Another Mother’s Day has gone by. And each year keeps getting more special …more exciting with my baby blossoming into an even more delightful darling that she already is.
These special earmarked days are huge in the United States. Whether it is a Mother’s Day or a Father’s Day, I’m sure fellow parents here will agree that one of the most amusing and sweetest part of this tradition is the handmade cards that our kids make. They are downright funny, mushy and so unexpected with a twist.
This year, my lil’ one picked up a flowery greeting card and some fancy jewellery that she fancied for me. As usual, there were the handmade cards and gifts that she gave me as well. But, What touched me the most, apart from the usual gestures of love, hugs, kisses and gifts was her sensitivity. I think every mother and child shares an unseen umbilical cord that never ever gets cut off. A cord where the mother and child mutually can sense each other’s feelings without words or even physical presence. After I woke up and got started with my daily routine work, she comes up to me and strictly orders, “Mummy, no house work today. Today is Mother’s Day.” And I tell her the house needs to be set nonetheless. And she goes, “I don’t mind the lil mess. You are not supposed to work today.” And I reply, “That’s very sweet, darling but why don’t you join me in today?”. And she readily joins while mumbling and grumbling all along how no work is to be done on Mother’s Day and that’s the rule. Haha!
Not just this day, but I count my blessings everyday. Both for the wonderfully loving, caring and inspiring Mom that I have and for my daughter who has ushered in so much love, laughter and innocence into our lives, in ways, that no words can possibly describe. Apart from counting my blessings and wishing others on ‘Mother’s Day’ as was the custom, I couldn’t help but be reminded of one gem of a lady. A lady who I had the privilege of meeting and knowing, a ‘not so long’ while ago! I will just call her ‘The Mother’. Because that’s what I will always remember and think of her as…
My first memories of her were of crossing paths with this beautiful, extremely fair, middle aged lady, smiling at each other …without really caring to go beyond that polite and customary American “Hi!”. She was always modestly dressed in cool cotton, long sleeved shalwars in soft pastel colors. Her hair was always concealed neatly inside her chiffon dupatta. I presumed she was Muslim, simply by the way she dressed and that she lived pretty close to our block in the apartment.
After a few months, we upgraded to an extra bedroom apartment within the same community. We shifted to an apartment that was right next to the kid’s park. Going down the park was a daily and much anticipated event for my pre-schooler daughter then. During one of those regular park days, I met a young lady who had come down from Chicago for vacations to her aunt’s place here in California. While our daughters quickly became friends, so did we, the Moms. She was from Pakistan and we would chat for long, the similarities and differences in our respective countries. One fine day, my new Mom friend bought her aunt (the one she was staying with) to the park. And Voila! This was the same beautiful middle aged lady I’d bump into frequently in my earlier apartment. She flashed back a knowing and acknowledging smile as well.
“Aap ke baare mein Bahut kuch suna. Maine aapko bahut baar dekha.” (I heard a lot about you. I have also seen you many times.), she said approvingly. This was the very first time we chatted. Slowly, along with her niece, The Mother also started joining us everyday at the park. The niece was already my new Mom friend and soon enough, The Mother and I became quick friends as well. We yapped in Hindi whole-heartedly, feeling bonded together as the days went by. A lot of dishes were common in both our households, thanks to the Mughal/ Nawabi influence in Hyderabad. Be it the katti dal or Shammi kebabs or kheema, we found a lot of likeness in language, cuisine, cultural values, politics, esp the Indo-Pak tension and ofcourse, Bollywood.
The neice eventually went back to Chicago along with her daughter after the vacations. But her aunt, The Mother continued coming to the park everyday to talk and catch up on the day.
I remember being completely in awe when I visited her home for the first time. Not because it was grand. Far from it, it was modest but extremely neat and pleasing to the eye and soul just like her. All the qualities that she possessed simply shone through her home. There was so much warmth, serenity and love in that home. I quipped, “Aapke Ghar toh hospital se bhi saaf sutra hain” (Your home is cleaner than a hospital). She welcomed me into her home with utmost hospitality, and we feasted on her kheema, roti and masala chai. The kheema was eerily close to what we made at home. As we spoke, we both agreed and came to the conclusion that had it not been for the politicians and their lust for power, the people of India and Pakistan would have been living together in love, peace and harmony. Just like us!
She was not just a home-maker as I initially presumed. She also worked as a full time baby sitter and had her own humble food catering business. She was baby sitting a couple of babies within the community, including some of our desi kinds. Wherever you move into, the desi community is small and exclusive. Everyone knows everyone. Soon enough, I heard some fantastic reviews about The Mother and how exceptional she was with babies. The patience, love, kindness, warmth and playfulness that she displayed was noteworthy. She loved these tender souls just as much, they looked forward for her arrival. She entertained them, bathed them, fed them, cleaned and changed their diapers, taught them something new everyday, cuddled them and sang them sweetly to la…la…land. She was the Mother away from the Mother. And that is a tall shoe and space to fill in. But only she could naturally and effortlessly fill in that space. Albeit for a while but in all purity, sincerity and genuine love!
