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A mother to be remembered

“Stand together, yet not too near together. For the pillars of the temple stand apart. And the oak tree and the cypress grow not in each other’s shadow.” This quote from Kahlil Gibran made me think about my mother’s parenting style. 

She never crowded us, and let us be. She passed on her high levels of energy, enthusiasm and huge networking skills but never her anxieties. My friends remember her as highly spirited and a real sport. My mother was way ahead of her times; truly liberal in every sense of the word, she took risks, made friends effortlessly and was full of childlike curiosity.

My mother was interested in schoolwork and helped me with my board examinations. Before every exam, she would ask me to close my eyes and put cold cucumber on them. Then, she would read important topics as ‘last minute revision’. A few years later, when I got an IIM interview call, she shortlisted topics for group discussions from past issues of business magazines. One topic on direct and indirect taxes actually did come up.

My mom loved travel and jumped at the first opportunity to visit a new country. I took her to Singapore in 1988 when I went as a management trainee with an international bank. We stayed at Westin Stamford Hotel. Me, the whole day indoors at training, and she the whole day outdoors — figuring out the MRT, bus routes, Orchard Road and so on. She thrived on new experiences and came back with fun stories.

In 1989, I was keen to witness the fall of communism and experience the horrors of the Second World War. While a little nervous at first, she endorsed my plan to visit Auschwitz, Sofia and Warsaw. She saw me off at Delhi airport .

My mom visited me in Bahrain many times. Her fascination for gold, a trait she inherited from her mother, found expression in the ‘souks’ of Manama. One day she came home late. I later learned that she had gone on a long drive, with a friend she made at the souk, to see the ‘Tree of Life’.

As a first-time mother with a small child and a fast-paced life in London, I recall many SOS calls to her in India. The conversation would go like this: ‘Amma, the maid quit again. Can you please come to help?” She would say, ‘Okay. When?’ And before I could answer, she would mentally calculate the jobs that she needed to get done and would reply, ‘Give me a week’. Over the next seven days she would freeze food for three months in neatly labelled dabbas for my dad, take care of endless chores, and organise the visa and tickets. Next, I would see her at Heathrow. She did this at least five times.

My mother loved St. Johns Wood. The proximity of our apartment to the Tube station and the bus stop opened up Central London to her. She would take her two-year-old grandchild to Regent’s Park, Hamley’s, Trafalgar Square, London Bridge, Finchley Road, all by herself.

Walls are meant to figure how desperately you want something. I saw this in action in 2009, a year before my mother was diagnosed with Stage 4 lymphoma.

She and my dad had just completed an English version of the Malayalam commentary on Narayaneeyam (a summary study in poetic form, originally in Sanskrit, of the Bhagavata Purana) after working on it for five years post-retirement. She was determined to meet A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, as she felt that given his deep knowledge of our scriptures, he would relate well to their work. She called and followed up relentlessly and eventually got an audience with him.

After that, she succumbed to cancer almost as if she had ticked off all boxes. She died two years later, at 77.

I asked my mother, when she was still lucid, what her secret sauce of parenting was. She said: “One must have no anxiety. Implicitly trust the kids. They will turn out well.”

I am guided by those words, in moments of self-doubt.


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Printable version | Jun 21, 2021 11:29:29 AM |

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