I was born just outside Nairobi in 1959; I was one of six children, the oldest girl. We had a very traditional Indian upbringing. I don’t remember my mother much apart from her being in the kitchen. Think about it, she’d had a child almost every year, there were a lot of us to wash, and dress, and feed. She was constantly either breastfeeding, or expecting the next baby. I remember her doing my hair; mine used to have two plaits. I used to cry a lot when she combed my hair, she didn’t have time to be slow and gentle.
I was frightened of my mum. I never even told her when I broke my leg, I just pined until she realised something was wrong. The truth is, my mother had six children and I wasn’t her favourite; I couldn’t go to her, even with my deepest troubles. So I never relied on my mum for advice on bringing up my own kids; my faith became a far greater guide.
I didn’t develop my faith until my children were 8 and 10. When my eldest was about 5, we took them to the temple so they could learn Guajarati, and I asked if I could volunteer. While volunteering I used to sit in and listen to the presentations on Hinduism, and that’s how I became interested in my faith. I have to thank my children for that!
Even before my faith became stronger, I did bring up my children with the ethos of Karma. If you do good things, you’ll get good things. And they were brought up with the ethos of Dharma, duty to your family, to all their grandparents and great-grandparents.
I became a single parent when my own children were 16 and 14, and I divorced from my husband. He used to see them at weekends; during the week the responsibility was on me. The 14 year old was very challenging, perhaps because we had to move away to a new town, to a new school, leaving old friends behind. We both found it very, very challenging. He was taller than me, bigger than me; it was quite intimidating because he had a lot of anger following the divorce. I did bear with it for 4 years, but when he turned 18 and the aggression was still there, I was actually physically frightened. So I gave him an ultimatum on his birthday: shape up or ship out. He shipped out to his dad’s. That was tragic for me.
I did not realise how difficult I’d find that to cope with. I was left with one child, and my other child had gone, it was like a bereavement. He didn’t keep in touch, so for almost two years I had very little contact with my youngest son, my baby. That was the biggest challenge to my motherhood. I had to learn how to live without him.
He’s 27 now, that was 10 years ago. We see each other regularly now, we socialise together; we go out for meals and to the cinema. I still think, if I hadn’t kicked him out, he wouldn’t be the nice man as he is now. I made the right decision. I didn’t want to be frightened in my own home.
What does motherhood mean to you? These tales and portraits were collected by twoFaith Fellows working with Proshanti, a charity set up in response to the need for health facilities for mothers and families in Bangladesh.
Originally exhibited at the V&A Museum of Childhood in London as a pop-up 'Museum of Motherhood' (no link to the wonderful M.O.M. in New York) we're delighted to be sharing these diverse stories as part of our travelling exhibition: Story of Mum: mums making an exhibition of ourselves.
To find out more about Proshanti's work or donate, visit www.Proshanti.org.