Mother’s day is this Sunday May 10th. I wanted to share a little about my mother and what she meant to me and my family.
My mother seemed like a normal Indian mother, but if you knew her heart you would know she was beyond compare.
Her name was Renuka, or Renu to those closest to her. She grew up in East Bengal, which is now known as Bangladesh. Before the British partition of India in 1947, East Bengal and West Bengal were two parts of an undivided province of Bengal. The two sides of Bengal shared a common history as well as their rich cultural and social heritage for at least one thousand years. A very important part of this heritage was the cuisine.
My mother and her family lived in Dhaka, which the capital city of Bangladesh. Today, it is the tenth largest city in the world, with a population of more than 18 million people. My father and his family also lived in Dhaka, but after the 1947 partition they were forced to cross the border into Calcutta as refugees. Then, as it is now with refugees flooding into Europe and other countries, one can imagine how extremely difficult a time it was. This life-changing experience allowed my mother to be a champion of others who had even less than what she did.
From the time I was young and able to understand my mother she was a key person, both in her own family as well as her marital family. She was the one everyone could count on for help. “Let’s ask Renu,” they would say, whenever they were in need. Both my parents worked for the government. My mom worked in the post office, which did not pay much (some things never change), but gave her some much-needed economic stability. My mother used that peace-of-mind and stability she gained to help out others in all possible and seemingly impossible ways.
One of those ways included, of all things, match-making! It was almost uncanny the way she saw connections between possible brides and grooms within her circle of family members and friends. A middle-class, distant relative’s son and a long-unseen, poor friend’s daughter would suddenly be brought together. This match would ultimately end in a nice little wedding ceremony – my mother being the all-important “cupid” who organized it. Or, a needy cousin and his family members who were suffering so much that they were almost starving. When my mother learned of their plight she showed up at their dilapidated home on a Sunday morning, with cooked food in a large tiffin carrier and money for the starving family. She helped people realize their hopes and dreams as well as helped them to reclaim those same hopes and dreams.
No matter your status in life, she would be there. She even provided support for the people who worked as servants or maids in our home. We were not rich, but were blessed enough to have people who worked for us. That also meant that the people who worked for us were extremely poor. Despite that, they always knew that my mother would be there to save them from hunger and hopelessness.
In 1992, my parents came to the United States to visit us for the first and only time. At the time we lived in Southern Illinois where my husband was doing his Ph.D. at Southern Illinois University, and I was also working in a biology lab at the university. She met my daughter for the first time; she was only five at that time. Mother said it was the best time of her life, those three or four months she stayed with us here in America. According to her, it was “God’s blessing”. After returning to India, she spoke and joked about it with friends and family.
Before her passing she often said that when the time comes for her to meet God, she would say, “God, I am very happy and satisfied with my life on earth. I have no regrets. I have even traveled to America, and stayed with my daughter and granddaughter”. That always makes me feel special. Even though she was so young, my daughter fondly remembers those days. And I still remember my mother sitting in a swing with my daughter in the small and quiet park of our graduate student housing on Evergreen Terrace.
I miss my mom very much, but for me I still honor her by doing for other people by using my life’s experiences to help out any way I can. It’s why I love to cook and teach others the benefits of eating the right foods and staying healthy. I would love to hear stories from you about your mother. Leave a few words in the comments about how you remember your mom. What did she like to do? How did she inspire you? How do you honor her today whether she has passed on or is still here today?
Happy Mother’s Day,