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Shakuntala devi

While watching Shakuntala Devi the film I was fascinated to get a peek into the life of an incredible woman, Genius, celebrity, wife, mom, daughter who despite coming from a very humble background, lived her life on her own terms at a time when it was unthought of, at least in India. Being a mom myself who has been in a similar struggle, the film raises so many questions for me, plus there was so much in the story I could identify with. 

We do not just get to see the Genius of Shakuntala Devi, but also her relationships, with her Parents, husband, daughter, and many others.

It was clear right from the opening scene that even though she was considered a “human computer”, she was also “Human”.

Her Maths calculations never went wrong, but as a flesh and blood human being she had her flaws and not so perfect moments. Her Emotions were a jigsaw of hurt, sadness, elation, hurt, love, desire, arrogance, confidence, pride and the entire spectrum.

“ I never lose” was what she rightfully claimed. Having incredible genius capabilities and able to beat a computer in her calculations, She did not care about any one’s judgements or opinions….except when her own child mercilessly hurls accusations at her. Her Daughter was her only Achilles heel.

She could see mathematical patterns in EVERYTHING, and she was not permitted to even speak about it. Seems cruel. Its like telling a bird to not ever fly! But she demonstrates exemplary spunk even there and says “challenge accepted” Typical of her gender.

 Anu wanted her to be a “normal” mother. But whose definition of normal was she buying? Does Normal mean a mom who has no personal aspirations? And the minute you have them you become “abnormal”?

Even so, her willingness to sacrifice her very identity to become the “perfect mother” and fit into Anu’s narrow definitions of an ideal mom was Gutsy and brave, and akin to the struggles women of today are facing where they want it all… success and motherhood, maybe not in that order. She exemplifies what we are aspiring to become today, Women with aspirations, progressive, independent, self defining, free from judgements and condescending opinions. 

It’s a struggle that is so beautifully depicted, and there was so much familiarity to watch Shakuntala Devi being torn between the two worlds, and juggling in the best way she could. Applaudable and inspiring. 

A woman who could not be coerced into becoming a full time wife, relented to becoming a full time mom. It was heart wrenching to watch her give up the only thing she Loved and identified with….her Maths, For someone she loved even more. Her child.

In fact the movie opens with Anu equating a Mom to “God” and an “epitome of sacrifice” and stating that her Mom is None of those things.

Without knowing the story, the journey, the struggles, and the exemplary strength of the woman Anu had labelled her! 

Where most of the kids would have felt privileged to have a famous and rich parent, Anu’s contempt and complete invalidation for her moms achievements was puzzling.

Probably at some point Shakuntala Devi diluted the boundaries between being loving and being controlling, and that triggered Anu’s rebellious streak. Where in earlier days control worked as an unquestionable parenting strategy, we shouldn’t forget that Anu was a chip of the old block and was rebellious and independent and did not want to live her life under her mom’s shadow.

It seemed like Anu was doing to Maths, what many children do to the second sibling and considering it as a rival to her mom’s affections. Were her expectations unreasonable?…. that’s debatable. But when are expectations reasonable anyway? It would be easy to judge Anu at this point but I refrained, because what are the triggers and drivers for people to be a certain way, no one knows.

I’m a stickler for happy endings and loved the perfect ending in the film. But in life, and this is me talking as a relationships coach, it’s a tall order to assume you’ll be acknowledged for your struggles and sacrifices. 

People closest to you get it when they get it …. And very often they Don’t.

The biggest default setting we can operate from is Empathy. That means looking at the other person ( anyone we would jump to label and judge) as another flesh and blood human being, and not an equivalent of some God, nor as an imagined definition of the role they play in our life.

It is we who create these tiny boxes called 

“husband” “wife” “child” “Mother” “dad” “woman “man”, “son”, “daughter”, stuff the people in our lives into them, and suffocate them with our expectations and points of view.

I have a question in the end: 

Do our attachments empower us or weaken us? 

There is no single right answer. 

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