2.12.2016

A Lesson In Letting Go From My Mother

As a teen, there were many days where I hovered across the kitchen counter, watching my mom make fresh roti (Indian bread), ready to grab one as soon as it fluffed on the open flame. Of course, she would snatch it right back to spread a little butter on top before giving it back. Like a half-starved child, I would plunge right into the soft bread like no one had fed me for days. There's nothing like your mom’s cooking. And my favorite was the round hot rotis with sabji (curried veggies), and thick Punjabi dal (lentils).

Traditional chakla to roll rotis on
Within minutes of me stepping in the door, there would be the inevitable question of “roti banawa?” Should I make roti? The sabji and the dal were ever-ready in our house but the rotis were usually made fresh each meal. Like all Indian moms of that generation, she had her process. She would carefully break a small part of the kneaded dough, roll it into a small round ball between her palms, spread it into a disk-shape with her hands; Then using a wooden rolling pin, methodically roll it into a perfect circle on a chakla (usually wooden but in her case, a round carved white marble). She would then carefully place it onto the round griddle on the stove, followed by the open flame to fluff it. With the next one already rolled out, this was the time for catching up about the day. The one thing that was unique about her process was that she never rushed -- she made them slowly, gently caring for each one as if everything in life rested on that one roti. Mom would sometimes even rest her left hand on her hip like she had all the time in the world, and hold a rolled roti in the other -- and chat with me while at the same time keeping an eye on the roti on the stove.
My Brother, Hubster, Mom, and Sister (circa 2004)

About seven-eight years ago, we were hosting a get-together at my parents home, and like most Punjabis (actually I think all :), she has a second stove set-up in the garage. I wish I'd kept to myself that day but I was trying to be of some help to her. We were running a bit behind schedule and she was just about finished with everything else, so now we just needed to make the rotis before the guests started arriving. I tried to work quickly, knowing that I was probably rushing her. As I was hurriedly moving everything closer to the table next to the stove, something happened that I wish I had the power to undo. The marble chakla that I've always seen her use -- slipped out of my hand and fell hard on the concrete garage floor. It made a loud sound as soon as it hit the surface, and broke into several pieces.

It was obvious right away that there was no way of salvaging it. I was shocked at my absent-mindedness and felt horrible as my mom looked over her shoulder to see what had happened. All I could muster was, “Oh mom I’m so sorry, I don’t know what happened.” She was quiet for a second and then just said “koi ghal nahi,” her version of “it’s okay.” She then walked over quietly, picked up the broken pieces and put them in the trash can in the garage. Quickly grabbing a smooth cutting board, she started rolling the rotis.
We continued with the rest of the evening and she didn’t say anything else about the matter.

Mom always looks innocent and
michievious at the same time
A few days later, as we sat down for tea, I still felt bad and wondered if I could find a replacement. I brought it up again but she said don’t worry about it, what’s done is done. When asked how long she had it, she casually mentioned that she had it for a while. Her grandmother had taught her how to make rotis on it. I felt so bad and I’ll never forget the look in her eyes when she gently confided: “It belonged to my mother.” Her mother! Who she rarely talks about because she doesn’t have any memories of her. Her mother who had passed away when mom was an infant, and she was raised by her grandmother and stepmom.

My older sister later told me that the marble chakla was given to her mother by her parents when she got married, and it was the last thing that my mom had left that belonged to her mom (and her entire lineage). She brought it with her from India to the US when our family migrated here. 

As my mom and I sipped tea that day, she shared none of this. Focused on making me feel better, with the wave of her hand, she just said, jaan de” (let it go), as she poured me more tea and asked about my day. Even now when I think about this, tears well up. If I was in her place, there’s no way I would’ve not said anything. There would have at least been a lecture or two about being more mindful, there would've been anger, or guilt for a little while about something so precious now gone forever.


As I recall this now, I feel like her reaction to this so aptly sums up who she is. Someone who goes through the ups and downs in life with resilience, selflessness, always focusing on what’s good, and what’s happening right instead of what went wrong. Someone who clearly knows that what is done cannot be undone, but instead of looking at the broken pieces of the past, you put them in their place, and just keep on moving forward with all the grace that you can muster.

