Two weeks ago my grandmother, or Mummy as some of her grandchildren affectionately referred to her, passed away. I was fortunate enough to attend her funeral and spend time with my extended family. Since then I can’t help but ponder on how my mummy’s life, her work, her legacy, helped lead me to where I am today.
As hard as it is to say, I must admit that I didn’t know my grandmother that well. From the age of 2-6 my family lived with her and my grandfather in New Delhi. She helped take care of us, raised us. I have a distinct memory of her giving me a bath when I was younger. Once we came to the United States we didn’t see my grandparents for a number of years. In that time I had learned to assimilate in US society, the side effects of which caused a distance from my culture and in turn my own family. I stopped speaking Hindi, listening to Hindi music, watching Bollywood movies, and even really trying to understand that side of my heritage.
It was easier to pretend that it didn’t exist.
Coming to US was a huge cultural shift and extremely emotionally trying. Being made fun of for bringing Indian food for lunch, for my accent, my lack of knowledge when it came to 90s media. I shed my old skin and put on a new one.
Over the years I got comfortable in that skin, one that maybe didn’t fit exactly right, but was easier to wear than the one I used to, the one I had outgrown.
I missed out on a lot. I have regrets. By the time I finally had a desire to reacquaint myself with my Indian identity and family, it was too late with Mummy. She had been diagnosed with alzheimer’s.
Surrounded by my very Indian family two weeks ago, I felt that little tug to the younger version of myself, the one who didn’t know anything but the love they had for one another, the girl who hadn’t lost that part of herself. We shared stories about Mummy and I soaked in every minute of it. My grandmother was a fierce, determined woman. She raised five daughters in India, made sure each of them went to school, by whatever means necessary. One of my masi’s shared that she remembers Mummy selling her jewelry in order for their family to afford the tuition for school. My grandmother was the first female principle at the school she taught in India. When she married she didn’t even have a high school education, but my grandfather put her in school and within six months she had gotten her degree and learned English.
Each of one my aunts and my own mom went on to receive their educations and have very successful careers. My grandmother came to live in America when she was in her sixties. She got a job at the airport as baggage handler. Yup, you read that right, A BAGGAGE HANDLER. After that she got a job at Starbucks. Another one of my masi’s said, “she may not have been the best at her job, but she was the most reliable.” Rain or snow, Mummy was always showed up to work. No matter how early she had to get up, how many buses she had to take, she made sure of it.
Another of my masis’ said Mummy never complained about her life, never felt bad for herself, instead she stood tall and went to work
There are so many more stories about her that I will cherish, even though I did not get to see her incredible drive in action myself. But her legacy has rippled across my life as well as my cousins’, siblings’, aunts’, and uncles.’
I don’t think I would be here if it weren’t for her and the example she set for her daughters. If she hadn’t encouraged my parents to start our lives over in America where dreams were aplenty.
Reflecting on all off this I decided something recently. I have dreams. Big ones. Ambitions that I keep to myself because they’re scary and seem impossible. But no more. I’m embracing that part of myself, the part that is probably comes straight from Mummy. I will not let fear and doubt hold me back. I will think of her in those moments when I want to crumple to the floor, curl up into a ball and cry. Because she didn’t. She never stopped. And neither will I.