Tag Archives: motherhood

Amma reading to Medha (Image by Author)

My Mother Kept Her Promise

Like many of us, one of my biggest fears was always that of losing my mother.  Life without her was not conceivable. 

When I was a little girl, and I was exposed to the idea of death for the first time, I remember asking her, “Amma, will you die too?” 

My mother sat me down, looked me in the eyes, and with complete confidence told me, “I will be here as long as you need me.  I will go only when you tell me that you do not need me anymore,”

In my childish mind, that was all the reassurance I wanted.  I would always “need” my mother, and that meant she could not leave me.

Life went on with my relationship with my mother evolving and changing as time went by.  By the time I was 44, my mother was older and frailer, and my relationship with her was that of one between two close buddies.  It was a two-way relationship with my relying on my mother for advice about raising my kids, and seeking comfort when some worldly affair troubled me.  My mother started relying on me to discuss her innermost worries about her health and the family.  The two of us settled into a very comfortable symbiotic relationship. 

This was until January of 2013 when my mother was diagnosed with cancer.  I was now in the US teaching at a university and raising two kids under the age of 10.   The news hit me like a ton of bricks.  I applied for a sabbatical from work to make the most of the time I had left with my mother.  The year was spent shuttling between India and the US, and trying my best to stay present wherever I was.  In March 2013, I was in India for my mother’s 74th birthday.  I got a cake, invited some neighbors, and had as normal a party as possible.   My mother and I both knew but did not acknowledge the elephant in the room – that this could be my mother’s last birthday with us.  My father was not aware of the gravity of the situation, and none of us had the courage to tell him the harsh truth. 

One of my brothers and I took turns to be in India to help our parents.  When I went back in June 2013, my mother, who by now was a lot weaker, still made trips to the local market with me.  Shopping for kitchen goods was our shared passion and, in a typical Indian steel kitchenware store, we both behaved like kids in a candy store.  I could tell that my mother was pushing herself to make the most of the time she had left.  When we sat down in a coffee shop, I could no longer hold the sorrow inside. 

I blurted out to my mother – “Amma, I cannot live without you.”

My mother looked deeply into my eyes and said, “I will leave you only when you are brave enough to let me go.”

I responded “Amma, that will never happen.”   

In my vulnerable mind, if my mother had promised not to leave me until I was ready to let her go, she couldn’t leave.  She always keeps her promises. 

Amma Sadabhishekam
Amma sadabhishekam (Image provided by Author)

September 2013 –  I traveled back to India to give my brother a break from caregiving.  My mother was in the ICU.  Her condition came as a shock to me.  She could barely talk and she could not see anymore.  We did not know this then, but the cancer had found its way to her brain.  The two weeks following that were a blur.  My mother faded into a semi-coma.  Her body was still there but we could no longer communicate with her.   It killed me to see her stare into space when we called her name. 

Then, the bad news arrived.  It was confirmed that the cancer was in the brain.  Our family doctor told us that this was the end and that we should not try any more life-saving measures. The next day, when I was in the hospital, I told the resident doctor in the ICU that we had decided to sign the “Do Not Resuscitate” order.  He pulled out a form and had me read through it.  From where I sat at the doctor’s desk in the ICU, I could see my mother – eyes taped shut, and all kinds of tubes going into her to keep her alive.  The doctor explained to me that when she fails to breathe on her own, her throat would be punctured to insert a ventilator.   Those words punctured my heart.  I looked at my mother feeling fiercely protective of her and told her in my mind: “Amma, I won’t let anyone trouble you anymore.” 

Without any hesitation and without any tears in my eyes, I signed the form.  I walked over to my mother and whispered in her ear “Amma, please go.  This body is not working anymore.  Don’t worry about Appa.  I will take care of him.  Look at me, I am not crying.  I am fine.  Please go”. 

My mother hung on for a few more days, giving my other siblings the opportunity to see her before she passed away on October 9th early in the morning.  I felt numb.  But, I also felt a strange peace.  My mother was no longer suffering.  She had escaped her cancer-ridden body.  She was free. 

A few days later, I remembered my mother’s promise to me –  “I will leave you only when you are brave enough to let me go”.  I cried.  My mother had kept her promise. 

I returned to the US back to my husband and my children. 

My 9-year-old son snuggled up with me one night and asked me, “Mamma, will you die too?” 

I said to him, “I will be here as long as you need me.  I will go only when you tell me that you do not need me anymore.” 

My son heaved a sigh of relief, hugged me tight, and fell asleep.


Shailaja Venkatsubramanyan has taught information systems at San Jose State.  She volunteers with the Plant-Based Advocates of Los Gatos.  http://www.plantbasedadvocates.com/


 

The sky (Image by Saumya Balasubramanian)

My Son’s Pandemic Ponderings: Why is Our Sky Not Green?

Due to the pandemic, my son and I have been thrown together a lot more than usual. Walks take on a gentle curious hue that is relished by us both. He is definitely more energetic than I am, but somehow I seem to thrive in the glow of his energy too, so all is well. Our walks are often talk-fests. The elementary school-going son, like many children his age, pulls a full why-wagon with him wherever he goes. The questions tumble out with ease, and can be anywhere on the spectrum:

They are all fair game.

Sunset (Image by Saumya Balasubramanian)
Sunset (Image by Saumya Balasubramanian)

Sometimes, of course, his questions chip away at the stoutest of theories. For instance, a few years ago, as we mooned about the hills overlooking the bay at sunset and taking in the shades of pinks, oranges, blues, grays, purples, and reds, he said, Why is the sunset never green?

