This article is part of our series ‘A Special Kind of Mother’ on mothers who have had to face greater challenges than the rest.
Sanmeet Kaur was a bright student, but the advent of mobile phones messed up the precocious girl’s performance in high school. Her father, a businessman, suggested she could do a secretarial course. Her mother, a government employee, encouraged her to complete her BA via correspondence too.
Along with her studies, the young girl took up a job and conducted tuitions at her west Delhi home. Her arranged marriage at 21, however, put an end to her career aspirations. “My family accepted the first proposal I got. We were told we would never find such a shareef (genteel) family among Sikhs – vegetarian, decent, humble,” jokes Sanmeet, adding that she too turned vegetarian after marriage. A year later, in 2001, she had a baby girl, whom she named Tavleen Kaur.
When the baby was a few months old, the new mother itched to work again. She was used to having a working mother all her life, and sitting at home was not her cup of tea. When the opportunity arose, Sanmeet took up a job as secretary to a reputed firm’s managing director.
Robust, outspoken and energetic, the young Sanmeet accepted all roles and assignments that came her way. Her peers jokingly referred to her as JMD because she took on her MD’s role in his absence. In 2005, she had a baby boy named Gaganjot Singh. At the same time, she began to supervise and manage the company’s factories, travelling even vast distances with enthusiasm.
One of the factories in Bahadurgarh in Haryana was performing at just a fourth of its optimal output; within six months, with gusto and determination, Sanmeet turned it around, earning a call from the company’s chairman, “What exactly are you doing out there?”
One day, however, a senior at work made an unkind jibe at Sanmeet for not being well educated. That’s it, Sanmeet decided: “I will get an MBA.”
With a seven-year-old daughter, a four-year-old son, and a full-time job miles away from home, Sanmeet’s decision to further take on a part-time MBA left her family perplexed. “You have a worm in your brain!” her husband Sarabjit Singh chided her. But Sanmeet rubbished him: “You may be happy in the same business for so long, but I want to learn and grow.”
She got support from an unexpected quarter: her mother-in-law. The older woman was impressed with the idea of Sanmeet becoming the first woman in the family to do her MBA. Her boss, too, supported her through frequent leaves for study. Finally, Sanmeet had her degree from IMT Ghaziabad, and a 50% salary increment to show for it.
After nearly a decade in the same company, Sanmeet resigned in July 2013. In a prescient moment, she decided to spend time at home with her kids. She had missed their childhood. She began taking Tavleen and Gaganjot to the park, sharing tender moments. The family travelled together. It was a lovely time.
And then, two months later, their perfect life started to unravel.
Gaganjot began vomiting. The medics diagnosed a brain tumour, and said the little boy needed an immediate brain surgery. For three days, he lay unconscious while on ventilator in the ICU.
After a second surgery, he regained consciousness but his left side was paralysed, and the tumour was persistent. He spoke infrequently. “Why do I feel like this?” he asked his mother. Exhausted after days of not being able to sleep, she had no answer to give him.
The doctors advised radio therapy and chemotherapy, the best doctors for which were available only at All India Institute of Medical Sciences in south Delhi. And so Sanmeet and her mother-in-law took Gaganjot all the way daily, all through winter, spending six hours a day travelling and waiting in queue for 10 minutes of therapy. Sanmeet’s brother left his job so that he could help them. Her ex-boss pitched in with moral and financial support.
Sanmeet took to watching motivational videos on YouTube for strength. All the while, the boy became weaker and paler. Due to paralysis he could not walk properly. The doctors said he didn’t have long to live.
Nine months after his first surgery, Gaganjot was admitted to hospital and put on ventilator again. He could not eat, and had a high fever. “Don’t leave the room,” he implored his mother. “You’ll be home soon,” she promised him. Then he fell unconscious.
Doctors made last-ditch efforts. “My child cannot eat,” Sanmeet scolded her husband through tears. “What was the use of your feeding cows and beggars all these years, what was the use of holding langars for hundreds of poor people, when my child cannot eat?”
And then Sanmeet went quiet inside her. “Maine mamta chhod di,” she explains with a straight, damp gaze. “I let go of my motherhood so that I could set him free of his pain.”
At 3 am on June 8, 2014, Sanmeet was in the hospital waiting room when she got a call from the ICU. “Something is wrong,” she said. Her husband told her to go in and see.
A tiny shadow in the large hospital bed, her child lay still.
Sanmeet – the bravest one in the family, the stoic and motivator – could not cry, for that would mean her soft-hearted family would suffer further. “I hated it when old ladies came in every day to mourn at home; they made me more depressed,” she says, admitting, “but they were right about one thing. They said having another child would heal me. It did.”
On June 2, 2015, almost exactly a year after her son passed away, her second daughter was born. They named her Kavleen Kaur. “She looks just like Gaganjot,” says Sanmeet.
Never one to sit at home, Sanmeet soon took up a job in a nearby industrial zone as a manager. Gradually, she began motivating people and conducting workshops for private companies, government departments, NGOs, schools and management colleges. Her aim was to make each and every person understand their real strength and move forward in life. “I teach them how to realize their own potential,” she says. Her reputation as a corporate trainer and motivational speaker grew, and she set up her own consultancy.
The 36-year-old now gets calls from people all hours of the day, sometimes even desperate cries for help at night, and she counsels them on the phone for free, whether it’s a relationship issue or a career glitch.
“I am finally putting my life to good use,” says the large-hearted woman, who preaches mindfulness. “Why worry about circumstances outside your control? Leave sorrows aside and focus on the good things in life. You cannot change destiny. Why cry over it?”
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