Thursday, December 18, 2008

Ordinary heroes

Bridged, originally uploaded by halwis.

Mother's day came and went last week and I barely took notice. It seemed almost vulgar that I should do something special on this day alone, for a person who has given me so much of her life; and I don't mean that lightly.

It's not the fact that I wake up to a rude bed-side alarm now, that I miss the days when I awoke to my mother's gentle voice and her fingers combing my hair. I mean, I would be so embarrassed if she did that now, but it's something else about those years and about a mother's touch that is missing in this big bright world that I have stepped into.

When I was still a small person, my father laboured even after coming home from a hard days work just to make sure that the little white shirt and blue shorts I wore to school many years ago didn't have a single wrinkle on them. I came home from school to little treats almost every day and whether it was in the afternoon or at dusk after cricket practice, my mother was always there to ask me about my day and listen to every detail in my stories. I suppose I just didn't want them to feel as if I was waiting for corporate events like Mothers' or Fathers' Day to tell them how much I appreciate what they have done for me.

As a teenager, I never saw in my mother the woman who gave up a promising career to devote every minute of the best years of her life for me and my siblings. I may never know the courage or logic of that decision which was taken at a time when a woman is expected to be nothing short of an astronaut or head of state for society to take notice and consider her successful.

It took me over two years to teach my mother how to send an email through a series of training sessions that I am sure were as traumatic for her as they were for me. When she finally learned how to send me an SMS, I celebrated and shared the good news with my friends – the same way my parents would have celebrated the day I paddled my first infant steps across the floor.

She gets frustrated sometimes when I joke about it, because she feels that all the knowledge she gained in her youth had gone to waste and sometimes there are regrets that she could have made a good career if she decided to balance that with her commitment to the family. I have often felt that she paid too heavy a price for us, because life should be about making use of all the faculties and senses that enable us to appreciate our existence. How can it be a good thing to sacrifice all that – whatever the cause may be?
Yet I realise something now; a thought that seeps through the sacrifices and social stigmas that my mother would have had to battle two and a half decades ago. I am sure she wouldn't have made that choice out of any qualms about being able to balance a career with family commitments. It is visible now when I notice her slightly greying hair, or hear her voice over the phone across the oceans every week and when I try to picture the bright young woman who had returned from her studies oversees before she got married.

As I look across the empty miles, from a world where everyone is expected to work hard and make countless sacrifices to earn what they need, I see that my parents never demanded anything in return for their unconditional love. Everything I did or made drew out their smiles, and words of encouragement and appreciation flowed out evenly at my success as well as failure.

I suppose it is up to us to try and remind our parents in as many ways and as often as we can, that their labours have not been in vain.

Maybe we owe it to them, to seek not only 'success' in life – but also integrity and honour. My parents showed me by their life's example that I don't have to be rich and famous to be considered successful. They are themselves a testament to the fact that most of the real heroes in our lives are ordinary people who have shown extraordinary commitment and love.

(published in The Sunday Times - Mirror Magazine (20/05/2007)