My mom passed away last Friday. She was 65. She suffered from a Subarachnoid Hemorrhage caused by the rupture of an aneurysm in her brain. She was an amazing woman – and I am not just saying that because she was my mom. From reading the many messages that were sent to me and my sister over the weekend the one word that comes to mind about my mom consistently is, affection. She was the most affectionate person I have ever known – and to everyone she met, interacted with or had a chance to talk to.
She was born in a small town near Srirangam, and was one of 5 siblings. The only daughter to my grandparents, she was a twin. She has a younger brother as well, and the older brothers doted on her. There was nothing my mom wanted that she did not get from her family. Her dad was a functionary executive at a local temple, a very well read, endearing and disciplined man. My granddad would claim that my mom was the most-loved person in all of Trichy.
Most people make fun of me when they mention someone by name and I immediately find a connection with them – they are a friend of a friend, or a distant relative, or a college buddy or another remote connection – that’s my mom in me. She’d always have a connection.
Even if you have not heard of the term “people person”, before – close your eyes for a few minutes and think about what images come to mind, when you hear that word. You may have never met my mom, but most of the qualities & images that you associate with that word when your eyes were closed, would define mom. She was the original “people person”.
My parents were married in Trichy in the early 70’s. Dad was an urban city “Bombay” type and mom was from a traditional village. They moved to Bombay soon after the wedding and it took my mom several years to adjust to the hectic pace of the large city. She craved always to know everyone and took great pains to connect with as many people as she could even in the large city of Bombay.
There are 3 things that defined my mom – her immense belief in god and the power of prayer, her generosity and her love for music.
She would manifest her affection towards all people she met by one or all of these ways.
It would never take her too long to make you feel comfortable – many of my friends know her as a very welcoming, always supportive and easy to humor mom. I know many a time when we’d come home late at night after pretending to be “studying” together, when she’d wake up and make a full 3-5 course meal for all of us – from scratch – in less than the time it took us to wash ourselves!
One day a friend had come over to study with me at home. His parents were going through a rough patch and we had our exams in a few days. He went to to same school and grade as I did though, my mom had never met him or his parents. That did not matter though. The next few days he was told to concentrate on studying, while he was clothed, fed and sheltered from goings-on at his home, by my mom. She did not judge him or his parents, nor did she question. She just helped him get on his feet.
Prayer was one of the other ways that she showed you that she loved you and cared for you. I know a few of my cousins who believed her prayer was more powerful than any of the people they knew. I know of many other folks have mentioned that if she prayed, god would make it happen. After all, she prayed so much and so often and asked so little for herself, that god would keep all his reserve credits towards anything she asked for. I remember she would even pray for people she never knew. Simply because she that felt good things happened when you prayed.
Her generosity was another thing she was known for. Her generosity was selfless, all-encompassing and action-oriented. One of her core tenets was “paying it forward”. This was even before paying it forward was a meme.
I remember in 1987 a relative was suffering from immense pain, and mom traveled 8-9 hours by bus to take us to go and see them. All through the journey or the next few days, mom never mentioned to us that she was in severe pain her self, suffering through a very bad back. The only way we got to know about it was her favorite pain-killer – a heat rub, called Tiger balm, was finished by the time we got to the relative’s home. She’d always think of you and do good for you. That, she herself, was in pain or need was largely ignored. The next 2 days she spent, in the kitchen, at our relatives home, cooking for her family, cleaning and helping out in many ways to ensure that she was able to rest through her pain, while my mom silently suffered through hers. She claimed that she was not in any pain, since she was serving others and their thanks were helping alleviate her pain.
She had no limits or bounds to her generosity either. From our help at home, to her relatives, to my own friends, my sisters or my dad’s friends, her generosity was all-encompassing. My dad would travel quite a bit during the 80’s and largely to Europe or the US. When he’d return, he would bring back loads of chocolates, clothes and stationary that in the 80’s, was largely not available in India very easily. My mom would first take about 40% – 50% of the stuff away and keep it aside for our help at home, relatives, her friends, friends-of-friends, an old lady, who lived next door to the neighbor of a friend, who she met 2 days ago. Then she would advice us to share the rest with our friends and folks that came home.
I remember distinctly a time when my dad bought her a very nice sari, which he wanted her to have. A relative came home that afternoon and loved that particular sari a lot. My mom gave it to her without any hesitation. When my dad came home that evening and asked her why she did that, she said, “I think she would look nicer in that sari”. Yes, she was that selfless.
Most every time she asked us for any money, it was because she wanted to give it to someone else. Another of her core tenets was “The more you give, the more you will get”. I dont think any of us comprehended it at that time, but looking back, we have been immensely blessed with simply because my mom gave away a lot.
Her generosity was also very action-oriented – not in words alone. She would do things – cook and feed you, pray for you or give you stuff to ameliorate your suffering. When she used her words, you would recognize her sincerity and motherly instinct immediately. Her way to show that she cared was to remove one of the things that was bothering you and do it herself, without either your help or direction.
Besides prayer and cooking, one of her life’s biggest passions was music. I remember my aunts and uncles telling me that she was a very accomplished singer and a person with a very sweet voice. You did not need to ask her twice to sing – another thing I got from her (minus the sweet voice). She tried her best to get my sister and I into Carnatic classical music, but I guess that gene we picked up from my dad. Were were interested and eager, but were not blessed with the same innate music sense my mom was. She would travel wide and far to hear young artists, encourage them, buy season passes to their concerts, attend a few and then give the rest away.
You may have never met my mom, but in many ways you know her, because I suspect everything I have told you about my mom is like your mother as well. She was the most amazing living embodiment of mom that god ever created. I suspect your mom is the same. So, talk to her. That was the only thing she’d ask me for. “Call me”, she’d say. This text message, facebook stuff is not enough. I have to hear your voice. I can tell if you are in pain or you are happy just by listening to your voice over the phone she’d say.
So, to honor my mom I thought I’d help you – over the next couple of days I am going to write a blog post on a list of 101 things to talk to your mom about. Just stuff that I wished I talked to her more about. If you have a suggestion or two, drop me a note. More than anything, talk to your mom. Your mom would be happy you called (regardless of time or day) and so would my mom.
P.S. I know many of you tried calling me, emailing me or text messaging me. I thank you for it. I dont know how to deal with losing my mom – so I dont want to talk to you over the phone. I dont feel it is cathartic. That’ my way of dealing with it. So, if you want to know what happened, please read my blog post. If there’s a story of my mom you remember, please drop me a note. I may not reply, because I’d probably cry some more when I read it.