Now, that is a perfectly valid question with a perfectly scientific answer. However, it had me stumped, for it never occurred to me to ask that particular question. I remember being awed a few years ago when the children had drawn rust and pink-colored skies when asked to imagine a sky for their imaginary world. 

How often do we take the time to question things that just are? It is thanks to the young and curious minds of the children that I stop to ponder about these things and enjoy the joy of wonder.

In the Pale Blue Dot by Carl Sagan, he comes up with a marvelous chapter on determining the planetary world one is in simply based on the color of the sky. This is the kind of leap in imagination, where only deep thought and research can take you, and here he was, simply giving it away in a book. All his marvelous thought processes, his wonder of the world, his eternal curiosity, and scientific rigor just laid out on a page so we could embrace it in one simple reading. 

“The color of the sky characterizes the world. Plop me down on any planet in the Solar System, without seeing the gravity, without glimpsing the ground, let me take a look at the sun and the sky, and I can, I think, pretty well tell you where I am, That familiar shade of blue, interrupted here and there by fleecy white clouds, is a signature of our world. “ – Carl Sagan, Pale Blue Dot

Pale Blue Dot
Pale Blue Dot

The essay, Sacred Black , in the book, Pale Blue Dot is well worth reading. He explains the reasoning behind the colors of the planets as we see them. He deduces the color of the sky based on the elements found in their atmospheres. 

  1. Venus, he says, probably has a red sky.
  2. Mars has a sky that is between ochre and pink much like the colors of the desert.
  3. Jupiter, Saturn – worlds with such giant atmospheres such that sunlight hardly penetrates it, have black skies. He talks about this bleak expanse of a sky being interrupted here and there by strokes of lightning in the thick mop of clouds surrounding the planets. This image does make for a sober shiver for someone who loves the sky and its myriad attractions. Imagine, not being able to see the stars, the sun, or anything beyond the clouds.
  4. Uranus & Neptune have an uncanny, austere blue color. The distant sunlight reaches a comparatively clean atmosphere of hydrogen, helium, and methane in these planets. The skies may be blue or green at a certain depth resulting in an aquamarine or an ‘unearthly blue’.

He shows us how in the absence of an atmosphere, an inky deep purple is all there is – how our planet is only a pale blue dot floating in an inky void illumined by a ray of light from the sun. Our eyes may not show us green colors in the sky at sunset, but it does detect plenty of green in the flora around us. The colors in the visible spectrum of light make for a marvelous world, but what if our eyes had evolved differently? How would life have been? 

I read bits and pieces of the chapter to the son one evening, and he had that look of intense concentration as if imagining a hundred worlds with thousands of possibilities of the sky. When I smiled at the end and said, ‘So, how do you like it?”

He grinned his approval and said, “Awesome!”

In June 2014, Mangalyaan, launched by India in November 2013, became the first Asian orbiter to stay in Martian orbit, and sent many high-resolution images from the Martian orbit for us to analyze. The Martian Magic continues with the rovers now on Mars. From the earliest times of ancient civilizations, the ‘wanderers’ have enthralled mankind. Behaving differently from the thousands of stars visible to the naked eye, the planets were the first teasers on a long journey through Aryabhatta, Johannes Kepler, Galileo Galilei to Mars missions and rovers. The first puzzle in understanding the cosmos and our place in it.

A few days later, the son came charging into the room in the middle of his school day – “Amma! Amma! You will like this. I just came to tell you this! The Mars landing just happened!”

There is something special in being able to watch the Mars Perseverance Rover land on Mars during the day with your fellow explorer. The video attests to Carl Sagan’s deductions. The Martian atmosphere does look pinkish red with heavily desert hues. The son & I looked outside at the beautiful blue sky with reassuringly white clouds flitting by. We were admiring the clouds in the Bay Area in California while thinking of Mangalyaan launched from India. The missions launched from halfway across the world. The cosmic arena is truly a unifier – to design and perceive the grand universe, the scale of the experiments requires international co-operation as the International Space Station, LIGO experiments, and the Mars pictures attest.

Flora and fauna (Image by Saumya Balasubramanian)
Flora and fauna (Image by Saumya Balasubramanian)

Science took us to Mars with the reddish sky, but it was the blue sky with white clouds that enabled us to dream.

Throughout the following week, the little cosmologist in the house interspersed our Earthly life with Mars-ly anecdotes and clips. 

One evening, we sat together huddled up, watching pictures stitched together from the 3 Mars rovers: Opportunity, Curiosity, Perseverance. Barren desert landscapes, not unlike those in the Sahara desert or the Arizonian deserts, are all the rovers could see. 

The one thing that the Martian landscape reinforces to me, is that our Earth is a beautiful planet – so vast in its diversity, and lifeforms. The Martian pictures make me want to go out and sigh and fall in love, look after, and cherish the one planet we can thrive on. To admire the miracle that is every tree, every lake, every cloud, every blade of grass, and every flower. 

“A blade of grass is a commonplace on Earth; it would be a miracle on Mars. “ – Carl Sagan

If Martian 4K resolution images have taught me anything, it is to buckle down and look after the one planet we do have. I talk to my son about this – It is his generation that will adopt the new skies. 


Saumya Balasubramanian writes regularly at nourishncherish.wordpress.com. Some of her articles have been published in the San Francisco Chronicle, The Hindu, and India Currents. She lives with her family in the Bay Area where she lilts along savoring the ability to find humor in everyday life and finding joy in the little things.


