As I write this post, I think of and thank the hundreds of pairs of hands that have nurtured me in my journey from the womb to the tomb, loving me, protecting me, and creating opportunities for me to learn. I have fond memories of a soft pair of hands, a gold ring with a red stone in one of the long and tapering fingers, teaching me to hold my red and black HB pencil and write my first shaky alphabet. I have memories of learning how to count my fingers, to add and to subtract, and learn my numbers for a life full of calculations and decision making ahead of me. I distinctly remember the blue inland with the confident writing that arrived every week from Patna, and made me reminisce about a wrinkled, aged, yet deft and strong pair of hands. Then, there were a tiny pair of hands, six years younger than mine, with the perfect nails and fingers. Those were hands which held on to mine as we took baby steps to the school together.
With time, my mother’s soft hands, my grandmother’s wrinkled hands, and my sister’s little hands gave way to more hands that built beautiful memories together. The hands that made rangoli, blew the conch shell, and made my favorite Narkol Nadu (coconut sweet) during festivities. The hands that shared home cooked food during breaks in school. The hands that held the cane, strict and firm, yet caring and loving, taking me on beautiful journeys of learning, from the positives and negatives of algebra, to the symbols and equations in chemistry, teaching me to hold, measure, draw, and dissect.
The hands from my childhood transformed into the hands of my teenage years, excitedly applying red nail polish without smudging the edges. The hands took diligent notes on Wuthering Heights so that we could study together. The hands switched off the lamp when I fell asleep studying. The hands showed me the beautiful world of Charles Dickens, Jane Austen, and William Shakespeare. The hands cooked fish curry and rice so that I never went hungry while studying. The hands got me the glass of Bournvita without ever having to ask for it.
As I transitioned into latter stages of life, those hands gave way to more hands of support. A pair of hands that taught me to cook my first shrimp curry the year I left home. The hands that touched my head with the flames of the fire and gave me my share of Saraswati Puja offerings. Hands that reassured me during my traumatic wisdom tooth extraction episode. I held on to those hands as we spent the evening shopping in the streets of Calcutta. We shared a sinful helping of Shrikhand, our favorite afternoon indulgence from the grocery store in Bellevue. The tiniest pair of nine month old hands that held on to mine as we walked by the children’s play area of the Bellevue Square Mall, singing Sa-Re-Ga-Ma and Hattima Tim Tim.
For years, you have loved me and cared for me in different ways. You were my mother, teaching me my alphabet. You were my grandmother, writing me letters from distant lands. You were my friend, teaching me to solve mathematical derivatives. You were my best friend in Seattle, teaching me to take my baby steps in America. You were Baby Kalyani, playing with me as if I were your best friend, only twenty-eight years older. You were my instructor, teaching me to drive a car. You taught me the art of penmanship and inspired me to photograph. You challenged me to perform on stage, by acting, public speaking, and giving dance performances. You played the harmonium so that I could relearn my Sa-Re-Ga-Ma. You gave me the keys to your home, because I was unemployed, and needed a place to stay. You traveled the world alone, from Banaras to Greece, and inspired me to be like you. You were a mother, a professor, an actor, a student, and as successful an economist as a humor writer. You all were the friends I had made for life.
From Naihati to New York, from Sealdah to Seattle, I saw you in the hustle and bustle, traveling to work in crowded trains. I saw you come home and fend for your family, take care of your babies, study, work, and take exams at the same time. I saw you indulge in self-care, manicuring your beautiful hands. I saw you bravely live through abortions and abuses. I proudly beamed when you went to space, won the Pulitzer, made scientific discoveries, or got your well-deserved Oscars. You cooked, coded, and cured with equal deftness. Most importantly, you shaped me, inspired me to be who I am, and pushed me to define and redefine my boundaries.
This post is dedicated to my mother, grandmothers, sister, my friends in and outside India, my roommates, colleagues, professors, students, fellow bloggers and readers, and all the women who have taught me to live independently, be fearless, and to strive for the best. Happy International Women’s Day!
Photo credit: Meena Kadri
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