Editor’s note :
As most regular readers of the Times of Amma know, the month of May is when we celebrate our mothers with guest posts from readers and friends on one of the most special women in their lives. This May though, we focus on Mothers of a different kind - this May is about celebrating those who nurtured and nourished us without really being our mothers.
This month we celebrate the Mother Figures in our life.
In this edition, Radhika Kowtha-Rao writes of a bond that is much deeper than friendship and of a neighbor who is nothing less than a mother to her.
A fussing child slung across her hips, another half-naked behind her, she opened the door and smiled broadly. She was short and small built and her face broke into a large smile when she saw me along with my new husband. I was the new bride, the new addition to the 5 pairs of eyes that looked at me as I crossed the threshold and entered into a larger apartment.
So she is Raji, I thought to myself as she smiled at us and ushered us in. My husband had spoken so much about the family during our long phone conversations over the past year while we waited for the stars to bring us together.
When Brussels loomed into my future in a swift way (pun intended), he seemed even happier that Raji and her family will also be moving to stay there for a few months and that we would not be too alone in a country that was not familiar. It was even more comforting to know that we found an apartment that was within a couple of blocks of walking distance from where they lived.
That was 25 years ago.
We are nothing alike, yet we are similar in our differences.
She is small built, petite, soft spoken and demure. I am the exact opposite. She cannot say no, and is constantly giving and so am I, just a bit lesser than she. She is religious and follows rituals and I don’t. She believes in the goodness of people and that our actions must be built on kindness and letting things go. I believe in the goodness of people and that kindness is the foundation in our actions, but with a caveat. I believe in self-care. She smiles benevolently when I get frustrated and try and insist she learn to say no.
Neither of us hesitate venturing into new territories, new languages or chatting up people.
Both of us love people and family, and yearn for and welcome gatherings and celebrations. She just is luckier than I could ever be.
She threw my first baby shower just as soon as we knew. I had no idea what a baby shower was, leave alone that one woman with 3 little boys under the age of 5 could cook up a long list of mouth-watering Andhra delicacies for a party of 7! That evening would always be special as she went through the motions in a way that was both amusing and apologetic about how low-key it was.
“If you were back in our town, I would have thrown you a big party!”
Which she did, just 10 years later.
In the pre-internet era and with just our guts guiding our actions, both of us learnt to fend for ourselves as new mothers. I saw her manage three kids, feed, clothe and care for them with no other help than from the dad in the evenings and I must have sub-consciously imbibed it, coz that was me within the year. We did and managed and learnt and fended for ourselves as there was no other way but to. She sent me “raw tamarind chutney from the US to Brussels when I craved for it during my second pregnancy. She gave me snippets of advice, rest when the 9 month old sleeps, walk a little every day, eat spinach – Delhaize (Food Lion) at Brussels has the best frozen spinach, eat early even if he doesn’t come home, drink a glass of milk before bed.
My mother also gave me those, but I suppose I was more receiving
Two years later, with a toddler in tow, she settled me into my new apartment. I was new, with two babies under the age of two, and I had yet to learn to drive. A small town and she took me home, to the mall, to the stores where the sales were on, gave me empty Gerber baby food bottles to store my spices and even an idli plate set to start my new home and kitchen. She has fed me countless times, foods that taste of home, that touch your soul for the memories it creates of warmth and satiety. Her home is one of those that I drop in without checking in, like one would go home, always welcoming and always knowing she would cook up something out of nothing and I would eat because it felt good, and not just because I was hungry.
She has seen me through some rough moments and struggles that are part of life. She’s listened to my vents on careers and finding myself. She’s helped just by being there, by not interrupting, by trying to understand and if she didn’t, to at least not make it about nothing.
This could all be well and good, and make for a good friendship, which it is and a sisterhood, which it also is, but what takes it up a notch is the unspoken knowledge of a bond and her personality. Her petite frame belies her bold, independent strides in doing what needs to be done and especially when she can do it alone. An independence that comes from being sure of her need and her path, and a drive to get things done. She has an aura of calmness, a voice of acceptance and eyes full of kindness that one cannot but see through her actions. A reach of wanting to give, to accept and to be willing to go above and beyond without hesitating, and sometimes fully knowing that folks can and will take things for granted.
They say we imbibe a lot by just being with and around folks who have plenty to give. It’s true with her. Raji has the nicest word to anyone she meets, and no one I know has anything but the nicest words to say about her.
To me, that’s a legacy worthy of emulating and one of aspiration. A mother is not just something who gives birth to you, or a lady much older than you, but anyone who provides that warmth, care and affection and can fulfill those needs in every individual. Raji is just that.
Radhika or Rads as she is popularly known is an Expat Mom, blogger and a multipotentialite who has been paving the way for the rest of us for decades now. If you don't follow her already, you can catch her writing here and Instagram updates here.
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