With my mom’s passing earlier this year, all we have are memories. Thankfully, being with her was unforgettable so we are well fueled for the years that come. In her own words, many many years ago, Mom told me about her early years:
“Once upon a time in 1945 there was a child born to a family of mother, father and four boys. The reason for having four boys was to get a girl. Finally, this queen arrived and the whole village came to welcome her.
F: A village? Where you born in a village, Mommy?
M: And they all welcomed her with the name Rani, which means “Adored Queen.”
F: I thought you were named Rani after your birth?
M: That’s right, it wasn’t before my birth. I talked about just being born.
F: I thought your name Rani was given to you by Bughoo?
M: Not Bughoo. Bughoo was there, but he was too young to give me a name. He was only twelve. He couldn’t give names. He’d just run away from home.
F: Okay. So when you were born, everybody called you Rani.
M: They called me Rani so that stuck.
F: It wasn’t your official name?
M: No. Then I was taken to the, what’s his name that looks at the stars? The astrologer. They went to him and made my whole future. My whole future was predicted on the third day of birth. And they gave me the name of Moonface, which means Mahrookh in Iranian. Now, even though we were living in Punjab, we had to have Iranian names because we had to be set apart.
F: You lived in Punjab, Mommy?
M: Punjab. We lived in Kanpoor. UP. It’s called UP. Utar Pradesh.
F: That’s Punjab?
M: Yes. That’s close to Punjab. It’s next door to Punjab.
M: So are you talking or am I talking? Now let me talk. Then I don’t know what happened until I was about 7 or 8 years old. We moved to Bombay.
F: You don’t remember anything before you were 7?
M: Nothing. I remember nothing. Nothing clearly any ways. Just vaguely I remember.
F: So tell me, did you breast-feed from your mom?
M: Yes. For a whole year. My mom had very big boobs. She stayed in the hospital for one month and she fed about 2 other babies because she had too much milk. She didn’t charge for it. She just gave them.
F: How wonderful.
M: Yeah, it was wonderful. It helped her more than it helped the babies.
F: Got rid of the heaviness!
M: That’s right! Then what happened? Then we went to Bombay. My father was transferred, my father kept getting transferred because he’d lose his temper and resign from his jobs. But he was always offered, the next day he was offered a job somewhere else so he took it. And he wasn’t afraid to move from one city to the other.”
So began her adventures in this world, with a strong willed father who loved his wife and children with all his heart. In fact, it was his father who made sure that the family included a girl. They kept trying until she arrived. She felt deeply cherished because of this.
At age 12, the unthinkable occurred. One of her father’s employees murdered him. My grandfather was a strong, well-built man who always carried a gun. When he demoted an alcoholic employee and was threatened by him, my grandfather cavalierly sloughed it off. But on a Sunday he went to the factory without his gun and the employee stabbed him many times. This changed my mom’s life forever.
With her doting father gone, she and the rest of the family struggled. Granny, her mom, widowed so suddenly from the true love of her life, had periods of deep anguish. Her brothers, also grieving, thought that it was their responsibility to protect their baby sister. They beat up boys who looked at her in the “wrong” ways and she lost freedoms and fun that she enjoyed when her father was head of the household.
So when her aunty wrote from Kenya, requesting help from my 15 year old mom to help her with the kids and housework while she had a major operation, she was all too happy to get on a boat and escape. After a couple of years there, her uncle asked her if she’d like to meet eligible men, as they wanted her to stay in Nairobi. Once she agreed, he presented 3 men. As Mom put it, “one had a motorcycle; another had a VW Bug and the third had no vehicle, so who do you think I took?” We laugh incessantly as we learn that the driver of the Bug, my dad, on the 3rd visit with her, was told by Mom’s uncle “Decision lau!”, meaning, in Gujarati/English, bring your decision!—about marriage, otherwise you don’t get to see her again. So Dad said to her, as they were in view of the family while sitting in the Bug, “I’m quite fond of you. Shall we get married?”. Mom, in retelling the moment of the proposal, exclaims that her response, based on Bollywood films and melodramatic Indian culture, burst out “Fond? You’re just fond of me?!!! That’s not enough! You should be in LOVE with me!!!” Despite this reaction to my dad’s tepidly unromantic marriage request, accepted. And so it was that she was 18 and he was 30 when they tied the knot. A traditional Zarthusti marriage was arranged by both families in Nairobi.
You may find it hard to believe that Mom was not sure how she got pregnant (sex ed was not big in India or Kenya in those days!) but she was overjoyed! She told us that she kept thinking “I hope it’s a girl! We’ll play together!” and indeed she had a girl—me, whom she named ‘joy/happiness’ in Persian. We were still in Nairobi and her mom had come to help. The labor was taking a while and my grandmother was more worried than anyone else. The female Gujarati doctor was able to keep everyone calm and finally the little baby was born and Mom had her dream come true. She played and played with this little one and was quite a bouncy, ecstatic mom in every way. Then the next baby came and she was again thrilled. Mom and Dad named the next girl, in Arabic, ‘love’, Veedad.
Political instability soon struck in Kenya and Mom and Dad were worried about the future for their girls, particularly wanting them to be safe and have a good education. They searched for a new home. Australia seemed warm and like a natural fit but the White Australia policy made that impossible. England also seemed logical but when we got the passports stamped with a D it seemed like a bad idea to go there.
The four of us moved to the land of the Coast Salish Nations, now called Vancouver Canada, when Mom was about 24. She was happy here. She got along well in a new culture and made friends quickly. Canada was a lovely place to call home.
Shortly after arriving in this land of plenty, Mom was diagnosed with SLE (Systemic Lupus Erythematosus). She bravely met each day with a sense of defiance, despite high fevers, bone chilling pain, organ difficulties and several hospitalizations during which her physicians warned she had only 6 months to live. For the rest of her life, she struggled valiantly with her illness. Her indomitable spirit and the love of our family kept her going through the decades.
She completed her Master’s degree in Social Work with high marks and worked as a psychiatric social worker for many years. One of her jobs was to help patients reintegrate into the community after living in Riverview, a large mental health facility. So our home occasionally had a patient or two, having lunch with us. Mom saw that as a perfectly acceptable way to bring patients into the community, introducing them to her family and neighborhood. So we all learned that people with mental health imbalances were always welcome. She was gutsy, fun loving and innovative.
Mom loved to travel! She often said “Traveling is the best education!” and she took us on as many trips locally and abroad as she could. At 15, Mom and Dad took us on a transformative trip to India and Pakistan. She loved India! This love was infectious and I still love India! Every trip I was taking to India, she’d ask to come along. Her mom lived until the ripe age of 101, so Granny was often a major incentive to head to the Motherland. We were emotionally connected to Granny because Mom was so close to her and Granny lived with us in Vancouver because of Mom’s health problems.
The last years of Mom’s life were spent at home, eating out, and thinking or talking about food very frequently! Mom loved fish! She would forage for new restaurants where they served fish for lunch. She had very strict eating habits and never ate after 6pm. She was very conscious of her diet in some respects. On the other hand, her bedroom was filled with chocolates, candies and other snacks. She would munch constantly! So, like the rest of us, she was a bundle of contradictions!
I leave you with a poem by Amir Khusrau.
Mun tu shudam tu mun shudi,mun tun shudam tu jaan shudi
Taakas na guyad baad azeen, mun deegaram tu deegari
I have become you, and you me,
I am the body, you soul;
So that no one can say hereafter,
That you are someone, and me someone else.”
― Amir Khusrau, The Writings Of Amir Khusrau :700 years after the prophet : a 13th-14th century legend of Indian-sub-continent