Holding my masala chai, I gaze outside my kitchen window. The rain continues to pour. With the smell of rain in the air, I ﬁnd myself at my chest of drawers, rummaging around. I pull out the red album; the family pictures and stories bring with them a wave of nostalgia. I’d give anything to be with her for just one moment, to hold her hand in mine and whisper a ﬁnal farewell. All I am left with are photos— pictures that portray a legacy deeper than one could think possible. Snuggling deeper into my rocking chair, I see her face as if it were frozen in time. She was seven years old when she was orphaned. Alone and with nowhere to go, she sought refuge from her older brother and his wife. With a heart of devotion and determination to add value to the lives of those around her, Dolly took on a responsibility that was larger than life, going beyond expectations. Everyone knew her as Dolly. To me, she was my mom and my hero. They say the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. In my case, the apple grew wings and ﬂew. She gave me wings. Dolly taught me that I could overcome any obstacle and achieve anything I set my mind to.
As a young girl, barely ten years old, my mom, without faltering or murmuring, became the caregiver of her brother’s household. She fulﬁlled her duties with excellence and devoted herself to raising and nurturing her brother’s children and her youngest sister. One day, her life took an unexpected turn after a couple of relatives came for a visit. Enthralled by her kindness and etiquette, Dolly’s uncle spoke with her brother, oﬀering to adopt Dolly while leaving her sister with him. Having had his own children and grandchildren, adopting Dolly would delight his heart. Suddenly, Dolly was living in a fairy tale, mesmerized by her fortuitous lifestyle. Though her uncle brought her into a life of luxury, Dolly missed her sister and brother. She decided to leave her uncle’s palace to return to her brother’s home. How can I eat good food and live as a princess while my little sister labors throughout the day, tending to the household to feed herself? she thought. She followed her heart, often saying, “The mind tries to negotiate and debate certain circumstances, but the heart conquers peace—that place of comfort—and tells you what is right for you.” The hours ticked by slowly. I can imagine her lifting her head to check the time. She had passions that were unusual for girls her age —a passion to learn, to grow, and to understand. Her secret in life was the attitude that nothing could stand in her way. And nothing gave her greater joy than the fragrance of paper and the feel of a pencil in her hand, which teleported her into another world, giving wings to her imagination and the courage to educate and empower herself. There were no restrictions and no rules to conform to. With no way to further her education, Dolly worked her hardest for her brother’s household to earn the freedom to seek her friend’s help, and the help of their teachers. Each day, Dolly expectantly waited on the balcony of her home, her large brown eyes eagerly scanning the landscape for a glimpse that school was over. She waited for her friends to return home from school with feedback on her homework.
With a ﬂourish, she would race to greet them, barely able to contain her excitement. Social etiquette would be expedited in her eagerness to know the day’s lessons. Dolly and her friends agreed that she would do her homework at home, and they would convince the teachers to check one extra book. As a girl who was unable to go to school herself, this was the only way she had to learn. She found opportunity in adversity. This woman was my defender. When I pushed the limits, tested the boundaries, or dared to see how far I could go, Dolly was there. She cheered me on. When my father did not understand me, she stood up for me. In the midst of an authoritarian culture, Dolly would defend me, her daughter. Through her quiet manner, she spurred me on to be more than I thought I could be. Her life was her words. From her, I learned the heart of generosity. I know of no one else who delighted in giving away their treasured belongings to others who truly needed a helping hand. Her love was limitless, and her compassion stretched beyond borders. She was my Mother Teresa, my Princess Diana. Holding my masala chai close to my heart, I sigh. For a moment, I am back in time—back in those moments when Dolly would share her dreams with me. If she lived in a diﬀerent time, era, or perhaps even a diﬀerent culture, she would travel the world. She would feast her eyes on everything the world had to share—its cuisines, sights, cultures, and worldviews. Other times, she would close her eyes and tell me how she would love to ride a motorbike and enjoy the high- speed thrill. She was very adventurous. A smile touches my lips. Her courage transcended culture and generations. She is my inspiration, my history. As a mother, she understood that words were not as powerful as actions. But when she did speak, her words spoke volumes.
Amidst it all, Dolly kept on pushing limits. Then suddenly, she was gone. It was while I was lying in a hospital bed, recovering from a surgery, that she had ﬂown away. A devoted wife, she passed away on her ﬁftieth wedding anniversary. But she is not truly gone. No, Dolly lives on. Taking her story deep into my heart, I took on her mantle of devotion, perseverance, and dedication, devoting my life to empowering women to empower themselves. My life’s mission is to encourage women of all ages to get an education and be proud of who they are.
Excerpt from my book “Thresholds”
“75 Stories of How Changing Your Perspective Can Change Your Life”