 

Siri with her family (Image by Author)

Siri’s Journey With Autism During the Pandemic

This past year has been a series of ups and downs. My daughter Siri, who has Autism and requires routine, has had to adjust to the changing world around her. Every April during Autism Awareness Month, I share my experience as Siri’s mother and our challenges, so that other parents going through something similar can resonate with our stories and see progress.

Before the pandemic arrived, Siri was busy with many activities like functional fitness, boxing, ice-skating, horse riding, and her internship at Goodwill. She is the type of girl who loves to learn new skills and looks for opportunities to keep herself busy.

Siri boxing before the pandemic (Image by Author)

Naturally, when the pandemic began, we were very worried. We knew that if Siri was bored, she would turn to food as an unhealthy crutch.

To our astonishment, on the third or fourth day into the lockdown period, Siri completely stopped eating and only sought a couple of snacks a day. With both her younger brothers back home during the pandemic, Siri started enjoying their presence in the house. She happily watched them do their zoom classes and ate what they cooked and shared with her. Eventually, we started seeing her shirts and pants fall off her shoulder and hips – all her clothes were extremely loose. We checked with her physician and she said that as long as Siri looks happy, healthy, and is sleeping throughout the night, that we should not worry.

Siri with her mother, Swathi. (Image by Author)
Siri with her mother, Swathi. (Image by Author)

She was so independent that we felt like she had already moved out. The girl who would make her presence known by being loud or pacing when bored had suddenly changed. At one point, we were concerned because we wouldn’t see her often. And when we did see her coming out of her room, she would be happy and humming a tune. She even gave spontaneous hugs to me!

Since her anxiety was at a lower level, I began to teach Siri new skills. We began with some stitching using easy, simple, and small steps. I trained her to make masks and we donated 150 to Saddleback Church in Los Angeles. Siri was so happy to cut the fabric, thread in the needle, and stitch in the way I wanted her to. Her beautiful face glowed as she was packed the masks with a handwritten card inserted in each bag. She started showing interest in drawing and painting too. Later on, we introduced Siri to zoom classes where she was able to do some Bollywood dance, artwork, and also music. 

We, along with a few more like-minded families with special needs kids are working on a community in Sonoma County. We want her, and children like her, to live full, healthy lives without needing their parents for support. In pursuit of this, Clearwater Ranch is developing a program for adults like Siri. Siri, along with three more special-needs young women, will be moving into a house on the ranch by the end of this year. 

Since Siri’s ability to understand the language is affected greatly by her Autism, we are teaching her about her move by taking her to the ranch every other week. We do drive-thru tours for potential families interested in joining us. We explain the process by showing the homes and talking about the future plans for the ranch. 

Our plans for Siri do not stop once she transitions to a new place. Fortunately, this beautiful piece of property sits on an 84acres of land where we plan to develop programs to provide skills to the special-needs residents. We plan to teach them weaving, candle and soap making, painting, farming, pottery, while continuing to focus on their fitness and recreation activities too.   

Siri’s future is bright and promising! 

Join us by following her journey via her Social Media:

FB – https://bit.ly/3deYJ59

IG – https://bit.ly/3g9gAvV 

LI – https://bit.ly/3degilK

YouTube – https://bit.ly/3uOjY3z

Siri’s online business: www.DesignsBySiri.com

Siri’s future home: www.CRanch.net


Swathi Chettipally is a devoted mother and an Autism advocate. Find more about her work with Siri on pinterestinstagram, and youtube.


 

Designer Babies: The Genetic Saviors

Tell A Story – a column where riveting South Asian stories are presented like never before through unique video storytelling.

Genetic Engineering has always been a promising field of science right from its inception, but to advance to a level where babies can be designed before conceiving is definitely fascinating to note. 

Known as Designer Babies, their genetic makeup is pre-selected and altered to serve a purpose as needed. Using pre-screening and gene editing, many such babies have been created so far to save families. Conceived to save siblings from rare genetic disorders, they are also termed as savior siblings. 

It’s been 20 years since the first designer baby was born to the Nash family from Denver, Colorado, but the news is still a miracle to many. Adam Nash was conceived for his stem cells from the umbilical cord, which was later used for the life-saving treatment for his sister suffering from Fanconi’s Anemia. The controversial decision though saved his sister from the rare genetic disorder, it triggered an ethical battle and the family still continues to fight the backlash. 

Many questioned them for the motive of conception and few demanded explanation for challenging Darwin’s theory of evolution. Scientists continue to fear the consequences that may evolve in the future as the technology develops and gets adopted by the masses. 

The success of the first designer baby opened doors for many families that have a legacy of rare inherited genetic diseases. Since 2000, many countries have emulated the technology to save families. India had its first savior baby in 2018. Kavya Solanki conceived to save brother Abhijit from a rare blood disorder, thalassemia major. 

This powerful technology involving alteration of DNA sequences and modification of gene function is known as CRISPR technology. In-vitro fertilized embryos are genetically screened using preimplantation genetic diagnosis to find the one embryo that would be a potential bone match for their older siblings. Following this, the genetic makeup is selected or altered, often to include or remove a particular gene or genes associated with a disease that runs in the family. 

Though benefitted a few, scientists fear the rise of an elite class of genes created with illegal intentions. Gender diagnosis, trait preferences, the endless list of alarming consequences goes on; that may pose a major threat. Few scientific researchers have also raised concern over the health risks to human species with such creation of future generations. 

