Sunday, February 8, 2009

In the footsteps of strong women

She throws the fish head into the pot of boiling water and searches around the empty kitchen for something else to put into the soup. She tosses in idle pieces of carrots, a tomato and an onion, the last of any food in the house, even as she contemplates over what to serve for dinner the next night. It has already been a month since the mailman brought her any money – the money her husband tried to send her every few months, his small income from toiling away as a manual laborer in another distant village. There is no telling when some more money will arrive again. Until then, she will just have to find ways to stretch the meals, to raise and feed six children all on her own.

Perhaps she’ll get lucky, she reasons as she stirs the watery broth. Perhaps she’ll get some more fish heads for free from the market at the end of the day – left over pieces that nobody else wants to take home. Saving her worries over tomorrow for another day, she pours the watery liquid into six small bowls. “Not fish soup again, Ma”, complains a little voice. “Drink it up, fish head soup makes you smart”, she encourages.

Each day brings with it a new struggle. There are always school fees to be paid, doctor visits to be made, shoes to be repaired, old clothes that need stitching, six mouths that need feeding. And yet she faces every day with a resilient spirit, refusing to be knocked down by whatever struggles life brings her way.

There is a knock on the door. It’s the post man with some money. But even as she stretches her hand to receive the money, it quickly passes from her hands into the hands of all those who stretched their hands before hers, demanding payment for every favor lent in the past.

I admire her spirit of resilience, her silent tenacity. I admire this woman who is my grandmother.

She takes her first step into her husband’s home. She stands in her bridal clothes by the doorway inspecting the tiny two room house – the small kitchen and the living room that makes the entire house. There is a communal toilet outside, some distance away from the house, shared by everyone else who lives in the neighborhood. He shows her the tiny bathroom he built into the kitchen just for her, so she can take a shower with some privacy in the mornings. She peeks into its tiny space and wonders how she’ll wrap her sari around in its small space. Or how she’ll comb and braid her long hair without a mirror in the house. Lost in anxious thoughts, she looks up into the face of the man she had chosen to marry. Had she made the right decision? She had turned down suitor upon suitor because she contended, she didn’t want a rich husband who would take care of her every need, she had wanted an educated husband who would respect her and treat her as an equal. He looks at her, trying to gauge her reaction to the house, wondering what she will say. “It’s just a starter home. I’ll work hard, we’ll save money to move somewhere else later.” She looks up at him and smiles, knowing she made the right decision.

Months turn into years, and she tenderly turns the two room house into a home. Then one day, he comes home, bursting with good news. He has just been offered a job abroad, should he take it? The very thought of leaving all her friends and family depresses her. Her first instinct is to put her foot down and say no. No, they can’t leave this home that they’ve created for themselves. No, they can’t leave the family or the life that they’ve created for themselves here. But then she looks up into his face. And she sees the enthusiasm, the dreams, the ambitions, the hope, the possibilities contained within. And she nods. Yes. You should take the job. We’ll be okay.

She gazes out at the view from the airplane as it takes off, rising high up into the clouds, leaving her country, her home, and the life that she knows behind her. In that moment, she chooses instead to put her own dreams, ambitions and hope into the hands of this man she has decided to trust. To trust him completely as she starts life afresh in a whole new continent far away from home.

I admire her implicit faith in life, her very strong courage. I admire this woman who is my mother.

I turn around to take one last look at my family as I walk on to the airport gate to check in my luggage. I see the tear that rolls down my mother’s cheek, and I want so desperately to run back to her and wipe it away. She smiles at me through her tears and waves a goodbye. I lift my hand and wave back in response, a tight lump forming in my throat. The enormity of what I am about to do dawns upon me and suddenly I feel scared and afraid. Why am I leaving the security and the comfort of the only world I know to start a new life in a country whose culture and ways are alien to me? I don’t know anyone in America. I have no friends or relatives there. I will be completely on my own. What if things don’t work out the way I’d imagined them to be? What if the elusive dreams that lead me there disappeared from sight along the way? I contemplate turning around but then stop and take a step forward heading to the gate.

I’ve wondered about that moment so many times over the years. What stopped me from turning around at that moment? What prompted me to take that first step ahead, to have the courage to move to America? What made me believe I would be okay despite it all? I still don’t know the answer but somewhere deep down inside, I think it is the power of the legacy I possess. I walk in the footsteps of strong women.

~vagabond~ © 2009


bindu said...

That is such a beautiful tribute to your mother and grandmother! You write very well, and in these short paragraphs you have captured the essence of their strength. You should be proud!

Rolling said...

see, even Bindu corroborates what I say again and again.
It's amazingly written - lovely mind you have (eyes too of course)

Rolling said...

forgot to say this: it is wonderful to be acquainted with the two strong women in your life, I always felt Indian women are far stronger and vibrant than men, so, since they are my countrywomen, I wd like to think I walk in their footsteps too :)
BTW, if you hadnt pinged me wd have missed this! So thanx. KTGWU.

Winnie the poohi said...

Ahh Reminds me of a book called as hannah's daughters :)

beautifully expressed!

Deepu said...

You are the boss! :) Keep up the spirit.

Cuckoo said...

Now, do I have to say anything on this ?

You are fortunate to have such strong women in your life. And as always beautiful piece of writing.

Vamsee said...

