When I start to write this, it is exactly 4 months till October 1, 2018 - the day that will mark 10 years since mom passed. I thought to start early because I am largely a calm; the closer I get to it the more likely it is that I will be less able to put these feelings in words. So I will write it down now, and publication can follow later.
*My 5th birthday.
She passed on the morning of the biggest local holiday, when I had called home to check in on her. It has been 10 years, ten solid years, of missing someone like I imagine you would miss a part of your body, and even more, a part of your soul. I still remember that day, not like it was yesterday, but like it is a day I will never forget. It has been 10 years of intense grief, 10 years of missing hearing her soft voice, the feel of her curly hair against my hands, 10 years of missed shared jokes and what feels like 100 years of missing that all encompassing, never ending love. I recognize every day how lucky I was to have been born into all this love, intelligence and creativity. Losing her so early in my life, when I was 22, has made me eternally grateful for everyone and everything around me.
In commemoration, I thought I would write out a sample of 10 lessons (in no particular order) which mom left me behind with, and in this process my life when she was still here.
1. Make Everything Beautiful:
Growing up, my parent's were educated professions but never truly wealthy (at least in comparison to my peers). Nevertheless, my mother made beautiful everything we owned and experienced (with full support of my father, a true best friend to my mom till he breathed his last). She brought back mementos from wherever she traveled, and so by my teenage years many of my friends referred to our house as akin to a museum of sorts. No effort was ever too much to get to the design concept that she was after. One time she decided that the dining table needed to be a large circle, so we had a carpenter come in and build us one that would perfectly fit the space (the ready made ones were not the minimalist design she was after). She regularly tried recipes that she had picked up on on her travels, and got her own, and our clothes made just as we wanted them. My earliest memory of this is of a time before I had even joined school, when I had the freedom to choose the textile with which my shorts would get made. I chose a two tone lavender and silver pure silk, and got a matching pair of shorts and matching shirt made with that material - indeed, my first couture. She had a keen eye for design and I see it in me every day how her focus on making everything beautiful, from keeping house, to entertaining, to dressing up, has become a core part of my personality.
*In fits of laughter in front of moms duck collection. She was obsessed with ducks and collected them from all over the world.
2. Ignore Ideas of Class and Caste:
Mom made friends with everyone she met, and this extended to all service people who came by our house (a novel idea is the classist society in which I grew up). The first person to arrive each morning was Hironee, a 18-20 year old young girl from an untouchable minority group who worked as the garbage lady. She always used to say this stop at our apartment was the highlight of her morning, and although she never explained why it was quite clear that this was because she considered mom a friend, an ally who spoke to her as a human being and wanted to know about her family. Sure enough, middle of one summer vacation when I was 5/6 year old, mom packed us up and headed to Hironee's ancestral lands. A rickshaw, ferry and bus ride later we reached a mud shack where we were taken care to a tee for the whole weekend we stayed there before heading back to the city. I still remember how once we got back, my aunts teased us about how we had gone to a minority caste garbage woman's house, and asked us if their food tasted like the rubbish that they took out every day. My mom brushed these comments away with a smile on her face (as always) not even bothering to get bothered. Leading by example 101.
*Awaiting an overnight bus ride to come back from one of our trips.
3. Wake Up:
I don't know at what time my mother woke up every day, because by the time I did at 5am - she had already said her prayers / meditation, made herself a steaming cup of milk tea and was sitting out in the veranda watching the sun rise. The rest of the fam always slept in late so this was the magic hour for me and my mom to discuss everything that was important to us. Friends for life.
*Her last summer visiting me in Maryland.
4. Love Animals:
We always had animals around the house. At one point we had 5 cats, a street dog Laili who we had adopted despite our religious land lord who always barked at her, 2 swans - Heera and Panna, and 3 chickens, named after politicians. I always wanted to keep all animals who come in through our doors, and I don't know how but she never resisted. Having animals always make for lasting memories, like the time my dad massaged the heart of one of my cats Shaadu when he had a heart attack, or the times when we had to bury them (wrapped in 100% silk in our backyard). Mom always talked about the big house she grew up in, and coming back home after college and seeing all her cats waiting for her.