Tell-A-Story sheds light on this unique technology and its prospects while sharing the experiences of those families who have had designer babies, as they talk about the backlash, the need, and question of consent of the newborn. The video story also addresses the legal framework, future implications, and what lies ahead! 


Suchithra Pillai comes with over 15 years of experience in the field of journalism, exploring and writing about people, issues, and community stories for many leading media publications in India and the United States.

For more such intriguing stories, subscribe to the channel. You can also follow the stories on Facebook @tellastory2020 and Instagram @tell_a_story2020

What If We Don’t Talk About Our Kids?

Lately, there have been many reports about women choosing not to have kids all over the world. Despite the changing times, unfortunately, bearing a child still seems the very definition of womanhood in many sad parts of the world where a woman is deemed “complete” once she “fulfills her purpose of bearing life”. Well, last I checked this is 2020, and isn’t humankind supposed to be more evolved than that by now? 

Before you judge me, let me clarify that I am very much pro-kids and maybe, someday, I’ll have one too. However, I also totally get if someone chooses not to have kids, to each her own.

And yes, it is a choice – some people just don’t want kids

However, this article is not about women choosing not to have kids (you do you, girl!). This article is about those who not only choose to have kids but are also incapable of talking about anything but their kids. This is a real problem. There are online discussions about this with people (including mothers) venting about why some women cannot stop talking about a smiley their kid drew the other day! 

Hold On To Who You Really Are

We all have that one friend whose life circulates around her baby. I understand that having a child is a life-changing event – priorities shift and personalities evolve as we embrace motherhood and learn to parent. But, do we have to completely lose ourselves? Does our life have to be only about the kid’s poop, fart, food, and sleep? 

Women undergo many physical, biological, emotional, and physiological changes in the process of delivering a child. Our appearance, the way people see us, everything changes. I strongly feel that amidst all this, it becomes even more pertinent for us to hold on to who we really are. Women as mothers have been put on these unrealistic pedestals where in some cultures they are treated like Goddesses (I won’t argue that though). However, jokes aside, we are not Goddesses. We are only human and we should have the liberty to freak out, get exhausted, and demand a break when we need, even from being a mum. 

Trust me, I have never met a man who is only capable of talking about his kid. That makes me wonder if the real cause behind this is the deep-rooted heteronormative gender bias in all cultures around the world. The brand of the mother is always associated with care and nurturing while the stud dad goes out and earns a living. Well, this isn’t the 1950s, so women, please chill!

How The Society Is At Fault Here

Sometimes, this can be because of other reasons than just being over-excited about motherhood. If you observe closely, you will see a pattern. First, they obsess over their fathers, then over their husbands and eventually, over their kids. This pattern is alarming because it hints towards a total lack of sense of identity. 

Across many cultures, especially in Asia, a woman’s entire life can be broadly divided into three milestones:

  •     Being a dutiful daughter
  •     Getting married to a fine suitor 
  •     Mothering a child

You must think I don’t know what I am talking about and that this is all ancient news but look around and tell me – is it really? In many parts of China, if women stay unmarried, they are called “leftovers”, and in many parts of India, if women choose to marry someone they love, they are slaughtered in the name of honor killing.

This brings me back to my original point. The fact that some women talk non-stop about their kids is probably because they have been made to believe that their existence on earth is not enough as themselves. They are made to feel that they must latch on to a man or a child whom they serve, care for and nurture to be essential.

I really hope that as we take baby steps towards a more progressive and open world, women are able to feel free and own their identities. 

To those, who just love talking about their kids and disagree, I have only thing to say: “No, I don’t want to know what your child did today. Tell me, what you did.”


Surabhi Pandey, a former Delhi Doordarshan presenter, is a journalist based in Singapore. She is the author of ‘Nascent Wings’ and ‘Saturated Agitation’ and has contributed to more than 15 anthologies in English and Hindi in India and Singapore. Website | Blog | Instagram

 

Valarie Kaur: What If Maternal Love Extended to Our Opponents ?

“As many mothers know, love is sweet labor — a choice that we have to make over and over again, every single day. What would it look like to extend a fraction of that love, to ourselves, to others who don’t look like us, and even to our opponents?” 

– Valarie Kaur

Valarie Kaur is a mother, lawyer, and progressive activist who is grounded in her culture and religion, much like Gandhi and MLK. She is the author of the upcoming book, See No Stranger: A Memoir and Manifesto of Revolutionary Love, releasing on June 16, 2020. Here I am in conversation with Valarie Kaur, as she comments on loss, love, and the power of forgiveness.

GPJ: A lot of activists are seen as angry, yet you have talked about loving your enemy. How do you do that?

VK: I believe that revolutionary love is the call of our times. I became an activist after the murder of Balbir Singh Sodhi, who was a family friend. Since I was 20, for more than 16 years, I have gone from community to community working on a range of social justice issues. I began fighting hate crimes against Sikh, Hindu, Muslim, and other South Asian Americans, and soon realized that our issues were bound up with other communities of color. So I’ve worked with: Latino communities fighting immigration detention; worked with black youth fighting stop and frisk; on prison reform and solitary confinement; marriage equality and trans rights. 

My son was born at the end of 2015, and we began to see hate crimes skyrocket, reaching levels just as high as they were in 9/11. 