23 comments:

  1. inspiring to read this, thank you so much for sharing such an intimate story. i hope to develop that quality your mother has

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    1. Thanks B! I hope to develop that quality of a quiet resilience too. :-)

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  2. inspiring to read this, thank you so much for sharing such an intimate story. i hope to develop that quality your mother has

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  3. So beautiful -- and so well-written Guri. Could see the rotis puffing up on the flame (yum!), and hear the crack of the marble on the concrete floor...you capture the subtle aggressiveness of haste and the contrast of your mom's quiet grace, and selfless composure so perfectly. Thanks for sharing that glimpse into her strength --and for the sweet pictures (I just wish you were in that group photo too!) :)

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    1. Thanks Pavvvvviiiii! She's a quiet force.

      I was behind the camera so couldn't be in the photo. :-)

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  4. Aha! Now I know how come you, too, "always look innocent and
    mischievous at the same time" :) Thank you for carrying and sharing these values from generations!

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    1. LOL. In her case its innocence...in my case, I usually am up to something. (jk) ha ha. :-)

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  5. Audrey2/13/2016

    Oh wow, what a stunning snapshot of so many things. Thank you for bringing it all to light - the strength of your mother's love and resilience, the lineage of landscapes, time, souls, and hands that a chakla can pass through, and the watchful way you saw all of it, and took all of it in. So beautiful to get to read this - thank you for sharing! :)

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    1. Thanks Audrey! The irony was that I never realized where the chakla came from until it was already broken. The world is so different now, I wonder if we have things that will outlast generations to come. :-)

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  6. Such a beautiful sharing, mother's are amazing people! I love this, " knows that what is done cannot be undone, but instead of looking at the broken pieces of the past, you put them in their place, and just keep on moving forward with all the grace that you can muster." Such a beautiful trait and so very inspiring!

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  7. Guri,
    I have lump in my throat reading this. '“koi ghal nahi,” she said it so easily after losing her only memory of her mother. But again, it was only a material thing. I hope to get to be like her. Thanks for sharing.

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    1. Thank you Saroj Auntie. If I hadn't prodded her later, she would've never told me where it came from. She's a woman of few words...

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  8. Guri di :-) so beautifully written. When I was reading it I could actually visualise it and parallelly I was remembering my days with mum. We had our maximum conversation in the kitchen, sipping tea. Rotis and mothers I guess has a very strong association and I bet no one can replace those rotis. As you said, she without even saying a word, took another flat plate and started making as if nothing happened though her association with it could not be replaced . . I think only mothers can do that, especially of that generation. Love to u and aunty :-) Thank you for writing this up. I could recollect and see myself in your story. .

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    1. Aww Trupti such beautiful memories of your mom. Although I never had the chance to meet her, I can tell that you have a lot of her in you. :-)

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  9. arathi2/15/2016

    wowza guri!!! thank you for sharing such an intimate memory. what an inspiring story, and one that I hold dear to my heart as I slowly enter the stage of motherhood. I hope to grow to be as graceful as her one day.

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    1. You're going to be a great mom Miss Arathi! :-)

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  10. This is a very close memory touching my heart. Mothers as they are... love and thanks. Very well said and very well written.

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  11. It takes so much grace to put the drama behind and look forward. I could almost live those moments. Thanks for the great share.

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  12. Guri, this is very moving and very well written. It conveys something loving and wrenching and true about innocence and experience, about youth and age, about the wish to help and the way we rush. And it conveys the way it sometimes takes such an accident to reveal the unexpected depths in what might otherwise be simply lovely things. Thank you.

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  13. Brought back memories of my mother feeding me hot rotis straight off the pan. Thank you for sharing this beautiful lesson from your mother.

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  14. What a beautiful story you have shared. The quiet dignity and grace that your mother showed is a grand teaching that will now serve so many people, thanks to your beautiful share.

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  15. Dear Guri Didi, thank you for allowing us to relive our own memories of our mothers and for some of us, re live the moments of our own motherhood. And thank you for the visual journey into that moment through your words. I felt like I was with you at every moment of joy and learning! So much love to you and Aunty who silently and so beautifully raised a family :) <3

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