'My mother made a lot of sacrifices to educate me': Author Amish

On Women's Day, Amish on his relationship with his mother

58-Amish-with-mother-Usha Amish with mother Usha

My parents come from a humble background. They were both educated in the Hindi medium. They made a lot of sacrifices to give the four of us siblings an education that was beyond their income and social class. We went to the absolute best schools―Lawrence School, Lovedale; The Cathedral and John Connon School, Mumbai; St Xavier’s College, Mumbai; IIM Calcutta. In school, I had friends whose shoes cost more than my father’s monthly salary. My parents’ only saving was the education they gave us. They made a lot of sacrifices for us.

We learnt how to soar from my father and how to be rooted from my mother.

Our family used to read a lot. I read at least five to six books a month. Dad was the more indulgent parent and Maa was the strict disciplinarian. She had read something in the Chanakyaneeti on how children should be brought up. She brought up all four of us that way. I know it may sound traditional, but she used to say that the character of a child is formed by the mother. The guru and the mother are the most important people in the life of children and, therefore, in the life of society.

According to the Chanakyaneeti, in the first five years of a child’s life, the mother should be around all the time and drown the child in love. The child should have no insecurities because he is attended to all the time. That does not mean you get everything that you want, like some expensive toy. Sometimes she may choose not to give it to you, for your own long-term good. But you will have all of your mother’s love and attention.

Then from ages 5 to 15, the mother should be a strict disciplinarian. Maa was extremely strict with all four of us at that age. We had to sleep by 9.30pm and wake up by 4.30am-5am. She never hid the sacrifices that dad and she were making for us. She used to keep telling us that it is our duty to be successful. That is the only way you can honour the sacrifices of your parents, she said. Whatever you do, you should be the best at it.

We had to eat whatever was on the table. I remember once my sister and I had refused to eat the bitter gourd (karela) sabji she made. It’s very good for health, but it tastes bitter. I wasn’t trying to throw a tantrum, but I gently pushed the plate away. She was so livid that for a week, for lunch and dinner, my sister and I were served bitter gourd sabji. There’s no compulsion, we were told. You can either eat this or stay hungry. We never threw a tantrum after that. We quietly ate whatever was on the table. Her logic was that discipline makes us tough. And life is supposed to be tough. Why should the world make it easy for you? You cannot handle it if you are not tough enough.

That was from ages 5 to 15.

After 15, Chanakya had apparently said that a parent should just be a friend. Because after that, nothing can be done on a child’s character, it has already been formed. Now, if you become a friend, at least they won’t keep secrets from you. You can be an advisor. For all of us, Maa completely relaxed on our 16th birthdays. She said, now you guys live your life, but I am there for any advice that you ever need. So, she brought us up that way.

The other rule was that the four of us siblings were not allowed to fight with each other. Therefore, if we got into fights, we were made to stand next to each other and keep kissing each other on the cheeks up to a count of 100. Normally, we would start laughing by the end, and then we would forget what we were fighting over. Her entire logic was, the world is not going to make it easy for you. So, the four of you must be like the Rock of Gibraltar with each other. Our family passed through a lot of personal tragedies for some seven to eight years, from 2015 onwards. We kept losing people in the family, some very tragically. We could have broken down into depression or worse, during that period. But we did not. The fact that the four of us siblings are very close and always there for each other―you cannot imagine what strength that gave us all. Maa was right. Your only true strength is your family. You must treasure and cherish it.

We were always aware of the sacrifices my parents were making for us. Once, Maa had taken my sister to this convent school because that was the best school in that region, and she wanted to get her admitted there. The guard was not letting her in because he assumed that Maa was a maidservant. My sister said Maa was crying outside, but refused to leave. “I want to go in and get the form and meet the principal,” she said. Didi still feels the pain of that moment. Today, our family’s material fortunes have changed dramatically. We are living a life that they could not even have dreamt of. Now, we get the opportunity to take care of Maa, and our father when he was alive, and we love it. The fact that wives of us three brothers are also extremely close to each other, and to Didi (our eldest sister), makes it that much better for us.

My parents used to tell us all these stories, and they were always about learning philosophies and lessons. When we were sent to boarding school, they used to send long letters to us, full of philosophy, quoting the Puranas and other texts. The letters used to come every Friday, and they would be distributed in our dormitory. My twin brother and I were together in boarding school. There were many children who did not receive letters every Friday, and you could see the disappointment on their face. We, however, received thick letters, and we were 100 per cent sure our mother would never forget. Most of it would fly over our heads, because she used to write long philosophical tracts about what life is, and what we are meant to do. But somewhere, it stuck in the back of our minds.

Unlike Maa, our father used to be very indulgent. Once, when we were living in the company colony in Odisha, my brother and I wanted to go to the club to play. Maa had said no, because we had not finished our homework. And then dad came, and we asked him. Dad said yes (as he usually did), and we ran away to the club. We came back after some two hours. Maa and dad were together, and I have never seen dad so angry. For the first time in our lives, he slapped us. ‘If Maa had told you no, how dare you even ask me,’ he asked us. ‘If Maa has said no, it means I have also said no.’ We learned a good lesson. That was a slap that was worth it.

Today, Maa is 79 and lives with my wife Shivani and me. She is happy, because all four of us are settled and doing well. She goes for walks every day in our complex. We sit and chat every morning on the balcony. She is smiling most of the time. Happiness, she says, is a choice. Not getting what you want in life is a curse, she used to tell us. But an even bigger curse is getting what you want. Because you will realise that it will not give you the happiness you thought it would. She has a quiet strength and stoicism that I admire very much. She is my rockstar. Dad’s character was more intellect-driven and philosophical. We learnt how to soar from my father and how to be rooted from my mother.

A child’s character is built by the mother; my Maa was right about that, too.

As told to Anjuly Mathai