It is powerful timing that I write the first entry for this column—a tribute to my mother—on Sept. 1, 2013. Today, my Ammachi (my maternal grandmother) passed away. Seeing those words is still a fresh wound, forcing me to externalize a reality that my heart and my mind have yet to come to terms with. This is the woman who helped to raise my two siblings and me; who raised my mother and her two siblings as a single mother after the untimely passing of her husband from a poisonous snakebite.
She was always a fount of overflowing love, kindness, wisdom, humor, spirit and faith. You were equally likely to witness her fierce, tenacious spirit as you were to find her sharing peals of laughter, sewing a pillowcase for her grandchildren, watching a favorite TV program called Idea Star Singer, or clutching rosary beads in perpetual prayer. Despite my efforts, the best of my words simply cannot do her justice. For her to have raised three children alone in rural Kerala, India, is unimaginable to me. In a place and a time when they had so little, their only hope was to study hard and make something of themselves through the precious opportunity of their education.
It is only fitting, then, that my first entry for this column be my mother’s pearl passed on to her by her mother, my Ammachi:
“People can take every wealth away from you except one—your education.”
Ever since the days when words like “flexor digitorum profundus” and “calcaneus” filled my elementary school-aged head with wonder—by way of a mother who doubles as a pediatric ER physician—I knew that I too wanted to be a doctor. In the years preceding, before we could even read or write, our mom would come into our room at bedtime, braid my sister’s and my hair, and read books to us and our brother every night.
Throughout it all, she would tell us that we should study hard and be somebody in our lives. Though my siblings and I were in a much more privileged position than when she was growing up, my mom did not emphasize the value of education any less to us. Just like her mother sat at her side as she studied by candlelight, my mother sat by my side as I trudged through my dense american history textbook or reveled in learning molecular kinetics in general chemistry. And every time I spoke to my Ammachi before her passing, she always told me three things before we hung up:
Prarthikanam – You must pray.
Nallonnum padikkyanam –You must study hard.
And, always and abundantly – I love you.
I am now getting to the age when my mom’s words are more than familiar adages that circulate around my head; they are taking on a very real and profound significance in my life as a medical student. In writing this column, I hope to reignite the inspiration of these words in my own life, and to share what I have found to be invaluable pearls with whoever reads them.
My mother is a very simple woman. Though she may be a well-respected physician at Columbia University, you might never know it if you saw her. She dresses simply, she speaks kindly, and she cares endlessly. Her wealth lies not in her tangible possessions–she doesn’t even own a pearl necklace. Her pearls are of wisdom, and it is those pearls that I hope to share with you.