Probably one of the few times you’ll get any emotion out of me. I don’t really celebrate my birthdays, but I remember my 7th one perfectly.
We lived in a small apartment, in Elizabeth, N.J. There was a living room, a small kitchen, and a single bedroom with a tiny bathroom. We had couches that were slowly breaking, probably because I was a hyperactive child constantly jumping on them. (Sorry about that.) The T.V was the old heavy type, with the low pixel count, but that never deterred me from watching Power Rangers. (Also sorry about the neighbors constantly complaining when I was practicing my Power Ranger moves.) And our apartment was on the 2nd floor, so my tiny brain could never comprehend how insects and mice made it to our place. (Those guys died real quick. You made sure of that. They didn’t even realize that they came into the wrong house.)
Mama Kaur keeps the cleanest household you ever saw. Everyday, no matter how exhausted, our tiny apartment went through heavy cleaning. The phrase that I heard often as a child was “A house should be clean enough for God to enter”. So I learned to clean thoroughly from an early age, which has likely resulted in my obsessive necessity for a clean living space now. (I’m sure my roommates secretly hate me because of how much I pester them about cleaning, so I’ve gotten better.)
On my 7th birthday, I woke up rubbing my eyes to see my mother filming my reaction. She had decorated the living room and set aside presents. Mama Kaur and I didn’t have much, except each other. But she woke up early, sacrificing sleep, to decorate and celebrate me.
She invited my cousins, from my father’s side, over. One of my presents was a blue Gameboy, the Gameboy Advance, and Sonic the Hedgehog as my first video game. On her salary, this was a luxury.
We were surrounded by gang violence and drive-by shootings. To some, that would be terrifying. However, since we grew up on those streets, we would say, “It could be worse”. Every night, you could hear sirens. (I was pretty good at differentiating between the police, ambulance, and fire trucks.) Police sirens felt somewhat reassuring, because I was raised to believe that the police were out arresting the bad guys.
Mama Kaur was tough. Driving down the street, the car windows seemed to act as the only barriers between the violence and us. Gripping my hand, she’d bring me inside the Elizabeth public library and have me check out all the books I wanted. When I grew to become a voracious reader, she asked the library for an adult library card so that I could check out more books. (I knew the biographies of major astronomers from the 1400s-1700s, as well as the entire Hindu “Mahabharat”. Also Judy Blume’s “Fudge” series.) Her face was always stoic, better than any poker player’s. She was calm, until someone doubted her ability to raise me as a single mother. Though I saw the outside violence and struggles of our neighborhood, it never affected me: I was warm and well-shielded under the wing of a dragon.
She worked hard to make sure that I received the best education and opportunities. Thanks to her, I was accepted into the “Gifted & Talented” program in Elizabeth, N.J. Then, somehow private schools started to believe I was intelligent and accepted me with scholarships. (I still don’t know how that one happened.) When it came time for me attend college, I think she started to become nervous. What would my career field be? Would I be away? Would I graduate with a job? But she supported me, regardless. Though she expressed nervousness at my physicality prior to joining the military, she accepted my choice. Without question, she sacrificed her entire youth, raising me with progressive ideals. Her greatest lesson has been “leave the world better than how you found it”.
These days, life is pretty easy so I have to thank her. We do have our differences though! Some things that we argue about:
- She prays everyday that I become religious, which I’m not.
- She wants me to have surgery to remove my tattoos, which I won’t.
- She hates exercising. (Ugh, mother. Why?)
- Girls. Yeah, she knows about them. (Yikes. Sorry Mother, I know I mentioned girls again.)
But she’s extremely progressive. In the typical Indian patriarchal society, Indian males are often coddled by their parents. (To all the dudes reading this and shaking their heads ‘no’, ya know it’s true. Maybe you’re an exception like me, but that’s a rarity.) We’re supposed to continue the family name, so we’re often favored over the daughters. I’ve known plenty of guys that could misbehave, even go to jail, and their mothers would accept them back with open arms and a smile.
(Except if you’re the girl who didn’t wear the typical long scarf, that goes with a traditional Punjabi female suit, and decided to show the temple your cleavage. My mother is kinda iffy about you.)
Disrespect was never tolerated under Mama Kaur. If I ever assumed I was better than a female, my single mother would’ve chased me around the block a few times with a rolling pin. She loves all my female friends more than my male friends! I promise you, that if you’re a female, my mother would welcome you with a smile and Indian masala chai. Males, she’ll evaluate you first. (Pretty sure Mama Kaur wants a daughter anyways, because she’s surrounded by my brothers and stepfather all the time.)
It’s easy to become arrogant, and I do it all the time. I’ve even been called ‘douche-y’. My narcissism can be through the roof. But just when I get a little too full of myself, Mama Kaur brings me down to size. She reminds me to have humility; the higher you climb, the longer the fall.
This is a thank-you, of sorts, to my biggest fan who always reads my blogs. For teaching me that if I’m not better today, I should be better tomorrow. For inspiring me to pursue my passions, teaching me how to work hard regardless of the opinions of others, and be happy (because lions don’t care about the opinions of gazelles). And for setting some high standards on who I want in my life.
Without a doubt, I would not have made it without you. (Neither would my mental health or financial security.) In our current political and social environments, I think it’s imperative that I be mindful about the woman that raised me.
(This is the most information about my past you’ll ever get.)
And now, a song suggestion!
(I know. It’s different from my usual gangster shit.)