I had a small existential crisis — I thought, I’ve been a lawyer for 15 years — I thought with every campaign, we were making the country safer. My family had been in the country for 100 years and I believed we were making linear progress. I looked at my son and realized that I was raising a brown boy, keeping his hair long in accordance with his Sikh faith, in a country that was even more dangerous than the world that my grandfather lived in. I sat in a torrent of tears. I left my job. I took a period of deep introspection. 

After so long, what actually creates change for the communities I serve? It always came down to a critical question: is there love here? Communities that received love in the wake of atrocity were able to respond with love and sustain struggles against institutions of power. I began to think about love as a revolutionary force and began to speak publicly about it. 

When the elections happened in 2016, I was flooded with messages from people saying, “now more than ever, we need this message of revolutionary love.” When my speeches went viral, I felt I had a mandate. 

We built the Revolutionary Love Project — the vision of the project is to make love a public ethic in American life, but also globally. I’m really thinking about how social norms take hold in 25-year cycles — what might it look like in education, criminal justice, politics, as well as our homes and schools. Our mission is to produce thought leadership, stories, and tools to equip people to practice love, particularly in the fight for social justice. 

Activists are usually stereotyped as being angry, and there’s a reason for that. They traditionally work in the frame of resistance, and while resistance is necessary — it’s important to have a strong line of defense against the policies and executive orders that this administration is issuing — it is insufficient to produce lasting social change. When it’s all about resistance, we as advocates tend to mirror the dysfunctions that we are fighting. We tend to mirror the stress, anxiety, fear, and even hate that we are resisting. 

So my call is instead to adopt a frame of revolutionary love. As many mothers know, love is sweet labor — a choice that we have to make over and over again, every single day. What would it look like to extend a fraction of that love, to ourselves, to others who don’t look like us, and even to our opponents? When love is poured in these three directions, it can become revolutionary. 

GPJ: We seem to care a lot about people who look like us, but the leap to care about our oppressors seems difficult. How do we love our oppressors?

VK: To me, the ideal in the Sikh faith has always been that the warrior fights, the saint loves — hence, a revolutionary love. I see Guru Nanak’s path as one of revolutionary love. We’ve inherited a history of, not only martyrs, but also soldiers and warriors. What does it mean to adopt that religious imagination of warriors against political injustice in modern times? 

The first Sikh woman warrior was Mai Bhago in 1705 — when 40 soldiers abandoned their post, she donned a turban, she took a sword in her hand, mounted a horse, and said, “We will return to the battle and I am the one who will lead you.” She became the one she was waiting for. She’s my inspiration, and I believe we need to become the Mai Bhago of our time. 

That’s why I created the Mai Bhago Retreat, to bring together Sikh women justice leaders every year so we can see ourselves and reinterpret our faith in this way. This is fierce religious imagery — sword and shield — but I believe we do not need literal weapons to fight the war before us. We may have needed them years before, but not now with the institutions of democracy we have before us. 

My sword is my law degree, my shield is my film camera. I look at my Sikh sisters using their pens, doctors’ scalpels, pocketbooks, as their shields. Nobody goes into battle alone, so it’s important that we come together to fight the good fight together. What does it mean to love your opponents? My core practice is to heal the wound. I have never come across anyone who I have seen as wholly evil. 

Every perpetrator of violence or supporter of violence is doing it from their own sense of woundedness, fear, and insecurity. They don’t know what else to do with their insecurity but to aim it at us. They are wounded. We point our swords and shields at the cultural-political institutions that allow them to hurt us. I am less interested in unseating this particular president, and more interested in the social and political conditions that led to this presidency. That’s what I’ve battled against — it changes how we fight. 

Whenever we focused on putting bad actors behind bars, it never changed very much. But when we focused on transforming institutions of power, or transforming a corrupt police department, or changing federal hate crimes policy, or winning net neutrality, that’s when we began to see systemic change. I believe that loving our opponents simply consists of tending to their wounds. Changing how we see them, from monsters to people who are wounded, opens the possibility of forgiveness, and even possibly reconciliation. 

Frank Roque, who murdered Balbir Singh, was about to receive the death penalty when his sentence was commuted to life in prison. On the 15 year anniversary of 9/11, Rana Balbir and I stood at his memorial, and he said, “nothing has changed.” I asked him, who is the person we have not yet tried to love? 

The last thing we had heard from Frank Roque was at his trial, when he had said he was going out to shoot some towelheads and their children too. So we called him up and asked him why he agreed to speak to us, and he began to tell us how he was sorry for what happened to our family but was also sorry for the lives of the thousands of people killed in 9/11. He failed to take responsibility, and I began to get angry, but Ranaji kept listening and wondering about the wound in Frank. 

He says, “Frank, this is the first time I have heard you say you’re sorry.” And Frank says, “Yes, I’m sorry for what I did to your brother. And when I go to heaven to be judged by God, I will ask to see your brother and I will hug him.” 

Forgiveness is not forgetting, it is freedom from hate. Then we can begin to see and challenge the cultural forces and the institutions of power that allow violence to happen. It took us fifteen years to make that call. If you are still hurting, and you can still feel that rage and pain and loss in your body, the best and most loving thing you can do for your opponent is to tend to your own wound. Forgiveness is really about freedom for yourself, and opening yourself to the possibility of reconciliation. 

I don’t believe I will ever reconcile with Donald Trump, but I do believe that thinking about what drives his insecurity and fear, what makes him feel so alienated and lash out against all of us who look different from him, helps me fight him better and helps me to talk to those who support him, to understand why they are fearful, and hold up a vision of a country that includes them too. Loving our opponents is strategic, and savvy. It’s how we are going to build a movement that’s not just about resistance but about transformation.

