It was my husband’s nephew’s 13th birthday in Delhi. We had logged in for a video conference from our home in the U.S. It was a happy moment, as our nephew had just finished cutting the cake. But my mind drifted off to memories associated with the same nephew’s second birthday celebration, 11 years earlier.
In mid-September 1996, I was newly married and working to complete my Ph.D. thesis at IIT Delhi. I was aiming to submit it by the end of the month and I was racing against time, working weekdays as well as weekends. I knew my mother was not keeping well because each time I called, even during the day, I was told that she was resting. I was hoping that this sickness was like all her other minor spells of sickness and pain, and that she would be back to normal shortly. With no phone in my apartment, there was no way she could return my phone calls. During my last brief conversation with her, my mother had clearly communicated that she did not want to come and meet me because that would “eat up my time.”
Amidst those harsh circumstances came the nephew’s second birthday. It was a weekend, but I’d been working all day. Somehow I managed to reach the party all dressed up in a sari. Once I was there, I started serving and carrying out conversations like a good hostess. I found myself sitting right next to the phone, surrounded by many people talking to each other. I felt like calling my mother but stopped myself; it did not seem to be the appropriate place and time. Sitting there, purely as a physical body, I was doing what “I was supposed to be doing.”
On September 17, 1996, a little after midnight, my sister’s husband came to our apartment and informed us that my mother was in the hospital.
When I reached his car, I saw my sister sitting in the back seat with her head resting against the door. Her eyes were closed and tears rolled down her cheeks.
Later, sitting next to my mother’s still body, I wished that a miracle would happen, and she would stand up once again.
I took a week off despite that high-pressure-race-against-time-deadline. I regretted not having taken a few hours off the previous week to see my mother resting, to listen to her, or just to hold her hand. I realized that nothing stopped in the world when I actually took time off: neither the birds chirping nor the research going on at IIT.
After the video conference, I broke down. Later, when I had calmed down, I realized that I had learnt two profound lessons.
The first lesson was to start living in the “now” with raised consciousness.
The second lesson was that whenever I hear two conflicting voices—a soft voice and a loud voice within me—I should choose to obey the seldom-heard, soft voice and not yield to the constantly-dictating-louder-practical-answerable-to-people voice.
The transparent tears rolling down my face acted like magnifying glasses; I could clearly see the mistake I had made 11 years ago. The blunder had been to ignore my soft voice, which had asked me to call my mother on that birthday party night.
The next morning I woke up refreshed and experienced a strong urge to write about my mother.
My mother was simple, kind, generous, and gentle in her ways. She was a loving mother to my eldest brother, my elder sister, and me. She was always available, waiting to hear from us, and willing to share her own life experiences.
She was there with me even when others would not come near me for the fear of catching infections, whether I had a common cold or chicken pox. Whenever I was sick as a child, my mother would give me mustard oil massages and sponge baths. Now, when I look back, I know she showered love on her children under all circumstances, just like the sun gives us its sunlight all days of the week.
My mother gave me boundless support and encouragement when my friends or relatives would tease me about my short stature (5 feet). She would remind me that Gandhi was not tall, but he was still a great person. She would explain to me, lovingly, that all that matters in life is a strong character, which has to be nurtured and cultivated with one’s sincere efforts. To this day, I remember my tears and smile on hearing those golden words. Now, I thank her for successfully pulling me back up in each of those drowning moments.
Every afternoon, my mother would be waiting for my siblings and me to return from school. Then she would serve us her lovingly-cooked-delicious-warm food. Each day she would cook breakfast, lunch, and dinner, all three different meals with no repetition of food groups. Now that I am a mother, I can truly appreciate how much love, dedication, physical, and mental effort she put in each day.
There were times when my mother would leave her food while eating and stand up to cook again as per my demands. This used to happen whenever I would throw a tantrum and refuse to eat rice. She would cook only rice during peak summer in Delhi, mostly to escape the heat (110ºF) inside the kitchen. But little did she know that her youngest child would insist on her making a fresh roti in that sweaty hot kitchen, where the temperature of the body was nearly the same as the temperature of the hot pan on the stove. Now, I feel inspired and touched by her willingness to sacrifice her own comfort.
I also remember those cold wintry nights when our entire family would watch the popular TV serial Hum Log in a warm room sitting under comforters. In peak winter, my mother would step out alone and walk to the far away bus stop. She would wait there for half an hour for my sister to come back after attending her night classes at the university. Why did she do that for an adult child? She would say that though she missed the serial and the warmth of the room, “nothing felt enjoyable” when her heart was worrying about her daughter walking alone down those lonely, dark roads. My mother thought from, listened to, and followed her heart. At that time I used to tease her for worrying too much. Now I fully understand, appreciate, and respect her heartfelt thoughts and actions.
My mother would call me in my hostel at IIT regularly, especially when I needed it most. My mother was the only person who could make out over the phone from my silence, my unspoken words, and unshed tears that I was feeling insecure and sad. She gave me what I needed most in delicate moments: her words, comfort, touch, food, and sometimes simply her unspoken physical presence. She would ask me to come home as early as possible and put her “security blanket” around me. Now, I experience that security only while praying.
Love is giving. I couldn’t understand the giving-for-the-sake-of-giving part of love for several decades. I have finally understood my mother’s love now that I have turned from receiving-daughter into giving-mother myself.
Today, I salute my mother for what she gave me to give to my own children.
Gunjan Raizada is a physicist and a spiritual writer living in Mountain View, Calif. An extended version of this essay and Gunjan’s other writings can be read on her blog, “Surrender, Listen and Give” at the following address:http://surrenderlistenandgive.blogspot.com