The Unsinkable Boat

It is Mother’s Day. I was and am extraordinarily mothered; my family is full of remarkable women who love their children fiercely.

I love them back, especially my own mother, who among a great many other lessons, taught me to read. Last week, I read this in The New York Times (italics mine):

An 8-month-old baby, Kuberan, survived only because his mother somehow managed to breast-feed him until just hours before she died….

Early on April 21, [Sivadasa Jagadeeswaran] stepped into the boat with his wife and their two sons. Their eldest, age 4, was among the first to die. They threw the child into the sea. Then, his wife’s father died. Her two brothers jumped overboard, lured by the twinkling lights of what may have been a fishing trawler. His wife held on until the last day. She complained of thirst, but vomited when he gave her seawater. Soon, she was gone.

This afternoon, a single father to an only child, he cooed softly to the baby on the hospital bed. He gave him a bottle of milk. He checked to make sure his diapers weren’t wet. The baby giggled, oblivious to the misery around him.

I am not writing now to dissect the gruesome cadaver of this war. That has been done, and is being done, and will be done. The situation in Sri Lanka is complicated—so complicated. I am writing here because this family’s suffering, and its mother’s love, is not.

This is hardly the only story of a Sri Lankan parent mourning a child’s loss, or a Sri Lankan parent sacrificing him or herself for a child. And parents around the world do this all the time; when others are cavalier and cruel, they stand resolutely on the side of fragile and wondrous life. I can imagine this woman—the determined fountain of her dying breast, her laying the body of one son in the sea, her falling silent, at last, in a boat rocking gently on the waves, as she hopes that the other son will live, even without her there to see it. I can imagine her husband cooing to a baby boy who giggles, because he does not yet understand at what cost he was saved and who paid, gladly, for his passage. Because she was his mother.

This is for mothers, who place themselves between us and certain disaster—mothers, who are more powerful than the most powerful weapons.

I, too, owe my survival to my mother, to the steady and unsinkable boat of her love.

18 thoughts on “The Unsinkable Boat

  1. This is the first time a Sepia Mutiny post has made me tear up. Beautiful.

  2. Nice VV. I recently visited Madras and saw your book in a Landmark bookstore.

  3. Let’s also spare a thought for the Singhalese and Muslim mothers whose children have been chopped to death by the LTTE.

  4. The last time my mother was in Sri-Lanka it was 1999. I didn’t join her in the trip, and when she came back, she told me she felt as if that was her last trip there. She passed away in 2002… and that was the last time I went in Sri Lanka, after going to Rameswaram. Our parents sacrificed and worked hard to build a life for us here, and unfortunately she passed away just as we were finally to go out into the real world. She didn’t live to see the fruits of her hard work, and that is what makes likes this difficult for my brother and I. We acknowledge we were blessed to have her in our lives, we just wish she was here for us to say Thank You, and to shower her with the flowers and chocolates she very much loved.

    Thanks for your post VV.

  5. So well written that it moved me to tears. Happy Mother’s Day to those that are still with us and to those whom we knew for too short a time.

  6. mothers, who are more powerful than the most powerful weapons.

    I like phrase, very true.

  7. Thanks for the lovely-sad post. Let us hope that all the mothers of the torn Island of Lanka strive on, their resilience the only hope for a meaningful tomorrow….