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“The salary offered to my mother was much more than what my father earned and yet the topic of him leaving his job and looking for something in the US was never even considered as an option.”
Here is the first winner of our March 2017 Muse of the Month contest, Swapna Sundaram.
The cue for this month was from the movie English Vinglish, in which Sridevi has decided to give up on learning English after her husband speaks harshly to her. Her niece tells her then, that she cannot give up, and must go on!
My husband and I were living a happy life in India. After four years of marriage, we were still deeply in love with each other, had flourishing careers, and a great family who supported us in all the choices we made. Then one day, my husband was asked by his employers to move bag and baggage to their New York office. Wasn’t this some wonderful news? We were getting the opportunity to go to the land of dreams. I know of many people who leave no stones unturned in their effort to secure a seat in this nation, which many consider the greatest in the world. Though I knew that I would have to leave my perfect job in India and also move miles away from the family I loved, I was never one to say no to an opportunity to travel to new places and learn about new cultures.
I was very hopeful that with the education and work experience I had gathered, I would easily find a job. I was wrong about this. It’s been almost two years and I still don’t have a job. The main reason given is that employers don’t understand my work visa status. This has made me glum and angry. I haven’t been able to come to terms with this sitting-at-home aspect of my new life. Frustrated by my situation, one day over a Skype call with my mother, I sarcastically said to her, “Had you come here when you had the chance, I would have been a citizen today, and wouldn’t have had any issues getting a job!” She just laughed it off like she always does, absorbing and understanding her child’s frustration and hoping that her laughter would help diffuse it.
A few hours later, I started feeling bad about talking rudely with my mother. I started thinking about how she had given up several opportunities for herself, and had time and again chosen us, her children and husband, over her own career prospects. My mother is a very talented and skilled woman. She has green fingers, she is very organized, she can multi-task like nobody’s business and she has unlimited love to give to all.
As a child and even till this day I am amazed at my mother’s vocabulary. She grew up in a small town in Kerala and started studying English from the fifth grade. However, since nobody ever spoke the language, it was just bookish knowledge. I am not sure from where she caught the bug, but she is the most avid reader I have ever seen. From the time I can remember, I can’t think of a day when she didn’t have an unfinished book by her pillow. If I dream of a bed, it always has a book on it; a thick novel, with a glossy cover.
This love for reading rubbed off on my sister and me too. Though we try to read as much as we can, the speed at which our mother ravishes novels is unmatched. I think it were these books that were her best friends and companions in happy, sad, lonely, and angry times. It were these books that unknowingly gave her the vast vocabulary that she possesses. I consider myself to be very good at the language and its intricacies and am awed every-time she solves a crossword or other word puzzles much faster than me.
My mother could have been whatever she wanted to be. Climb up the social ladders as high as they went. Instead she chose to dedicate her life, time, and talents to making my sister and me the strong, intelligent and independent girls that we are.
When I was born, my mother was still working as a nursing officer at the army hospital. I have to say that despite his core Indian values that clearly ascribe parenthood to mothers mostly, my father decided that he would take leave, stay back and take care of me, so that my mother could resume duty. This lasted for a month and then my father gave up. Since my parents had married against the wishes of their families, none of our relatives ever visited us or offered any help. Being first time parents, mom and dad were left clueless about how to manage the situation. That is when my mother decided that the best solution for the family was that she quit her job and take care of me. This was the first of the many sacrifices she made for me.
When my sister and I were a bit grown up, the desire to put her skills to work re-emerged in my mother’s heart. After all, we were no longer toddlers, and could take care of ourselves without constant supervision. However she also realized that her knowledge was outdated now. New technology, new medicines, new medical protocols had replaced the old ones that she had learnt and practised several years ago. She decided that if she had to make this happen, she needed to brush up on her skills.
So she bought the latest medical books and started reading and learning from them. The novels on her bed were replaced by bulky medical journals. She still cooked, washed, cleaned, went for morning walks with my father, played monopoly with us on Sundays, played badminton in the evening with us, hosted parties which were an integral part of the army lifestyle, made sure the garden was always green and in full bloom. But now she had added another task to her never-ending ‘things to do’ list.
