My Turn: Remembering His Mother…
…from the scant memories of the first 6 years of the author’s life. An ode to a mother through poignant recollections from another era.
It’s been 54 years since I left my home in India. Even so, my childhood days flash across my mental screen in vivid colors. The days when I used to play in the streets of my village with handmade cotton balls, games on unpaved streets, barefoot in the hot summer days under a sweltering sun. Whenever we took breaks, all we would have to drink was water, which was very warm. There were no cookies, chocolates, or fruits, but I never missed anything because we did not know our body needed nourishing, let alone tasty food. But life was good and friends shared those moments of camaraderie.
The Second World War arrived with fury and raged near the Burma border in the 1940s. Many Indian soldiers lost their lives. Indian civilians suffered as they had no means to make their livelihood. Essential goods for survival were in scarcity. People did not have enough to eat during the day and no oil to light up their homes at night. Electricity was unknown in the villages. Our only source of transportation was one charcoal powered bus which came to our village once a week. People accepted all of this as their fate. Commerce, travel, and communications were luxuries they could not afford.
During the war, our village was hit hard with the dreaded disease called plague. Was the divine power angry with us? Almost every home witnessed the death of one of their family members to this catastrophic epidemic. Villagers offered prayers to all the gods, sacrificed animals hoping the gods would bless them and relieve them from their miseries. No one answered the prayers. The government was helpless, and people were desperate. The only doctor with a minimum of experience could do little except give the same colored water, perhaps just a placebo, to cure all ailments. Our village was evacuated since neither divine intervention nor medical miracles came to our aid. We moved to a nearby house in our agricultural land.
My mother got sick after my elder sister died of an unknown ailment. My mother was taken to a nearby dispensary where the doctor gave some medicine after a cursory examination. On her way home in a bullock cart, she died. No one in the village ventured to come forward to cremate her. They took her body in the same cart and burnt it with no ceremonial rites.
I was just six years old. My father could not care for us as he was not familiar with household work. My brothers and sisters were still young.
I was studying in an elementary school in a one-room building where students sat on the floor. Only one teacher, who happened to be my uncle, taught all the classes. Later I went to many towns to continue my education. I lost count of them, and I went wherever there was someone who offered shelter. I never felt that it was their responsibility to guide me and encourage me to study hard and take care of my health, clothes, or behavior. I thought it was an individual’s responsibility. I passed all the examinations with decent grades. I went to colleges and got degrees.
I used to hear from my friends that their parents missed them and would beg them to come home for holidays after college was over. I missed my home. Wherever I stayed to go to school, that place became my home. I always went back to my village each summer, but something was missing. My mother was not there waiting to see me. I would long to hug my mother and ask her to make food for me.
(Left) The author as a young man. He has no photos of his mother, who passed away when he was only 6 years old.
I don’t remember my mother’s face clearly. Only a vague picture remains in my mind. I wish I had a photograph of her so I could feel closer to her. She was a beautiful lady, still very young when she died, perhaps 30-35 years old. All mothers are beautiful. There is no such thing as an ugly mother. Why did she leave me, why did she not hug me, love me, and tell me that she loved and missed me? Maybe she did—I don’t remember.
Crossing the ocean, I came to America to study. I borrowed money for the airfare. I really felt I was an orphan. Though I got calls or letters from my village, no one asked me to come home.
Along my way, I developed the ability to make good friends and build associations with people who had similar tastes and aptitudes, linguistic, cultural, or social. My days went well, organizing and conducting community and cultural programs.
I saw many mothers worrying about their children’s admission to kindergarten, attending sports and cultural events even if their children came on stage for a few seconds and said nothing. They would cry incessantly if their child went to camp for a day. The separation seemed to kill them emotionally. They would not let their kids cross the street, even when they were ten years old! I had never faced such situations. I had travelled in buses and trains with no one to accompany me or with any money in my pocket so I could eat on the way. I thought it was natural to travel alone at that age.
When I hear songs written by eminent poets glorifying mothers and exemplifying their love, my mind appreciates the lyrics and melody, but then it wanders. Really, where did my mother go! She would have showered the same love on me, too? I would have gone home more often, hugged her at the door, and she would have put my face on her lap and cradled me. She would have prepared food for me and waited till I ate. Now I have more than I need. I could have taken her to a good doctor and cared for her. But it is too late.
Now I am blessed to help the children of my village get education through scholarships, a library building, and hygienic toilets in her name.
I am 80 years old. I miss my mother now more than ever.
After over 40 years of service in the chemical industry, the retired Dr. H. N. Ramaswamy now teaches chemistry part-time at Kennesaw State University.
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