“Do they hire people for work in your company?” asked the woman who was across the counter at the local dry cleaner. I was a bit surprised at this strange question in a strange place. Of course I have known this woman for a few years. During my periodic visits to this dry cleaning facility, I have struck informal conversation with her and other workers at this place. The place is run by a Chinese family and I have seen only people of Chinese origin work at this place. My recent travels to China and a few odd Chinese words I had picked up during my travels have been the common themes for these occasional conversations. Now, this limited familiarity has prompted the question above!
“Why are you asking?” was my reply. The woman replied, “I have a son who needs work”. “How old is your son and what he is doing now?” I asked. “He is twenty years old and he needs a job. He has finished high school” she replied. Having ascertained his qualifications, I checked in my company and got the details on how to apply. Later I shared them with her. Hopefully there will be a good ending to this story!
This episode reminded me of an incident in my own life, nearly half a century ago! I had just finished my high school and looking for admission to college. Admission to any engineering college was my preference. The family elders had concurred with this direction as well! The admission process in India, particularly in those days, was not just a matter of doing well in high school and getting good scores in the entrance exams (similar to the SAT). Being born in a Brahmin – the upper class – family was strictly a deterrent in the selection process, particularly in the state where I came from. Having grown up in a village, with limited access to resources (a natural limitation for any rural kid) only thing I could do was to follow the process and hope for the best. As each day went by, the hope was a bit dimmer. Then, one day I received a telegram from my mother living 1000 miles away.
“Hurry up and travel to Hyderabad. The Director of Admissions for the Engineering College wants to see you!” said the telegram. For those who are not familiar with the telegram, it is like a personal twitter message, transmitted across post offices over long distances, using Mohr’s code and then the message hand scribed and delivered at home by the local mail man! My mother had sent this telegram to my grand parent’s home, where I was living to finish my high school. I did get my admission and that set me in my journey for a career in Engineering and to where I am today!
What I learned, when I met the admissions director is the more fascinating part of the story, which I always remember with deep respect for my mother and in turn my respect for all mothers.
It appears that my mother, in her loving care of her son took the initiative to walk up to the admission director’s office and asked, “Can you give admission in your college for my son?” Even today, I can not imagine my mother, with no formal education and with no idea of higher education, getting past the imposing barriers of college administration, walking up to this key official and in his busy admission season of the year and asking him such a question. The admissions director, after narrating this to me said, “So, tell me, why I should admit you here, beyond your mother’s recommendation?”
I am certain that every child has such a story to tell about his/her mother. It is that maternal love that makes us all, as to who we are. In some instances the stories and episodes are evident and clear. In other cases, we need to dig deep and look for the kindness that is hidden behind the maternal instincts. Maternal instinct is not always a one way street. There are situations where mother needs care and love, for no other reason than that she is the mother! It is that cyclic nature – maternal care for her children and the kindness and care of the children for the mother – that makes us who we are. Looking for such clarity in our observations and thoughts is the essence of education.
Sankaracharya, the eighth century saint in India, wrote a poem in praise of the Goddess at the temple in Varanasi,India. The saint in his prayer song seeks the following blessing: “Oh, mother, the goddess who provides food for our well-being! Please provide me the food for my mind, so that I can develop the ability to reason with objectivity and analyze with clarity on all aspects of life”.
Happy Mother’s Day!