I have written about my mother before and I don’t think I will be saying anything new which others might not have written or spoken about, in relation to their mothers. Mothers are very interesting creatures, in our culture most of the time, they are in the background and do not get the due credit that they deserve.
Look at me for example, I always thought that I got my business acumen and brains from my father. The first 20 years of my life my mother to me was just a person who provided food. Or the person who I could pester, to get money out of my dad, when he was otherwise unwilling.
The next 20 years of my life were spent in building my own life, my business, my family etc. So I actually got acquainted with her again only after I was 40. It is then that I actually started noticing her, her traits, her behavior, her personality. I started noticing different aspects about her, how she dressed, how neat she was, how organized she was, her attention to detail. For the first time it hit me that these traits I had inherited from my mother.
She was not formally educated, thought she could read and write. Yet she was super sharp and totally observant. I used to own several retail outlets, so one day she asked me “beta! most of your assistants come and collect the keys for the outlets by 8.30a.m. except for this one lady who comes at 11:30a.m. Isn’t that half a day’s business lost”?
For someone who had never dabbled with money or looked after finances, after all her role as a housewife didn’t demand that. She totally caught me off guard one day, by giving me sound advice on a business matter because the interest rates had dropped. Wow! so when did she start understanding the market, this woman who had only looked after us eight siblings and a score of grandkids.
Next to the Satya Paul outlet I owned in Bangalore there was a really quaint restaurant, where I took her for coffee one day. It was my desire to pamper her as I started making a deeper connection with her. So I would do crazy things like taking her shopping to KrishnaihChetty and Sons, or to the best saree shops the city had to offer, early morning walks in Cubbon Park, amongst other things. So we finish our coffee and I asked for the bill which the proprietor refused to give, as he wanted to have the pleasure of hosting my mother. Upon learning this, my mother requested to speak to the proprietor, to whom she said “this is business and you must allow us to settle the bill”. We will not offer you the same if you were to pick up a Satya Paul saree”. A total matter of fact business woman with a quirky sense of humour.
Coming to her sense of humour she was very witty. When a proposal came for one of our relatives and we learnt that everything was in order, expect that the boy had a hair transplant, she was quick to retort “everything is ok as far as when the couple fight, the hair doesn’t come into the hands”. What a practical woman.
Being practical was something she had acquired, I guess. Like when it was time to get my daughter married she asked me to check with her first, just in case she already had someone in mind. For a lady born in the early 20th century she was pretty modern in her outlook.
Modern enough to go in for a knee transplant at a ripe old age. This operation was fixed in a hurry making my sisters very upset for not having consulted them. As we were wheeling her into the operation theatre I checked with her again, “you know we can postpone this”. She bravely exclaimed “this is my decision. I would rather die on the operation table than to live with this pain”.
Her bravery also came through having survived her husband by 26 years. For a homebody to continue doing her duty to her 8 children after the demise of her husband is no mean feat. Right through she only remembered her responsibly to her kids and grandkids, never expecting anything in return. Like this once when she asked for 10000 rupees and requested me not to mention it to anyone. I was distraught, here I was capable of giving her much more, even without her asking, yet it hurt her pride to ask and she didn’t feel it was her right.
She didn’t feel it was her right to impose her views on me either. At one time I used to make frequent trips to Pakistan. Just like my family members, she too was worried whenever I visited our neighbours, but never directly told me so. One day she sat me down and said “you keep increasing the number of godowns in Adoni. Why do you keep adding more responsibility on your brother shoulders, who has to manage them? Why don’t you first sell the huge inventory you have accumulated, then go to Pakistan”? Another business lesson on inventory management along with a clear message.
In the world of relationships a mother’s role is the only one which is taken completely for granted, comes with a lot of sacrifice, duty and responsibility, yet she never expects anything in return. We as children never realise that this person who has been at the genesis of our existence is an individual, who had her own dreams, aspirations and goals which are sacrificed in the name of motherhood.
This realisation came to me pretty late but I am thankful that it did. Three years before she passed away I fulfilled everything in her bucket list. Then I asked her what were the three things she wanted for her family. Having seen family feuds she told me “you brothers always stay together peacefully and be there for each other”. Her second wish was “always look after your sisters. Daughters are huani (the wealth of someone else’s home) always be there for them”. and her third wish…. There was none…no third wish.
We wanted for her to live to a 100, like all children want their parents to, but she passed away at 86. Till the very end besides her knee issue, she was all set to go in for a second operation, she didn’t have any other ailments. On the last day she followed her regular routine, including her daily reading of scriptures. She had a fall and never got up again.
A small town lady, no formal education, a housewife, a mother to 8 taught me so much with her simplicity and wisdom acquired through experience. Many times her favorite advice keeps ringing in my ears “if a bull keep piling things onto his back, remember he’ll only need to pull it”.
Opinions in this piece belong to the author: Ramesh Kumar Shah
Ramesh Kumar Shah is the founder of the RK Group, founder of RK Trust (rktrust.in) and co-founder of Harvard Business School Angels of India. Apart from being a businessman, he is keenly involved in making as much of a difference in people’s lives as he can, most recently through the Let’s Mask India initiative, that provides a free mask to all the residents of Bangalore.