Geetika Pathania Jain, Ph.D. is grateful to Kartik Jain for transcribing this unpublished interview with Valarie Kaur. When she is not writing or teaching yoga, Geetika can be found enjoying the great outdoors. She is currently working on a book called “50 Voices From South Asia.”

It Does Take a Village to Raise a Child

As I watched the Netflix documentary that follows Michele Obama’s book tour to promote her memoir, “Becoming”, I was reminded of a former American first lady who published a book while her husband was in office. 

When Hilary Clinton’s book, It Takes a Village And Other Lessons Children Teach Us, was first published, I read about it in the Washington Post. Intrigued by the unusual title, I wondered about her credentials to write with conviction about raising children. After all, she had mothered only one child. 

During the Clintons’ tenure at the White House, I was first a graduate student, and later, a postdoctoral fellow at a university not far from Washington DC. I knew nothing about motherhood and parenting. Judging Hilary Clinton’s expertise to write a book (that I had not read) was presumptuous on my part.  

About a year and a half later, as I cradled my newborn daughter in Silicon Valley, I asked a friend who came by for a visit – “How will I bring up this tiny baby into adulthood? I don’t know anything about parenting.”

A mother of a preschooler, she smiled knowingly and replied “Don’t worry, they come programmed to survive and grow. You don’t have to know anything.”

I heard her but did not believe her. I had devoured What To Expect When You’re Expecting, during my pregnancy. Knowing my penchant for turning to books for advice, someone had thoughtfully gifted me the sequel to help me figure out the first year of my child’s life. 

During my short maternity break, I could foresee how much more difficult my life would become once I returned to work. With growing demands on my body, emotions, and time, I wondered if I would lose myself as I slowly dissolved into the ocean of caregiving that is motherhood. 

Children consume you in ways few other things do. They coerce you, bind you, and trap you with their heart-melting smiles even as you change diapers and pick up toys innumerable times. Coming on the heels of years of infertility, for me, motherhood, like my Ph.D., had been a long-drawn project, a goal that I had desired and aspired for, and my child, the reward for my prayers and effort. 

In the two decades since that initial expression of doubt regarding my mothering ability, I have discovered, to my eternal surprise and gratitude, that I am just the string that connects every person who crossed my path and provided me guidance and assistance along the way to raise my child. 

Photo Credit goes to Taneli Lahtinen

This year Mother’s Day was especially poignant because, in a few weeks, that tiny baby who used to fit in my lap, will fly out of the nest and head back to America, the country where she was born.

I think back to the village of people scattered across the globe, who not only directly impacted her growth but also influenced my journey as a mother. 

Some, like my mother, Amma, held my hand in the delivery room and took care of me in the early days. Amma rescued me several other times when I was in a pinch for childcare, struggling to remain in the workforce. Always supportive, but not necessarily indulgent, she followed the ‘tough love’ style of mothering, long before the phrase was coined. 

Catherine, the gentle, silver-haired British lady who took over as the local grandmother when Amma returned to India, was the first person outside the home to bond with my child. Using only organic ingredients to cook fresh meals and creating personalized birthdays for the kids in her care, Catherine was a loving, no-nonsense woman. It was impressive how she managed to carve out time for self-care, swimming thirty laps in the community pool after a long day watching a handful of babies and toddlers. I owe a huge debt of gratitude to Catherine for providing reliable childcare, the prime reason I was able to focus on my budding career.

Bill, my boss, who looked the other way when he saw me slouched over my desk in the early days of motherhood, first introduced me to a lunchtime yoga class, and later supported all of my part-time or flex-time requests, ensuring my progress through the ranks. I shudder to think of how my life would have turned out without Bill as my boss.

In California, a circle of women friends gathered around me to provide assistance to a working mother in a dysfunctional marriage. When I moved to India, another group of female friends came together in Hyderabad to help me find my feet as a single parent. Loaning me a gas cylinder when I moved into my own place, watching my child if I was late from work, accompanying me to court, or to the doctor’s office, many kind women propped me up. 

When handling everything alone felt overwhelming, I remembered the wise words of a colleague who told me at my baby shower, “Parenting is a series of threats and bribes.” 

When I doubted my decision to quit my well-paying job with long working hours and choose a freelance consulting path that paid less but offered greater flexibility, I remembered my aunt’s advice to make whatever minor changes necessary but to not give up my financial independence.

I am indebted to a large global network of individuals who have shared my journey as a mother. It has not been smooth. I have been far from perfect. 

From our shaky first steps in California to the rocky patch in India, and now in our new blended family in Singapore, motherhood has been a delicate dance. The two of us held onto each other, flowing with life as it detoured into uncharted territories. We are at a point where our paths must diverge. My time of intense parenting is coming to an end. 

The river of life will take her in its fold, whisk her to unknown destinations. But I will send her away with the confidence that there is a village out there, to pick up where my direct influence ends. Just as a village came together and sustained her thus far, I have no doubt that she will build another one for the next leg of her life. 

Even without reading Hilary Clinton’s book, I learned first-hand the powerful lesson embedded in the African proverb that she chose as the title for her book. It does take a village to raise a child. And I stand humbled by the experience. 

