nandi bull that is decorated with flowers and ribbons that people have placed as respect which is presented as ‘pinky blaze of ribbons, bells, hibiscus’. The mother also bows down to the Nandi Bull, which symbolises respect and the poet then personifies the valley who looked at her, ‘the eyes of the valley on her’ almost in surprise to see a white woman, who likely Christian and holding different religious values, has been so open-minded and compassionate that she has interweaved all the religions from ‘Tribal, Hindu, Atheist and Christian’ to present a conformity and symbolise an inter-connection. The poet conveys a beautiful message through this where if you stop holding on to your pride and superstition, and let your super comfortable life go, to venture on this journey with love and respect, it matches you with holiness and power – the real power of acceptance and devotion.

In the last stanza, the poet changes the focus lenses from her mother to her lover, and the first line of the stanza is repeated, with the alteration of the second person to third person plural, ‘Shall I tell them’ which highlights how the poet is having a secret love affair with her lover and she wants to come outright with it, and this recollection of her mother’s feats encourage and inspire her to do what needs to be done, and to do it with love and respect. So the mother stands as a character that symbolises sufferance and acceptance who crosses boundaries for the one she loves the most, and comes out as figure that everyone should be inspired of, and whom humanity should idealise on.

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