As the saying goes, “…here’s to strong women: may we know them, may we be them and may we raise them!” This is my mother’s story.
My mom was a born rebel and stood out in her family from a very early age. She rebelled against the idea of what was expected out of a woman and set out to define her path as she knew best. My mom would tell us stories of when she was a kid and I remember feeling so awed as she would describe poking sticks into snake holes in the jungle around her home, eating bhakri from her neighbors’ homes, and running with the bus at night to get beedis for her dad, because it was the only source of light at night.
To a city slicker like me, jungles seemed so remote, bhakri sounded so strange and bus running on another level, but we loved her stories, rich with detail and full of adventure: they inspired us to be like her, strong, bold and fearless.
My tomboy mother grew into a beautiful woman and was courted by my dashing father, a Hindu man. In those days, (and sadly even today, in many parts of India) people were discouraged from crossing community and caste lines and my parents risked a lot by being together. Not that it stopped them, not even when my father brought his young bride to his ancestral home, to the consternation of the resident elders in the joint household, who were appalled that the heir of the house had married a Christian woman.
Not to be outmatched, my maternal grandfather threw a fit as well: his favorite daughter had flouted his rules and followed her heart, and possibly egged on by the censure of his community, decided to make a statement, by declaring to all who would listen, that his daughter was dead to him from that day forth. My parents showed remarkable fortitude against the prejudice they faced, standing up against the nonsensical rules that were drummed into them since they were kids.
They went off to the movies every chance they got, holding hands as they watched the latest Bollywood romance, because there they were, living their own Bollywood romance and standing up together against a culture that told them that they had no right to be.
Despite her best intentions, my mother grew tired of the micro-inequities that were heaped on her by my father’s family, who persevered in every way to persuade her to leave my father. They made the decision to move to Dubai, to forge a better and kinder future for the two of them and as we entered the picture, my mother made the decision to pursue her career as a businesswoman.
Dubai, in the 1970s was still mostly a desert, and the streets would be blanketed with swirling sandstorms that made getting around a nightmare. Schools were literally shipping containers, stuffed with students and hastily outfitted with blackboards and rudimentary desks and chairs, presided over by uninspired teachers that droned on about subjects that they had no passion for. When my 7 year old sister came home from school one day, with a drawing that was graded 3/50, my parents knew that they had to make the decision to send us back to India, if only to get a quality education and learn about our culture.
My mother had made major strides in her career, in the meantime and was able to bring her sisters from India, to live with her, and find jobs as well. As they grew, we did too, albeit faraway in a sleepy city, with our aunts, cousins and extended family and we waited to see our parents, over our summer vacations, filled with lots of family events and shopping.
My mother spearheaded many projects in the Middle East, including setting up new regional offices and leading key joint venture partnerships for her company. Gender inequality and racism were hurdles she chose to look at as challenges and she rose to lead the Finance and HR departments for a leading multinational company. Never one to deny anyone an opportunity if they showed potential, she made it a point to help many people succeed within her sphere of influence. She finally left her rich legacy as a Financial Controller for West Asia, when she decided to migrate to the United States, with my father.
Stepping into a new industry again in the United States, she continued to make strides at her new company and grew to become a valued subject matter expert and the go-to person, for her department. Today, after 18 years at the company she calls her second home, she is now looking forward to spending more time with her six grandchildren, and traveling around the world. She still makes it a point to go for all the latest movies with my father, and 50 years later, still considers him her best friend.
So, here’s to you, Mom: for all the things you’ve taught us, the strength you exemplify, the unconditional love and support you show us and your tremendous work ethic: long may you live and prosper!