Ranjani Rao is a scientist by training, writer by avocation, originally from Mumbai, a former resident of USA, and now lives in Singapore with her family. She is co-founder of Story Artisan Press and her books are available on Amazon. She is presently working on a memoir. Medium | Twitter | Facebook | Blog

A Mother’s Unconditional Love

Wooooooosh, a loud exhale, and then a soft inhale. I could hear my young daughter quietly scurry across the hallway calling her brother in hushed tones. Long before I knew it, they both were sitting in the lotus yoga pose, imitating me, with their eyes closed, making those absurd exhale wooshes. Along came a giggle and then another until they fell over laughing holding their tummies, making me laugh out loud while enjoying this strong mother-child bond. 

Motherhood is the noblest of callings and a privilege to be entrusted with a tiny human life. Motherly love is unconditional and is the foundation of a child’s growth. This kind of love helps foster self-confidence and has a long-lasting impact on developing their minds and shaping their conscience.

The role of the mother is to watch, teach, guide, and help in the growth and development of a child. There is an unfathomable, deep, trusting love that connects mother and child.

Motherhood for me is a privilege and an adventure. It is guiding my children to be the best versions of themselves and make good choices. To help them to grow to be kind, confident, caring, and loving. To be their cheerleader, to hold their hand, and at the same time teach them boundaries. Being a mother is ensuring a feeling of safety and love though it sometimes comes with fears, worries, and heartache. Motherhood is a gift to be grateful for and the joy of seeing the wonders through your children’s eyes

Don’t we all come to a realization that “Oh no, I have become my mother.” It is not a bad thing. You start saying some phrases like her and even your expressions take on those of your mothers.  I recall my charming mother who took the time to talk to me about politics, finance, and just about everything. She was full of life and came down to my level of wanting to have fun and a deep bond grew. I am so grateful that she was my guiding light.  I miss and thank you, mom!

You don’t need Mother’s Day to take time to talk with your mom and give her some of your time. We tend to hear about ourselves but do we take time to ask our moms more about themselves? Here are a few questions to help you. 

(i) What’s something you wanted to do but didn’t….why? 

(ii) Who were your role models when you were young and do you have any now?

(iii) Was there a situation that made you see the world differently?

(iv) What was the first year of motherhood like for you?

(v) Describe your perfect day.

Being a mother is a joyous gift, being blessed and also the toughest with its fears and worries. Take heart in the love you receive from your mother…she holds your soul in her heart! 

Geetanjali Arunkumar is a writer, artist, life coach. She is also the illustrator of the oil painting used as the featured image. 

Entrepreneurial Mother Unlocks Kulture

Who else can know a child’s needs better than a mom. And it takes a strong woman to go beyond and fulfill the gaps, irrespective of the circumstances.

Putting aside the pandemic we are facing, it is still International Women’s Month! India Currents would like to tell the story of one such strong Indian American mother, Akruti Babaria, who recognized the importance of conveying Indian traditions and culture to her child and she knew she had to be the one to start a venture to accomplish the feat.

Kulture Khazana is an online portal that unlocks Indian cultural treasures for children using different interactive mediums. From online content, workshops, newsletters, seminars to children’s books – the portal is a one stop destination for every Indian mother who seeks to impart her culture to her kids.

Established in February 2018, the journey was not a cakewalk for the mom-entrepreneur, who had to travel halfway across the globe to find the right sources for her endeavour.

“It was when I started to speak to my 3 year old son about Indian culture, did I realize the lack of resources around us in the US. I wanted him to learn about our values and traditions and could not find any authentic source here. I had to travel all the way to India to purchase nearly 400 books, back then for the purpose. The journey and the realization paved the way to curate something that can be beneficial not just for my son but for every kid in the US,” said Akruti Babaria, who left her full-time job to pursue this venture.

Right after its establishment, the portal was well received by all Indian American parents who were eagerly in search for a repository that offers them the right resources, especially books that do not highlight any violence but convey the needed context in an appropriate way based on the aptitude of a kid. Surprisingly, even the local libraries welcomed the cultural materials and were more than happy to display the collection. 

Akruti storytelling at her local library

Though the initial acceptance helped Akruti to establish her endeavor across the community, finding feasible partners for the business was a challenging task.

“It required lots of research, meetings and effort to find genuine partners to do business with. We needed people who share the same passion for children’s literature. Though at first I used to work with distributors, now over the years I have been able to establish direct contacts with publishers and authors, which has helped the process to be more smooth and effective.” 

Not just limiting the scope to online content, Akruti understood the need to be innovative and went on to explore new avenues to spread awareness on Indian culture. A unique approach of mixing storytelling with activities and movements, she was able to find new ways to engage the kids in learning about their culture.

“I wanted to do something which is not monotonous and kids should find it interesting rather than preachy. The interactive workshops and seminars gives an all-rounded experience for kids with lots of activities and fun learning exercises. It’s been well received and many schools and organizations like children’s museums, libraries, literary communities, temples, and grocery chain stores have come forward to organize such events. Surprisingly, even the non-Indian communities have shown interest and attend these workshops in large numbers to learn more about Indian culture and global diversity,” 

Akruti using different mediums to teach culture

Currently, she has also been approached by the school district of Texas to create a cultural kit as part of the curriculum for 2020 with special focus on spreading awareness about culture and diversity for students and on how teachers should plan to include the framework within the curriculum.

Akruti also conducts professional development seminars for educators on how to interpret culture in a classroom. She feels that if the kids are knowledgeable about diversity and inclusion at such a young age, then they grow up to become open-minded individuals. Most of the organizations have workshops on inclusion as part of team building exercises and Akruti asserts that if these cultural values are taught to them right from childhood then there is no need to retrain them in future. 

