Fourteen Arms and More

It was a sweet picture that someone passed on whatsapp and then someone tweeted it. A child looking at a lady in a saree in wonder. Not surprising, because the lady had no less than fourteen arms. Each one of the arms was holding a different tool of household work.

Did I say household work? No, not really. Some of the things she held were a comb, a shoe polish brush. The milk bottle is understandable – very young children and babies cannot make or hold the bottle for themselves. But the others.. they were all things that could be done by any fit and able person over the age of two – and yet, in the artist’s mind, these were the things the mother figure was tasked with.


Of course it was drawn with a sense of awe, amazement even. How does she she do so much, surely she is a supermom, a superwoman – a godess even. We looked at her homely face and felt the love. We were safe, she was there. She would look after us, and we could relax and bask in the fruit of her labours.

It troubled me, and for hours I wondered why. What was so wrong with a lady doing her job well and gaining admiration for it?

I looked at the picture again and realised what I was looking at – she had nothing, not one thing that looked after herself. Nor anything that extended her reach beyond the four walls of the house. Not even a bag for grocery shopping. She had been contained.

This was a woman who was confined to service. She was a delivery machine with nothing that enhanced her, helped her grow as a person. She was giving, but received nothing.

It wasn’t fair.

That is what bothered me. It wasn’t fair.

It wasn’t fair to the lady. It wasn’t fair to burden her but none of her burdens enhanced her or even gave her a chance to have aspirations or choice.

It wasn’t fair that she was expected to be defined by the things she did for others, however much she loved them. It wasn’t fair that she was defined by what she did, not who she was. It wasn’t fair that she was expected to deliver much more than what was humanly possible – humans have two arms. She was expected to deliver more than six times the standard work load of a human. It wasn’t fair that she took on burdens that could easily be taken on by the served – they could do this for themselves.

I am, of course assuming that the persons she served (in her family) were not disabled in any way. But even a child learns as a toddler not to throw their cuddly toys if they are not pandered to by carers who keep on picking it up for them. This lady was holding out a toothbrush with toothpaste already on it, was holding out an open notebook, a cup with (presumably) a hot liquid.. and it went on. Anyone who can use these items sensibly can do it for themselves. A two year old can brush their teeth, can pick up a notebook to the right page and pick up a cup and drink from it. The fact that the mother was expected – or observed – doing all these things says something very much more than mere multitasking. It says that the mother is bringing up a family of dependents.

What happens when dependency becomes a habit? Is that what the mother, the woman planned all along? Was this a ploy to create a domain that validates the person via subservience? Or was this merely unthinking habit? If unthinking habit – when does one start thinking?

What happens when dependency becomes a habit? When you, the receiver realise that you are no good without assistance. Where assisted living is required not because you are physically disabled but there is a mental block that has made you unable to ever be as competent than other people. Do you rage against the people who trained you to be dependent? Do you feel inadequate and compensate in other ways? Do you big up the strengths you have to cover up for the weaknesses? I wonder how much the expectation of matching up to Madam fourteen arms scares you really. Does it?

Does it all strike you as being unfair? Unfair to everybody?

And if Madam Fourteen arms scared you, then imagine how scared and defensive you will be if we added a pen, or a laptop, a mobile, a chequebook, a job to the picture? What is a few more arms when you already have fourteen. Or maybe you are afraid that you may actually have to polish your own shoes or heaven forbid – pick up your own cup. It must be tough to hide the fact that you really don’t know what to do with the cup or the shoe brush.

It is okay, you know, to learn a few things. It is okay to acknowledge how unfair it has been to leave you unskilled in basic life skills because of things people used to believe in the dark ages. It is okay to grow up.

As for the woman… let her be free. Don’t tie her down with expectations. Don’t respect her for her connections. Love and respect her for herself. Listen to her-