An Ode to Desi Mothering: Desi Daughters on the Shoulders of Giants
Last week I met a just turned 21 pretty, petite, some 90lbs civil engineer in training from Bangladesh. She had been in pardes for four years now. This bubbly character is full of stories and dreams. She wants to be a lawyer some day and work with victims of human trafficking. Usually most desi students come abroad for masters only a handful makes it here after high school. I asked her about her journey at 18 from a land of scarcity to a land of plenty. Here is what she told me:
I come from a middle class single earner family. My mom is a homemaker I have two older siblings and my father passed away last year. Even as six years old I knew I wanted to go abroad. My parents never took me seriously. None is so ambitious in my family. While I was in high school some people from American and Canadian universities came to school and they spoke about admissions abroad and how they were going to setup their office in our town. I felt my dream coming true. I told my parents of my intentions they did not pay much attention. I started preparing for SAT. To appear for SAT parents had to get me a passport. They thought I’ll fail and get over it. I cleared SAT and submitted my scores and application at the newly opened office of the foreign universities I kept waiting for a call. When I did not hear for a month I went to their office to ask. I was told they called and spoke to my mother. I was really disappointed. I confronted my mother, at first she denied and then she said daddy did not want me to go abroad as I was too young. I cried, begged them and even went on a hunger strike. But no one moved daddy’s was the last word, NO. The last date to submit fees was approaching; I was getting desperate as nothing was happening at home. By the end of the week mother came to me and asked how much money I needed I said it is in thousands. She said don’t worry I’ll do something even if daddy doesn’t give it to you. And next day we heard Ma lost two of her gold bangles while she went to the local ghat and rest is a history. Daddy and grandma were mad at her but she did not say a word. I filed the fees and received the I-20s from two schools. Finally Ma fought with daddy and here I am.
Ma’s parting words at the airport were “I entrust you with the honor of our family be wise and do not do anything that will close the door of education and other opportunities for the women of coming generations in our family.”
I looked an eye full at her beaming eyes and her tiny shoulders that were bearing the load for the generations to come. Here she was standing on the shoulders of a giant mother.
On this Mother’s Day I recall how I reached where I am with multiple degrees and a life unthinkable by numerous women around the world. I too stand on the shoulders of a giant mother. I remember at eight how my mother fought with my father to send me to dance classes. Singing and dancing are looked down upon in my feudal family. I don’t think she wanted me to be a performer; she just wanted me to learn dancing. Initially I sucked but she would encourage me and help me practice. I quit after four years due to my stubbornness though I regret it now but I can say I can dance. At 14 my father had this strange idea that I should no longer be wearing skirts but salwar kameez in adherence to our minority community traditions. My mother not only fought with my father but she would buy or even stitch skirts and middies for me. In return she wanted me to do the chores and not talk back and ask too many questions (chore I did do rest I didn’t follow through more than I week I remember). I guess it was her way of resisting the male dominance in the family and giving me what she could never have. My mother has supported me through my higher education (dad always threatened to withdraw me from school if I didn’t stop talking back), inter catse-inter religion marriage (dad was against it, mom wanted me to be happy), divorce (dad was pretty unhappy with it, mom wanted me to be happy and safe) and now a single life full of wanderlust (both of them have made peace with it). Often it makes my father uncomfortable but she is always there like a rock. I write this blog standing on the giant shoulders of my petite mother who fought against all odds to give me a chance. I love you mom.
Amu shared how her mother has supported her through her higher education and divorce. Her father would have preferred her dead than come home divorced. Atiya concedes though her mother was mostly emotionally unavailable but as a first generation working woman she made sure her girls were treated at par with her boys against the wishes of her in-laws. Shanu recalled how her mother though scorned by in-laws for birthing four daughters still managed to fight for their higher education and postponing their marriages until their mid twenties. It is true we weren’t given this life we enjoy today without a dose of conditions of our pay back: maintain the family honor at all costs. We have defied many rules and circumvented many by laws with our marriages and divorces. We survived because we had giants for our mothers and higher education on our side. We owe it to our mothers not just our birth but our lives full of dreams and possibilities. Desi Girl and friends salute Desi mothers for all their strength and compassion to make it possible for our generation of Desi Daughtesr.