The dancer cum MBA graduate is all set to enter a new phase as she plans to author a book for kids about spices. Writing poems and collating learning exercises for the weekly newsletters of her portal, she is already on the move creating new experiences for children through a mother’s lens. 

Akruti call outs to the wonderful women out there for International Women’s month, “Come what may, always follow your passion. Regain your confidence and find your girl gang, who is always there to give an hi-five, to support, advise and even criticize. You just have to step out and you will realize that there is a whole community of women out there who are always ready to support each other.”

Suchithra Pillai comes with over a decade’s experience in the field of journalism, exploring and writing about people, issues, and community stories for many leading publications in India and the United States. In her spare time, you would either find her scribbling down some thoughts in the paper trying to find a rhyme or story out of small things or expressing her love for dance on stage.

Edited by Assistant Editor, Srishti Prabha.

A “Job” Well Done: A Poem For My Daughter

Finding you Fearless I taught you to  Fear.

Eternally Curious… I taught you Indifference.

Charmingly Honest… I taught you Pretence.

Openly Friendly… I taught you Caution.

Implicitly Trusting… I taught you to Doubt.

Clingingly Needy… I taught you Independence

…and considered it a ‘Job’ well done!

Now My Child, it’s your turn. 

Hold my hand and teach me to be…

Fearless.

Curious.

Honest.

Friendly.

Trusting.

Needy. 

Do your “Job.” 

Teach me to Love!

 Pavani Kaushik is a visual artist who loves a great book almost as much as planning her next painting. She received a BFA from the Academy of Art University, San Francisco. She has held art shows in London, Bangalore and locally here in California.

A Life Crafted with Grit and Grace

 

One of my earliest memories of my mother, outside of the home, is on a badminton court. My father’s job as a doctor with the Indian Railways allowed us the use of the Officer’s Club. It was the norm for us to troop down to the club every evening, where we spent several hours actively engaged in the various sport facilities it offered. At the time, we did not realize how unusual it was for a woman of my mother’s generation in India, to be considered a sportswoman of some merit. Of course, I realize that there have been many celebrated Indian sportswomen through the ages. But it was certainly not a traditionally accepted role in a small town.  Draped in her sari, hitched up and tucked at the waist, bare feet, racquet in hand, long braid flashing behind her – she proceeded to vanquish a young man in a singles match while my sister and I watched from the sidelines. I will never forget applauding with everyone else, and the pride I felt when she collected her trophy.  We pored over scrapbooks she had filled with newspaper clippings of her victories going back through her high school and college years. And slowly, the idea that there was more to the woman we called ‘Amma’ – more than just someone who cooked our meals, and cared for our every need – took hold.

My mother Gita was born on March 26,1948. Maybe it was her birth amidst the exuberance of post-independence India that imbued her with the gumption to buck the established notions about the ‘proper qualities’ in a conservative, middle class girl. It blessed her with a stubborn streak. She was determined to pursue her innate talents as a skilled sportswoman, much to her dear father’s disapproval. We were often regaled with a story narrated by her aunts of the time when she was eight years old. In an effort to get her to practice music, they locked her in a room with her violin – which was of course, considered a proper skill for a girl to master – and she proceeded to break the bow to make her feelings clear.  Needless to say, this incident ended any chance of a bright musical career! Her older sister was born to fill that role. My mother was simply exercising her right to choose something else.

Although she has since hung up her racquet, the sportswoman in her has helped chart her course through the most trying time in her life – her separation from our father. Divorce among her peers is a rarity, and yet, she has managed to retain her essence through all of the heartache. She has, with grace, held on to another aspect of her identity – her creativity. Just as the tanpura or tamburi was synonymous with her older sister, the sewing machine is my mother’s personal crest – her very own coat of arms!

Her passion to create marvels of “upcycled” products never ceases to astound us. On each of her visits her one request is that I help her design the next in a line of beautifully crafted creations. Our favorite outings are to craft stores, and our discussions are usually about how she can embellish her latest project. From the minute she wakes, right up to dinner time, she is consumed by her need to create. And her greatest reward is when we share her creations with friends and family as gifts.

She has used her unique talent in creating memory quilts for each of her grandchildren. Painstakingly piecing together fabric from baby clothes I had saved, she spent hours making my daughter a patchwork of love sewn together with her strength and courage. It is a brightly colored legacy, and will be cherished for all of time.

My mother did not choose to be a career woman. She chose instead to devote her life to bringing up her daughters instilling in them her firm notions of right and wrong. And she led by example, that being female did not make us feeble, or less in any way. Her single minded devotion and support was the backbone of my sister Divya Raghavan’s singing career when she first started. She was, and remains ambitious for us hoping that we scale every path we traverse to achieve the things that she could not.  But the biggest lesson she has taught us, is in accepting her shortcomings while continuing to live with grace.  The label she affixes to every piece she creates speaks volumes:  “Crafted with Love”.

Much has been said about the bond between mothers and daughters. Having experienced nearly half a century savoring the many nuances of this relationship, I can only say that my respect for my mother has deepened with every day that passes. That much is true. On the cusp of her 70th birthday, it is only fitting that I acknowledge her fighting spirit, her creative passion and her ability to stride ever onwards – changing, evolving and nurturing.

This is a tribute in words during Women’s History month for a woman I cherish.

Happy 70th Amma!