I brought you into this world, and I can take you out . . . My Indian Mother
The greatest tribute to the dead is not grief but gratitude - Thornton Wilder *
My mom was a force to be reckoned with when she was angry with my brother and I, a frequently-occurring event in our household. We often got into trouble . . . ‘just wait till we get home’ was an oft-repeated threat of hers. It happened right in the neighborhood supermarket called Super Big Bazaar. My brother and I got into a scrape over a bag of Cadbury’s chocolate eclairs. I pushed him, he pushed me back . . . smack-dab into a Haldiram’s can display. I went sprawling and so did the can of rasogullas, tumbling everywhere like the walls of an old haveli attacked by a bulldozer. I regained my upright position and disappeared into the shelves of food just as mom’s eyes went wide with horror, her lips thin with anger. “Just you wait, Missy,” she shouted at me, cuffing the back of my brother’s head who was not so quick to escape.
When she got heated about things, my mom didn’t mince words. Her most colorful phrases were reserved for the country that took all three of her children away from her—”Churail (witch) America” she would hiss, shaking her head in derision. Her thinning plait, colored with henna and, softened with alma swung on her shoulders in sympathy. I would return to my mom over and over again, but it would never be the same. I would come as a visitor and a tourist, would return with stories to show Mummy the stamps on my passport from the different places I had traveled, but she would not be impressed.
The only time I can remember my opinionated mom praising her kids’ adopted country was on a visit to the United States. Referring to the Sikh belief in reincarnation, I remember her telling Dimple Aunty, “I’ve committed many sins in my lifetime, so I don’t know if I will get the human life form again. But, I pray that if I’m to be reborn as a dog, then I be reborn a dog in America.” She cackled, laughter sprinkling like salt upon her tea and bhujiya.
But before the currents of life would pull me away from my land of birth, I was a member of a large and affectionate family, born to a mother whose love saved me. My mom gave me the biggest gift of my teen years when she taught me how to fight back. I must have been twelve or thirteen. My brother, at ten or eleven, was younger to me in age, but taller, stocky and able to pack a few punches. After a particularly aggressive fight involving bruises, scrapes, and fisticuffs, I went crying to my mom for help. She took me squarely by my shoulders and turned me around to face my brother who was cooling his heels in triumphant glee.
“Go hit him back, “ she said, her eyes narrowed to slits. “You’re going to live in a world of men. You need to know how to deal with them.”
I don’t recall how many blows my brother endured from me that day, but I do know that with a small gesture, and a big message my mom set me on a journey where no man was going to be able to mess with me again.
Not all heroes wear capes.
*My mom passed away on April 18, 2019. It was sudden, untimely, and has left me with a gaping wound. One way I am honoring her memory is by writing about the life we shared, and taking continuing joy in the reminiscences from the past.