*Conversations with Shonali.
5. Be Open, Be Curious:
Whether it be travel, meditation, reiki, ghosts, holy men or djinns - my mom was always first in line.
Around my mid teens my mom became more serious about meditation. She joined this practice group called the Quantum Method who had recently started becoming big and diligently went to all their sessions, and reiki soon followed.
Then this one time mom went to some remote village to meet with a clairvoyant who could produce holy water by blowing into regular water, and this other time when she went to sit in a dark room with middle aged men to meet a djinn who was being summoned. The djinn ultimately apparently offered her mangoes.
And then there was this time she went to live in an ashram in India to do seva work.
I could go on and on and on. She lived an unfortunately short life but truly there was no shortage of life in her years. She taught me that adventures are everywhere and that you should never stop looking.
*Attending trade shows all over Europe.
I started going to International Women's Day parades even before I knew what it was. We got a purple dress made for March 8th every year and spent the day marching the streets, ending up at performances by women's groups from across the country. I spent countless afternoons at women's rights groups' meetings but honestly what taught me most was her actions, like constantly (and I mean constantly) working to promote gender equality by employing women in all walks of life. This is probably why the gross gender inequality of the world shocks me so much.
*Learning to weave from her tribal weavers.
7. Love Without Bounds:
My GCSE exams were spread out over a month and my mom, as steadfast in her love as ever, fasted with the intention of my success every single day of that month.
The first time she went travelled west, she was away for probably 3/4 months and in that time she sent back a box of strawberries with her friend so that we could taste what real strawberries taste like, as till then we had only known that it was red and that it made pink ice cream.
When my toxic relatives made her life hell, she still spoke to them with a smile and never tired at helping them with anything they needed.
I hardly remember a time when she spoke an unkind word to anybody. Anybody.
*After my dad died no one would rent us an apartment because we didn't have a male head of household. Finally we found a landlord whose daughter was a friend of my mom's and we got to move to this apartment. This photo was after we had just moved. She somehow always kept her spirits up.
8. Eyes Open, With Love:
A young girl worked at our house and within a few months of her joining us, my mom noticed that every night she was crying herself to sleep. Despite our limited means, medical tests soon followed and then an operation to relieve her of the throat growth which made it difficult for her to swallow. And then I remember this old rickshaw puller who slept in the engine room of our apartment, and constantly came to mom for advice of all sorts.
She taught me to keep my eyes open and constantly look out for those who need help.
*The rickshaw ride to get to her office.
9. Lead by Example:
One time mom and I came to visit Florida and ran into a family who told us about a young cousin who was studying natural medicine back in the homeland, but that she was considering giving it up given that she had nowhere safe in town to stay and complete her studies, not any money to rent a room. Soon after, mom returned back and promptly after, the young cousin moved into our two bedroom tiny apartment to share the space and finish her studies. The thing is, mom never even talked about it. Not with the family she met in Florida, not with the young cousin who moved in with us, and not even with us - in fact, I didn't even realize it was a favor until many years later when idiots pointed it out. She lived us for years with us, I think until she got married and moved out. I don't know for sure because by the time I moved out of the house she was still living with us.
10. Risk It:
A small scale women entrepreneur in one of the poorest countries in the world dreamt to educate her daughter in the richest country in the world. She never looked back, and that is the only reason I live the life I live today. She inspires me to dream big every single day.
*Two weeks before we were supposed to fly to the US together to get me to college, her bag (with her passport) got picked and this meant she would no longer be able to come all the way to the US to drop me off. Instead she came to Malaysia with me and we spent two days together in KL before the 17 year old me flew off to NYC. I remember not getting upset till the last minute when I realized that in 2 minutes I would disembark this train and it would leave with mom who was heading to the domestic terminal. She broke too and as I think about it now I realize how difficult it really must have been for her.
She's in a better place; that's what they say.
I am glad you are without pain mom. I miss you every day and think about you all the time.
*Another adventure, looking out over the hills.