Sunday, January 20, 2013

My mother

For most of 2012, I've trained in hot, humid, muddy jungles as part of my national service in the army. Times then were challenging. Whenever training became unbearable, I found solace in thinking about my family, especially my mother. I thought about how much my mother cared for my sister and me. I thought about how well she raised me and how well she's now raising my sister. I then thought about my mother's life and came to realize that it has in no way been ordinary. As a matter of fact, my mother's life has been extraordinary- marked by the worst of tragedies, but yet the best of victories. I want people to know what my mother went through and how she became the person she is now. I want to take this chance to share my mother's incredible life story. 

My mother was born in New Delhi, India, in 1965. Her childhood and teenage years were tough, particularly because she had severe asthma. The asthma attacks made normal living and normal activities very difficult. She was forced to take strong steroids to suppress the attacks. Sadly, the steroids showed bad side-effects later on in her life.

Despite the asthma, my mother performed outstandingly in school. She loved her studies and was recognized by her teachers as a highly intelligent and capable student. At the age of 18, she enrolled in college, studying Physics. There, she met my father and within a short time of seeing each other, they got married. My mother was only 18 then! Managing her studies and marriage was a challenging task.

After graduating from college, my mother did her post-grad studies in IIT New Delhi, studying electronic engineering. When she was 26, she gave birth to me. She was in a critical condition when she had me. It's scary to think that my birth nearly cost my mother her life. On top of that, I was no easy child. Legend has it that I slept during the day and cried throughout the night! My mother and grandmother had to take shifts to care for me!

The turning point in my mother's life came when I was seven. After more than 10 years of marriage, my father wanted a divorce. Apparently, he was involved in a relationship with some other woman. This hit my mother really hard. Though I was only seven then, I knew something was deeply wrong.

Just before the divorce got finalized, my mother received a job opportunity from NIIT Singapore. She asked my father whether he was willing to move there and start a new life and he agreed. Upon moving to Singapore in 2000, my father changed his mind and insisted again on getting a divorce. My mother had no choice but to agree. She was now all alone in Singapore; with no family or friends, forced to start a life in a place completely foreign to her.

Life then became really difficult. My mother was struggling with asthma, financial problems and depression from the divorce. To add on, she did not like her job at all. She had to fight hard to change things.

In 2001, she took up a new job in a small E-learning firm called Knowledge Platform (KP). Around then, she also took up faith in Nichiren Buddhism- a form of Japanese Mahayana Buddhism. With hard work, determination and lots of prayer, my mother overcame her lifelong asthma in 2003 by finding a doctor who gave her effective medication. In 2006, she climbed the corporate ladder and became KP's CEO. On top of that, in 2007 she adopted my sister Aloka after being rejected for five years by agencies that only gave children to couples. She adopted Aloka because she wanted to do something good for the world by giving an unwanted child a good life.

Despite being occupied by all her challenges, my mother continued to raise me really well. She spent a lot of time with me and ensured that the sadness she was experiencing never spread to me. Because of that, I had a happy childhood. She also gave me a lot of freedom. This allowed me to learn things about myself and to make independent decisions. 

To think that my mother did all of this alone without the support of a husband! This is an example to all women- that they can be as good as or even better than men. It dispels the age-old convention that a woman needs a man to get somewhere.

Of course in recent times things have changed. My mother left her job at KP and is now moving back to India with the rest of my family. I will stay on in Singapore to complete my service to Singapore. But despite these changes, my mother is still as strong and is constantly overcoming challenges. She is still on the pursuit of happiness.

It inspires me to know I am the son of such a mother.