The second of my new column One-Eyed Mama where I share how I’ve been dealing with vision loss and an empty nest – both at the same time
When my daughter got her work permit for Canada a few months ago, I decided to accompany her from Delhi to Toronto to “drop her off”, the way I did when she was in primary school.
The trip happened at a time when I had come to accept a few truths about myself. During the course of Nobel Peace Prize-nominee Dr Scilla Elworthy’s brilliant Mighty Heart course last year (it happens again this month, don’t miss it, I promise it will change your life), I had come to a few profound realisations.
The first one was that, no matter if my left eye decided to go off and see the world the way Claude Monet would have painted it, I would carry on with my work and my calling. I would use whatever tools I have – from friends to technology – to keep on going.
The second realisation was that I am deeply in love with my children. Not just a mother’s biological protective instinct towards her child, but an obsessive, all-consuming sort of love that fuels most of my actions and all of my ambitions for my life.
Aren’t all mothers like this, you may wonder. After all, this is precisely what has been painted in Indian culture, cinema and art as the default definition of motherhood. You love your kids. Big deal. Nothing special about it. All moms are besotted with their offspring.
So goes the narrative.
But it wasn’t like that for me – and brave women memoirists like Zehra Naqvi and Maya Shanbhag Lang have brought up these complex feelings that South Asian mothers have for their children. We are supposed to love our kids beyond our own self-interests, but real life doesn’t always match cultural depictions. You aren’t always what you’re supposed to be.
For two decades, I had seen my kids as appendages of my body and being. They were just there, like my arms or my ears, maybe. I didn’t view them as separate entities I had chosen to be with, or who had chosen to be with me. I saw them as extensions of me, our existence fused by no conscious decision on my part. I was like a hen warming her eggs – unmindful of their unique personalities or spirits, doing her nature-given duty without question or will.
But the Mighty Heart course changed that for me just when the eggs hatched. I was hit in the face with the unexpected realisation that I do, indeed, love my kids in the most proactive, passionate sense of the term, and I love them both differently, honouring the individual goddesses that they are.
Suddenly, my relationship with them changed. I began speaking with more affection and tenderness; I no longer got affected by their habits that had irked me earlier; I indulged them more, seeing them through new eyes tinged with devotion.
And just like that, just when you begin to be grateful for all that you have and see the brilliance in God’s work and gifts to you, they are gently taken away.
(I asked the universe why this is so. The answer came: So that you do not confuse the mirage for the miracle. Situations are temporary. The lesson is love.)
My eye lost its sight. My loves moved out.
It was just before Christmas in Toronto, and my daughter and I stayed in a short-term rental while she hunted for her own place and a job. I pampered her with encouragement and care, acutely aware of our limited time together. When she finally got her own apartment, her friend helped us move her belongings out of our shared space into her new one. I returned that evening to my own empty, hollowed out rooms. I would be spending another week there alone before returning to India.
Now that I loved my daughter, the evening was racked with sobs. Now that I loved her, I missed the heaps of makeup in the bathroom. Now that I loved her, even the mess I once complained about became a sacred memory I longed for sentimentally. Now that I loved her, her loud music and constant noise left a louder silence that burnt through me.
I looked out the window of my apartment, my Monet eye painting my vision with its own quirky blurs and curves, my good eye swimming in God’s grace and a mother’s tears. I felt utterly alone. “Her music and clutter and chattering with friends on phone is all gone. 😭Feeling very sad and desolate. Next one week will be agony for me,” I texted my husband in Delhi, knowing he would be asleep.
Then I sat to chant and to vent my emotions on the universe’s shoulders. How can I just let her go like that? Why did you give her to me only to take her away? How will she manage without me? I wailed.
She is a child of the universe, came the reply. She is capable of infinite magic. She is here to fulfil her highest purpose and greatest mission. Who are you in the face of this divinity?
Yes, of course. Who am I?
I bowed in humility. It is my privilege that these kids were born to me. I do not own them; I am merely the universe’s instrument to bring them to life and set the stage for them to express their true glory. Now that they’re grown, I must step back and let them shine their light.
There’s a devotional song that my family sings during Diwali or religious ceremonies in India, it’s an aarti or prayer that has many variations. The most common one in Hindi has about a dozen stanzas all ending with the refrain of Om Jai Jagdish Hare – dedicated to the ‘Lord of the Universe’, referring to Lord Vishnu, whose avatar was known as Krishna.
Towards the end, this stanza always give me goosebumps:
Tana, mana, dhana – Body, mind and wealth
Sab kuch hai tera – Everything is yours
Tera tujhko arpan – I offer Yours to You
Kya laage mera – What is it of mine?
Om Jai Jagdish Hare – Hail Lord of the Universe
As I grow older and ever more grateful, there are more and more occasions when these lines play over and over in my head.
I offer Yours unto You
What is it of mine?