My brothers and I had the unusual privilege of having two sisters as a our maternal and paternal grandmothers (my parents are first cousins). When we were young we called them Secunderabad Mama (maternal grandmother who lived in Secunderabad) and Hyderabad Mama (paternal grandmother who lived in Hyderabad) ! Though so different in their manner and, to some extent, appearance, both these lovely women, who lived into their nineties, left their imprint on our lives.

Recalling a Woman of Substance

Today is my Hyderabad Mama’s birth anniversary. She passed away four years ago, in her 97th year. I was privileged to be with her during her last night at the hospital and consider myself a better person for the experience. Through the night, labored breathing and all, she kept inquiring about where the nurses, doctors and all of us would be sleeping, telling us to go and rest. I spied a tear in the eye of the doctor when she asked him if he had had his dinner! What better example could she have set me – one of putting others first at all times?

I recall Mama telling us with great pride that my grandfather (Papa) never took off his own shoes – she did that for him – that is how much she loved him, she said. In response, one of us said, ‘That wasn’t love, that was slavery!’ At the time, I agreed with the cousin who said that…but the passage of time brings wisdom.

As I look back on my memories of Papa and Mama – I cannot help but be amazed at her devotion to the man she fell in love with as a young girl. I can only imagine Papa’s frustration when he lost his eyesight . It must have been terrible for a man to whom words meant so much to be deprived of his ability to read. But then Mama became his eyes. Who can forget the daily ritual of her reading aloud to Papa and stopping to check the dictionary or the encyclopedia ever so often, on his request? Who can forget his constant cries of “Lena, Lena”? And I never once heard her complain through all this. What better example could she have set me – one of love and devotion to the man she had 15 children with?

Mama, despite her great love for Papa, didn’t spend her time moping around after he passed on. In fact, I am proud that she broke tradition by wearing a colored sari and her customary jewelry for his funeral. Then she spent the next few years traveling around the world – a jet setter in her 80s! What better example could she have set me – one of faith and hope?

As I look back over the last few years, I regret that I didn’t spend enough of time with Mama. One felt that the family home and Mama would always be there. Not once did Mama say anything about this. Yet, whenever my parents were out of town she would call everyday to check how I was doing. What better example could she have set me – one of unconditional love?

Today I celebrate the life of a lady from whom I learned that ‘faith, hope and love (and laughter) abide…and the greatest of these is love’.

Happy Birthday, Mama!