I have two mothers: Ma and Mom. Ma gave me birth and nurtured me on a daily basis. She taught me to do my best. She gave me her culinary skills and none of her gardening skills. She made sure that I am organized and taught me the most important life lesson without mincing words: "Nobody has time for your mood, get over it!" When we were young, she was the disciplinarian with amazing reserves of love.
Mom lived thousands of miles away in London. She was married to my uncle, my father's older brother. She spoke English so perfectly that as a kid I used to watch her lips, tongue, and face move in ways I didn't think possible. She introduced me to Joan Baez and Joni Mitchell while belting out Rabindra Sangeet songs in her melodious voice with perfect pitch and rhythm. Once she asked me about a barangril song and I thought...what?! Not wanting to show my ignorance I feebly said "uh huh" while frantically reaching into the crevices of my twelve-year old brain. Years later, I figured out it was "Bar and Grill". To this day, when I see a sign with these words, I chuckle and think of Mom.
I thank Ma for expanding my horizon and Mom for exploding the boundaries. Last night, Mom passed away peacefully.
She is now resting comfortably with her beloved father, mother, sister, and brother. My uncle has waited for her arrival for decades. And her in-laws are craving to hear her sing. I am jealous we are missing out on the fun. Her son and daughter, their spouses, granddaughters, and my family are grieving her loss and celebrating her life. In between tears, we are recalling her funny, ornery, and poignant stories from London, Goa, Patna, Calcutta, Hong Kong, Washington, and Blacksburg because that is precisely what she would want us to do.
She left me polka dotted socks and olive oil shampoo when she visited me last. She bought a chair for our house and took us out for dinner. Doing things for others genuinely made her happy, and that's what makes her gifts so special. She was a voracious reader and on her travels in the US, she was fascinated with personalized license plates. We became rather competitive in trying to guess first and she won a lot. She was always ready for a good time. Anytime, anywhere.
This mischievous picture of Ma and Mom is my favorite. Mom is on the left, Ma next to her, my father's sister in the middle, then my Dad, and my uncle. Clearly, the two of them shared secrets.
She was a vegetarian by choice but never imposed her preference on us. I used to tell her that I want to be vegetarian too but chicken kept pulling me back. She would say, the time has to be right. On her last visit, she told me not to give her leftovers for dinner. I was thrilled to cook different dishes for her and loved that she was so direct. In between meals, while we worked, she sat on our deck enjoying the spring sun and reading books.
She never complained about living too long or wanting to go. She was fiercely independent and lived on her own until the end. We would call each other often. She wanted to know about us instead of talking about herself. I was happy to FaceTime her except her thumb inevitably landed on the camera and I'd see her ear or part of her face. Her voice was all I needed to feel centered.
Ma will miss Mom terribly. They were sisters, inseparable in their early years. Two young women married into homes they barely knew. They latched on to each other for companionship while their husbands were away at work. They snuck out of the house to eat street food and then secretly cued the cook to serve them a tiny bit of dinner so their mother-in-law would not be upset. Their father-in-law was incredibly fond of them. Ma tells me that he found Mom wearing a blouse that had a slight tear in the sleeve. He made the tear bigger and told Mom that she deserved better. This picture of the two of them captures their camaraderie so well.
Later, Mom and my uncle moved to London with their children. Mom went on to adapt to a new culture and worked for years, ensuring her financial security. Ma went on to start her own business and they learned to live without daily contact, yet their bond remained tight. I spoke to Mom a week before she passed. When she understood who I was, she asked, "How is your Ma?" I am glad I got to be the conduit of love between them. Now, Ma is inconsolable, recounting old stories and wishing to travel back in time.
Mom, thank you for being in our lives, thank you for sharing your joy, thank you for being so proud of us, thank you for teaching me words I never knew, and thank you for showing us what strong women can do. I know you will make your way to a glass of wine at a barangril near you and then you will smile down at us. We love you. We miss you. Cheers, until we meet again.