Her motherhood instincts weren’t restricted to just her job but also warmly extended to us as well. I remember coming home to find a packet hanging over the door knob, only to quickly discover inside that it was some fresh, delicious home-cooked meal. If one day it was rich and creamy sevaiyan with dry fruits, the other day it was a royal Pakistani style Yakhni chicken biryani. And another, a light and zesty Pasta salad filled with chick peas, crunchy vegetables and lots and lots of olives. It wasn’t the meal that mattered as much as the love and thought behind the whole gesture. Of course, I reciprocated the gesture. But she always managed to catch me by surprise with her unwarranted gestures of love.
She’d gently chide me and advise me when it came to matters of home, family and children. “Don’t let your daughter play in that dirty mud”… “Beware of your daughter’s company with those older kids. They are bad influence.” ….”Don’t ever check the phone while you are working”. And many more such gentle cautionary words of advise came typically from her. Much like any protective mother would do. She quintessentially became the mother away from the mother for me as well.
For my daughter’s birthday, I invited our desi group and requested The Mother to cater two trays of aloo chat salad for the occasion. When the matter of payment came up, she refused to take any money for her effort. When I insisted, she looked at me, her eyes slightly moistened, “Apno se koi paise lete hain todi? Aap toh meri apni beti jaisi hai”. (Whoever takes money from their own? You are just like my own daughter.) I was touched and appreciated her all the much more, knowing fully well, the importance of money in their humble lives. Another time, she altered a huge load of my clothes without taking a dime again for her efforts.
The Mother never had any children of her own. Life may have killed her dreams of being a mother, but it didn’t squash her motherhood spirits one single bit. She was always bursting with so much unbridled love. In her role as a wife, she loved and served her husband beyond measure. Many a times, she was taken for granted but she had the true heart of a mother. It was a long, long time since she ever took a vacation. She never squandered her husband’s hard earned money on anything but the very basic needs. She told me she didn’t need much or desire much either. You could guess the size of her wardrobe by what she wore everyday. A couple of regularly worn but well-maintained cotton salwars in pastel shades of beige, pink, blue and lavender. Simplicity of her thoughts reflected so well in her modest yet tasteful choice of clothing. She loved, respected and understood her husband whole heartedly, turning their extremely humble home into a rich home of heavenly paradise. So much serenity, calmness and beauty greeted you when you stepped into her place. And you are also sure to be treated with some amazingly delicious Pakistani food as well in the bargain.
She once emotionally opened up how she conceived a long time ago. But had a minor problem, which if it had been tended to on time, could potentially have saved her baby. She rued the long emergency wait times that she held responsible for the loss of her unborn baby. At that instant moment, I wished I could help her somehow. There must be some way, I thought. If I had a magic wand, I’d grant a baby right that instant, in her godhi (lap). But I knew I couldn’t help her in any single way except to lend a ear and listen to her cries.
I believe in the transforming and miraculous power of prayers. I remember catching up with a young friend of mine, who quipped, “If I ever, ever have children which I don’t think I ever will…”. She couldn’t conceive for a long time as well but she was young, bubbly and always high in spirits, enjoying life to the fullest nonetheless. I knew she’d make a fantastic Mom and I remember feeling deeply for her plight and praying hard for her. Soon enough, she gave us all the good news and had a handsome bonny boy. Life took a happy turn for them and God granted their heart’s most treasured desire.
The Mother was past the menopausal age. I asked her if they ever considered adoption as a solution. She said her husband was wary of the American laws when it came to adoption. Any mistake could be costly enough to land them in jail and he didn’t want any such risks.
Strange indeed are sometimes God’s ways. I wondered those times…Why He chose not to grant some wonderful and good women out there, the baby they pined and longed for? When some of them are so clearly cut out for motherhood! When they would simply shine gloriously like the Sun in their role as a mother! When the world deserved so many more of such kinds. That they are the kinds that should be breeding, multiplying and populating this Earth with their sheer goodness.
I found some consolation in The Mother’s approach. She willfully and graciously accepted her situation and His will. Life or God’s designed plans didn’t render her broken-hearted, cynical or bitter but instead she triumphed over her situation coming out sweeter, gentler, tender and more giving than ever before. I had a newfound respect for her and found myself ironically, learning some of my lessons in motherhood from her. Because to me, she was still The Mother as she didn’t behave any less, as a matter of fact, more than one.
Motherhood is a blessing bestowed on some. It takes a lot from you but what is life and love without giving anyway! It is always a blessing, whether you experience this beauty they called ‘Motherhood’ once, twice or more. And in The Mother’s case, it is a blessing bestowed even on those who can claim none as their own.
It’s the spirit of Motherhood that makes one a true mother. She enlightened me by being a living example of how a true mother is identified not by the fertility of their bodies but by the fertility of the soul. She might be barren in her body but she has the most fertile mind and soul.
She most definitely changed the definition of a mother for me. To cherish and treasure more preciously what I already have been blessed with. To opening and laying bare my heart and to being vulnerable. To really feel and savor the pain that naturally comes with the hurt of loving deeply and unconditionally, while nursing back to healthy recovery, the sore wounds. To keep on loving and never ever stopping. To look beyond the traditionally accepted and rightly fully proclaimed mothers. To look beyond the physical dynamics of motherhood and delve deeper into the spiritual universal connotations that come with being a mother. To embrace, love and accept not just a few but the whole of humanity as your own child. Therein lies the answer, the definition and the spirit of motherhood.