If you could put together a book about your life…what would it look like? What would you change?
During a recent trip to London, UK—my first trip ever!—my sisters and I put the finishing touches on a scrapbook for Mom. You see, it was Mom’s 70th birthday and as a way to commemorate the occasion, my older sister, Renuka, who lives in India, (I’m the sandwiched middle by the way) asked close friends and family members, scattered across the globe, to pen down a few thoughts for Mom and Whatsapp the handwritten letters to her.
What Renuka thought would be a 2-day affair of making a scrapbook took over 2 months. Handwritten letters—yes, old-fashioned, handwritten letters!!—pinged her phone day and night as they dropped in from Dubai, India, Singapore, USA, Australia, Hong Kong, Thailand and UK. Renuka worked on the scrapbooks—yes bookS because so many people responded to her request that she ended up making 2 books—at nights after work and dedicated a page to each person who replied.
The finishing touches were left and when we met up in UK (where little sister, Dr. Shruti lives—yes, she’s a doctor!) we put pens to paper and added comments, captions, notations and salutations! We flipped the pages one by one at a Starbucks and talked about the cousins, families, friends, friends of families, families of friends we have come to know and love and realized once again how significant a role each person has played in our life. Time has taken us all across different continents and spread our wings so that we have flown away from each other but technology and social media have made it possible to find each other again and keep in touch.
Then the special day dawned! Mom’s birthday!
Mom had no clue what had been planned for her.
When she saw the designer eggless cake, she gasped. (A strict vegetarian, mom doesn’t eat eggs.)
When she blew the candles, she giggled like a little girl.
When the birthday gifts poured in her hands, she created a fuss that we spent too much. (Typical of Mom!!).
When she peeled open the first of two scrapbooks, her heart fisted in her chest and time stopped.
The woman who always had words of comfort, confidence and care for others didn’t know how to react to endless messages of love that poured in from all over the world. The oldest among her generation, Mom’s brother teased her about childhood events—long past and forgotten. Mom’s sister reminded her what a source of courage and inspiration she’s been. Mom’s mom (my grandma) even wrote her a letter! My grandma is close to 90, folks!
My cousins mentioned how she has held the training wheels for some and been a pillar of courage and strength for others… a safety net whom they would always rely on. Stories of past moments. Flashes of childhood memories. Words of kindness—the only Mom has ever known—have comforted so many hearts in so many times of need.
I’m not boasting because she’s my mom. I’m simply relaying what others wrote.
Then poured the stories of how Mom’s cooking—especially her samosas—are unmatched to this day and how she could outwit any Indian chef. How Mom has been a source of inspiration for others to keep going and never give up, not from heresay, but from the life she led and the examples she lived.
You see, Mom’s life wasn’t easy.
I don’t think anyone’s life is easy.
Some people have it hard.
Mom’s life was exceptionally hard. Her 50s and 60s only got harder.
But Mom continued to live her life in the best way she knew how despite the move from Hong Kong back to India. She continued to help others in their time of need even if she was in dire straits herself. She never gave up on herself or on others.
As Mom continued to turn the pages of her life, the tears rolled and we listened to so many untold stories and moments of the heart that were penned and shared. I know of mom’s hardships and the life she endured. I’ve seen it. I have also lived it. Then I heard how Mom has been a mother-figure, a second-mother to others our age and the next generation. How nieces, nephews and grand-children wouldn’t have had it any other way. I took a deep breath and let it all sink in. You see, I realized in the pages of the scrapbooks Mom hasn’t just been my mother, but a mother to many. Mom has helped shape and change the lives of so many people for the better and let them know she loves and values each person for who they are.
I realize I’m a storyteller. I write fiction. I’m working on a series—which means a chain of events that relay the course of people’s lives. And to some extent I try to change and fix people’s stories. I get to make some people’s lives better in the pages of my work.
I return to the question I’ve endlessly asked Mom, but her answer doesn’t change.
Me: “If you could change your past, Mom, what would you have done differently?”
Mom: “Nothing.” She takes my hand in hers. “Because then I wouldn’t have had the three of you.”