In Fond Remembrance of my Mother India
On this day every year, I spend some of my time with this very special lady, in a cemetery, visiting her on her grave. I am her youngest son, and I would like to think that her spirit lives in me, or I can say she is forever with me in spirits.
My mother, Late Rais Fatima Rizvi, left us seventeen years ago, valiantly fighting cancer. But as she remains alive in our memories, I would like to say, she won over it after all. For, to live in the hearts of those you leave behind is not to die. She embodied the indomitable spirit, intense curiosity, and abiding love and devotion in the soul of the Diaspora Indian Woman. She was “Mother India” with the strength and independence of Willa Cather’s American frontier woman.
My mother was a graceful and courageous woman. Born on the 5th of May 1936, she hailed from an orthodox Shia Muslim family, was also called, “Bari Beti”, the eldest daughter. Back home in Lucknow, she was a Principal, imparting vocational skills to young girls. an entrepreneur She championed the cause of the poor and the dispossessed. She loved children and would often visit orphanages and spend time with the orphans there, giving of her love and time selflessly. For that was her.
She moved to America in 1983 and brought her dynamism, exuberance and spirit and a love for her roots, which remains with her children even today. She took to American life with amazing humor and enterprise. She enrolled in English classes to upgrade her to Americanize—English, the way Americans spoke the language. Learned to drive a car and even graduated from the famous Fashion Institute of Technology FIT, New York (she was always good with the sewing machine), I recall how on seeing my mother sewing outfit for her granddaughter Nazish Agha Esq. who intercepted her saying, “Mommy, sew nahi so”, meaning don’t stitch go to sleep. Everyone was always amazed at how easily my mother adapted to the United States – participating in every area of community life, driving the highways and back roads of New Jersey, and even learning how to use the computer including Excel worksheets.
She was an inspiration to me and my six siblings trying to settle down to a new life, thousands of miles away from our home in Lucknow. She loved both India and America equally and moved happily between her two homes. Just as she brought Lucknow’s rich culinary and artisan traditions to America, she returned to Lucknow to gift others with a bit of the American Dream.
She was an indulgent cook and continued to cook Awadhi cuisine for friends and family. Her sewain vermicelli on Eid brought visitors flocking to our home. She made our stone house in New Jersey home for warmth love and comfort! It shall forever be my regret that she could not live to see my daughters Alizah and Anum and love and guide them as I would have wanted. For all seven of us, her children, numerous grandchildren, she was the oasis of hope and unconditional love… years after her passing, she continues to live in our hearts…. to inspire and guide.
A woman of few words, she showed her love and concern for others with practical action. Be it in India or America, she was known as someone who would always help without question and without preconditions.
Today I dedicate this column to my mother because she was truly transcendent- a woman who lived each moment to the fullest and who sought not just to rise upward but to take everyone else with her.
For no one more than her embodies the spirit of the Diaspora, a column to highlight the excellence, diversity and multi-cultural richness that diasporas’ have brought to the United States of America. It celebrates the investment of their intellectual, academic and entrepreneurial contribution to the great American Dream.
For those who have taken the trouble to go through this tribute, I request to please take good care of your elders and if they are no more then I request a brief prayer in their memory and when you do that please remember my parents too, in their memory as a tribute to this truly remarkable woman I am proud to have had as my mother.
Dua Goh (Seeking your prayers)
Adam (Afzal) Rizvi