37 years had passed by, but even today my mother continues to inspire me. When I spent the last days with my mother, I was young, excited and, naïve in my mid 20s when I just got the visa to my dreamland, the United States of America. I was scared to death, still I was so excited at the prospect of setting foot in my dreamland. My last day with her was at the dilapidated airfield, in Chittagong, Bangladesh, at the farthest shores of the Bay of Bengal, the same place that has been used by the British and the allied forces to launch the counter offensive against the occupying Japanese army in Burma frontier, where first leg of my journey to US began. Before I was boarding a small airplane at the time of departure, little did I know that this was the last time for me to see my mother. I didn’t know it myself but perhaps my subconscious knew it. Perhaps that was the reason I fell onto her feet and asked for her forgiveness for all the troubles I had caused her while growing up.
Coming to America and looking for new opportunities wasn’t an easy path. For few weeks, my daily sustenance was two pieces of bread and peanut butter. I couldn’t have even eaten those unless my mother gave me the $23 in the Chittagong airport with which I landed in USA. I remember in the airport she asked me, “Son how much money do you have with you?” “What are you talking about mom? I’m going to the richest country in the world, they are flushed with money everywhere!”, I retorted with all my naivety and ignorance of young age. My mother just smiled and looked at me directly into my eyes and said, “Don’t be crazy my son, you always need some money in your pocket.” Then she took me to the foreign currency counter right across the waiting room and poured out all the notes and changes she had in her purse, which translated into total of $23 in the US currency. She tucked in those currencies in my front pocket of my shirt. With that money in pocket, I started my journey to the United States. Needless to say, I was naive to say the least and it took a long time for me to grow up and to understand the realities of America.
I am now settled in my American life with a comfortable profession and a number of rewarding avocations. As a gastroenterologist, in my day-to-day practice I listen to lots of stories of people and their families. In the pursuit of my profession, I have become a communicator and lots of my patients know me for many years to an intimate degree. The other day one patient told me, “Doctor Meah, you work really hard”. I looked at her and told “Really?” I was not surprised though; this is not the first time I was told that I work “hard”. I consider this as a characteristic of being an American, a quality Americans have been endowed with as part of their culture.
However, this time my mind wandered back to an introspection: I wonder if I truly work hard, how do I do it, what is my inspiration? It didn’t take long for me but few seconds to realize that my inspiration comes from my mother. My mother worked as a schoolteacher outside home and inside home she worked as a homemaker. In addition to me I have eight siblings. She did full time work as a teacher and at the same time almost every other year she gave birth to a child, total nine of them. I have never seen her complaining about her work as a teacher or at home. And I have learned a lot from just watching her after her school job doing cooking for us and feeding us and then supervising us doing our homework. She even found time to sew our clothes and even doing crochet to make sweaters for us during the winter time.
One particular memory etched in my mind is about our home electrical breaker going off frequently as a result of which we used to lose electricity. The fuse needed to be replaced. In those days in Bangladesh the electrical fuses were not automatic and enclosed as we see today. One really had to open the main electric box, pull out the ceramic device out and replace the thin copper wires in it manually which acted to complete the circuit. So, this was a big and potentially dangerous chore, and most of the times people would call an electrician to do this. However, that meant long waiting time could be even more than 24 hours. So, one day as our main breaker went off, my mother said, “We are not going to wait for the electricians anymore, we are going to do it ourselves.” She gathered the screwdriver and a plier and handed these to me to work as her assistant. I stood by her on the floor to hand her the tools as she got up on the chair to reach the breaker and handed her the tools as she called for it. I watched her as she pulled out the ceramic switch, replaced the burnt-out old copper wires and replaced it with the new ones with her dexter hands. A little later after she had put everything in its position, she closed the lid of the master breaker and turned it on. Voila the electricity was restored in our little two-bedroom house. I looked at her with awe; it was a tremendously empowering experience.
In addition to cognitive learning, reading, and writing these are other things that I have learned from her consciously and subconsciously. As a result, I have developed an immense respect for handiwork and to stay busy. This has probably inspired me to my hobby of working as a rancher and doing little carpentry work whenever I find time in addition to my main profession. I love to do this and derive immense pleasure and satisfaction out of it.
And I cannot finish without talking about my passion for music and culture and the gift of my mother in this arena also. We used to have three band Philips shortwave radio and my mother always used to keep a notebook and a pencil by the radio. Other than radio we had no other entertainment when we were growing up. Only other media we had was the daily newspaper, we had no television at that time and radio, particularly shortwave radio was rather a luxury. On the radio whenever a popular song would play, my mom used to frantically write down the lyrics. With the speed of the radio, it was impossible to write the whole lyrics at one time. So, she would wait times and again when the song will be replayed perhaps the next day or the next week and once she could complete it she would show me the notebook and say, “Nizam, here is a song I copied down for you, try to learn this song and try to sing”. That gave me an early inspiration of singing which I sometimes do for my own entertainment even at present. And surprisingly enough I still sing and practice those songs my mother had written down during my childhood; the choices that was influenced by her.
37 years later, mother, I still wonder where you are: I have no way to know where you are and how you are doing but as I look for you day and night, years after years, I’m now convinced that here you are with me; all the time 24/7, 365. I could confidently say your best address is my address. Your soul is my soul. You live in me, in my every breath, in my every heartbeat. I am you. The values you have instilled in me is still sustains me every day, every moment. I live by it, and I cherish it. So, I say to all people who today don’t have the opportunity of taking a picture next to their mother or don’t have the mother who is alive today to actually hug her physically: just think about what your mother has done for you. Look no further, look in your own heart; you’ll find your own mother. you will see your mother is always alive and well because she lives in you. If you are living a life that’s really your mother, that’s your own mother. Look no further: mother is with us always and always. Happy Mother’s Day!