With International Women’s Day looming, I was asked by my associates to do something special; after all, I am a coach and mentor for women. I considered running an event, but, it just wasn’t happening for me. So I’ve been mulling over it for weeks now and suddenly it struck me! What better way than to honour the women in my life?!
And the FIRST WOMAN I want to honour is my Mother for without her persistence, I wouldn’t be the woman I am today (and the tears have started to well up in my eyes). Born in a little village not to far from the holy city of Amritsar (Punjab, India) sometime in 1932. She thinks she’s a little older than that: back then, there weren’t proper birth records kept by families.
The oldest of seven kids (yes not many in my family know that she had a little sister who was born with severe disabilities and who died a few years after birth). Mum has two names; the first her birth name, Nanto and then Joginder, given by her in-laws. How does one just accept a new name? No consultation, nothing. This is your new name and this is what you will be known from now on. It almost gives the impression that women were powerless, they had no control over their name!
But Mother is far from powerless; quite the opposite, she’s the most courageous and strongest woman I know.
Here was a young lady, who’d never gone to school, had no television, only heard of this place called Singapore, never even seen a picture of this place, lived apart from her husband for almost a decade and she was making this journey of almost 3000 miles with her young son!
When in 1959, she left her little village and travelled to Calcutta to catch a ship to Singapore, with my brother who was just 9-years old, to join my Father who had already immigrated to Singapore, it speaks of courage that has no bounds. Here was a young lady, who’d never gone to school, had no television, only heard of this place called Singapore, never even seen a picture of this place, lived apart from her husband for almost a decade and she was making this journey of almost 3000 miles with her young son!
It was a massive change for her and Father even once suggested she went back and she said, “No. I’ve travelled this way and there is no going back. Good or bad, this will be our home.” Over the years, she learnt the local language Malay because she knew that she had to fit in and not the other way around.
“I want all of you to send all your daughters to school. Look at me, I’m not educated and there are so many things I cannot do and I need the help of others. I want all the girls to be schooled so that they can be independent.”
I was the youngest of six children. I was only three years old when Father lost his leg in a road accident. I cannot even begin to imagine what my Mother must have gone through. She had six kids to care for and the sole breadwinner was down. Somehow, she managed. She was good with saving money. She managed and we pulled through and Father got back on his foot (sorry couldn’t resist the pun).
Father was a traditional Punjabi man who didn’t think that it was important for girls to be schooled. Mother, cleverly went behind his back, approached his friend and confided that she wanted my eldest sister enrolled in school and he helped her. That’s courage as there she was, in a strange country and no family back-up, going behind the husband’s back getting his friend to help! “Mother, what were you thinking?”
Father refused to let me continue my studies beyond “O” levels (as he did with all my sisters) and I turned to her. Perhaps she saw something in me. Perhaps she just wanted me to have a different life. Perhaps she just wanted to experience a different life through me. I don’t know. I don’t want to know. All I know and all that is important to me is that she fought for me.
All the excitement I’m having in my life is my Mother’s doing. She fought for me, she stayed up with me late at night when I was studying, she cooked for me and one very important decision – she loaned me money to complete my University studies.
In 1995, she persuaded me to travel with her and Father to Punjab as she hadn’t met her family for almost 14 years (due to the political unrest in Punjab in which she’d lost her brother to terrorists in 1984). It was a sad homecoming for her; I will never forget how she mourned her brother who was brutally killed in the middle of the night in the farm next to the house. She mourned at how he had to lay there all night, as his children were too young and terrified to even utter a sound till daybreak.
As the matriarch, she gathered her family and had only one message for them, “I want all of you to send all your daughters to school. Look at me, I’m not educated and there are so many things I cannot do and I need the help of others. I want all the girls to be schooled so that they can be independent.”
Mother and I have travelled so many places together since 1995. She thanks me endlessly for taking her to India every year to meet her family. It is I who has to thank her. Through our travels, I’ve been to Sikh temples in India that I would never have travelled to, for example, in 2006 when she took me and my husband on a 36-hour train from Punjab to Nanded for the Holi festival in Hazursahib. Imagine a 77-year old on a 36-hour train ride in India. She even risked getting down to the rail tracks to cross over quickly to the next platform!
Thank you Mother for the courage and sacrifices. You’ve raised good children, grandchildren and now you’ve got your great-grand-son.
I wish for everyone to have a Mother like you.
The journey continues.