You, Shiva and My Mum – Ruth Padel

The title references three powerful beings. The fact that the speaker places her mother with the God Shiva shows how much respect she has for her mother. She is someone to look up to.

Themes –

  • Family: The entirety of the poem is the speaker telling us of all the experiences her mother went through during her sons wedding in India. The mother is ‘the age of eighty’ yet went through the ‘monsoon’ and ‘a leopard-and-leeches path’ all to be there for her sons wedding. This shows just how important family is to her mother. And even though she is a ‘sceptic’ when it came to religion, she ‘bowed’ and showed respect to the Indian culture, all to please her son. The speaker shows ‘pride’ in her mother for all she does.
  • Society and culture: The poem is all about the way the speaker’s mother journeys into a new culture that she is completely alien to. It is the first time her mother is experiencing what India is like and therefore the poem highlights little things, such as her mother ‘getting off to shove away the sleeping buffalo’, as rookie mistakes. But, her mother is open to the culture and even steps out of her comfort zone ‘without a murmur’ to be respectful to the culture.


Tone of the poem –

  • There is a tone of admiration and ‘pride’ from the speaker to her mother. Her mother does everything that she can to embrace the Indian culture and show respect by doing things (such as bowing to God) that she would not usually do. Her mother beats the stereotype of the older British generation that are not accepting of new cultures and ways of life.


Structure –

  • There is an indentation after every stanza to maybe symbolise the culture divide between where the mother is from (Britain) and the Indian culture.
  • There is also a very random rhyme scheme ‘face’ and ‘place’. Could be a representation of how new and different this culture is and how even though the mother is making her best efforts, there is still uncertainty around this new culture.


Techniques –

  • The poem contains many questions; in fact the whole poem itself is a question. This could be a representation of the fact that this new culture brought up so many questions for the mother because of how alien it was to her. At the end of the poem the question is about asking for permission for her mothers story to be told, therefore showing us that she is unsure if the readers even want to hear this story.
  • There is also a lot of colour imagery References such as ‘navy blue’, ‘scarlet’ and ‘pinky blaze’ show the vibrancy to this new culture and the liveliness the mother is experiencing for the first time.
  • There is also a reference to religions. ‘Tribal, Hindu, Atheist and Christian – bowed’, this shows how all people from all religions should be respectful to one another like the speakers mother is.


Important quotes –


‘at the age of eighty for a week in the monsoon’

The ‘monsoon’ is difficult weather, yet the speaker’s mother has still gone at 80 years old. There us humour around the fact that she went to India for the first time when it was the worst weather of the year.


‘rode a motorbike’

Humour again because of how unexpected it is for an 80-year-old woman to ride a motorbike in a foreign country. Shows that the mother is not like the stereotype.


‘hates all frills’ but ‘watched her feet painted scarlet henna […] between the toes’

This woman hates getting all dressed up but is getting henna to respect tradition. Toes are the tiniest place and are not likely to be seen but still she is allowing for henna to be put there. She is open to their culture.


‘backward swastikas’

Shows that she is new to the culture, as she doesn’t know the correct word.


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