She never complained. My father supported her whole-heartedly. My sister and I always studied on our own and didn’t bother our parents with our homework. Specially now, we understood that mummy had her own homework. The D-day came, and she wrote the tests which if she passed would enable her to work in the US. She cleared the test with great scores. An interview was scheduled for her in Colombo, Srilanka.
She had never flown in an airplane before. This was a first. She was scared. She was jittery. She was out of her comfort zone. But she entrusted my sister and me to my father for those two days and flew to another country putting on a veil of bravado, all the while shaking with fear and nervousness inside. She never looked weak to me or my sister. For us she was the epitome of strength, out in the world to create a name and place for her-self. Like everything else that she put her heart to, she successfully cleared this obstacle too. She got an appointment confirmation letter a few weeks after she was back in India.
We were elated. The idea of travelling to a new country was wondrous. The allure of it was indescribable. Mom was to travel in three months. We were to stay back with our father, who couldn’t have left his army officer’s job and moved to a new country to start from scratch. He wasn’t sure he would get a job in the US after spending so many years in the Indian army. He wasn’t ready to move to the private sector. They decided that every holiday, we would visit Mom as much as our finances allowed. Though I was sad that I would be separated from her for long stretches of time, the thought that she would enjoy herself and finally put to use her knowledge appealed a lot to me. Though I had always been proud of my mother, I think when I saw that she had been selected to work in a country that people only dreamed of, my pride grew manifold.
Then one day our parents told us that Mom wouldn’t be going to the US. After a lot of deliberation and analysis, they had decided that there was no point in us living separately. After all we were one unit and that meant that we should live together. I didn’t realize then, but I know now that the salary offered to my mother was much more than what my father earned and yet the topic of him leaving his job and looking for something in the US was never even considered as an option. Once again it was Mom who was sacrificing for the sake of the family. I may have turned out differently than what I have become in my mother’s care and guidance, but she too could have had a different life, had we not stopped her at so many points in her life.
Today, my father has retired. My sister and I have our own lives in different cities, and I see that spark in my mother again. Finally the unit that she stayed back for has anyway enlarged and dispersed. She no more has any of her own friends, since we moved so much due to my father’s postings. My father’s friends have become her friends, but is that the same, I wonder? Today, the rate at which she finishes those books is even faster.
She is trying to learn and do as many new things as feasible. We taught her how to use the computer. She is an expert at it now, and uses it to her advantage. She hadn’t written in Malayalam for years, but when she saw a recipe contest in a Malayalam magazine, she painstakingly wrote two recipes in the language. She gave the recipes to my father to post, and when he forgot, she walked all the way to the post office a few days before the deadline and posted it for herself. Her entries were selected and published and she even won a prize for them. She saw the advert for a yoga program, and enrolled herself online for it. She did the program for a week, and now practices yoga daily. As a part of the program, participants were advised to give up coffee for that week. She is so strong-willed that this person who got headaches without her morning cup of coffee has now totally given it up. She has travelled with my father to several countries. Her garden is as green and bountiful as always. When I write something, I make her proof read, because I don’t know anyone who has a better grasp on the English language than her.
She has come into her own. Her hair started greying at a very young age. She dyed it for a while, and then one day decided not to. She carries the mop of grey hair like a crown, despite people taunting her about it. They say she looks older than my father, but she doesn’t care. For once she is living life on her own terms. She is the boss of herself. My father at every step has tried to support her, but his male insecurities and fears have not always let him be successful.
I am at a difficult stage in life today with no job in sight. The one person from who I can derive the strength to stay strong and unwavering is my mother. She maintained her grace and dignity and led a selfless life. I know that if I can even be half the woman that she is, I will survive this phase of life and come out a winner.
Swapna Sundaram wins a Rs 250 Amazon voucher, as well as a chance to be picked one among the top winners at the end of 2017. Congratulations!