That is the most beautiful piece I have read this week. We are usually so bogged down by our own lives that we fail to pay tribute to our elders. This is excellent Vagabond. You should have them read it.

Just call me 'A' said...

it's so beautiful. You've sum up their character so well. This is one of your best. I love it.

Inner Vision said...

Beautifully narrated….excellent effort in portraying your mother and grandmother…

Dust Unsettled said...

Great post and great going... I am sure with all this inspiration "in your blood" you will go a long way and create your own footsteps for your future generations...

Anil P said...

Rightly said, it is the 'power of legacy'.

Rolling said...

My CRD post was inspired by yours and DU's Down Memory Lane trip posts. Those were the happy days - yes, indeed. Thanks for transporting me back in time :) take care

~vagabond~ said...

I'm glad you think so. Thanks for your nice words of encouragement :)

I'm glad you liked it...and thanks for lovely comment :)

Huh. I did not ping you. But I'm glad you visited nonetheless. What's KTGWU?
*scratching my head, totally confused*

~vagabond~ said...

@Winnie the poohi:

Thanks! I've never read of hannah's daughters or heard of I'm totally curious...i need to check it out.

Welcome to my blog! :)


Thanks...and welcome to my blog! :)

~vagabond~ said...


Yes, you still do need to say something. :P're always so encouraging. :)

~vagabond~ said...


I'm glad you liked it...and your nice compliments always make my day! :)
Dunno about having them read it though...I've often thought about opening up my blog to them, but then I'm not sure if I want to let in the people closest to me into my deepest thoughts just as yet...I know some of my sad thoughts that need expressing might make them sad and I would absolutely hate that. Perhaps I'll mail it to them in a letter someday.

~vagabond~ said...

Thanks...and I'm so flattered you liked it. :)

@Inner Vision:

Thanks for your nice compliment! :)

~vagabond~ said...


Thanks. :) They are pretty big footsteps to fill into.


Yup! :)

~vagabond~ said...


Glad to have inspired a gonna go check it out right now! :)

Rolling said...

means, bozo: Keep The Good Work Up!
KTGWU. u didnt scratch hard enuf, did u :| bec u were taking those purple photas (Gujjus say that)and ur head was filled wth loving thoughts?

yeah, ok, so I wrote it down for ya.

Diva said...

Just beautiful!!!! Its amazing how you could put the words so well together. Reading this blogpost made me feel the pain, the courage, the patience, the strength and the willpower of a woman...whilst making me cry and smile at the same time.... Loved every word!!! :)

Amitabh said...

Don't flatter yourself :-)
Your mother made a choice. That's being strong. Did you? Going to America is not a big choice to exercise. I am sure there are many who would gladly trade places with you!
But I am glad you understand the legacy of strength you hold. That will help you when you really have to make a choice.
Great blog! Fantastic writing skills.

~vagabond~ said...

LOL! Thanks...I get it now.

I am flattered that you like my writing...and welcome to my blog. :)

~vagabond~ said...


With all due respect, you have not spent a day in my shoes so you are in no position to speak over whether or not I exercised a choice in coming to America. I put up bits and pieces of my life on my blog, my life in its entirety is not on display here, so kindly refrain from making judgements unless you know me.

I dont know why I feel the need to explain myself, but since this is my blog, I'll go right ahead and do it. While for a lot of people coming to America might be their dream come true, I never wanted to leave Kenya. Given a choice, I never would have left my parents to start a life elsewhere. Unfortunately, I dont come from a financially well off family where individuals get to pick and choose from a wide range of options their path in life. My dad's job in Kenya was iffy...poor pay and we didnt know how long he'd be able to hold on to it. Spend a year living in kenya and you'll soon realize that while the country is enormously beautiful, there are no jobs anywhere. There were no jobs for me there. I got "lucky" enough to get myself a really good scholarship along with a decent monthly stipend to come to America. I made the choice to leave the country I had envisioned myself growing old in, and my parents because I knew I would be able to buy both myself and them a better future with my decision to come here. It is a choice I look back on often and wonder over how different my life would have been had I not had to make the choice. It may not seem like a tough choice to you, but for me, it was a really difficult decision to make.

Thank you for your encouraging comments on my writing...and welcome to my blog. :)

Winnie the poohi said...

Ummm here is the review that I wrote about this book..

And this is a link of other review.... online

~vagabond~ said...

^Thanks, poohi...will check it out. :)

ashes said...

Amazing composition! You once again bowl me over, not only with the way you write, but also with the content! Great strong women!

Vamsee said...

I came here to check if you wrote anything new. Didn't find any, so re-read this again and loved it even more.
I just came back from visiting my folks and as much as I tell myself not to - I end up bickering with my dad. Nothing serious, just silly stuff (he won't put his seat belt and I won't move until he does...he watches TV news like 100 times a day with volume that can make you deaf). I am all nice to my mom, but don't appreciate him enough. You post made me realize that even more.

Also.....Now I know who to contact when I am ready to go to Masai Mara:)

Dust Unsettled said...

BTW, you are tagged!!! As you sow, so shall........

~vagabond~ said...


Thank you for such a nice glad you enjoy my writing. :)

~vagabond~ said...


Been busy at work and recovering from a cold, so my brain is too congested to come up with any writing...but i'm glad you enjoyed re-reading the same post and werent bored by it.
LOL. Your bickering reminds me of my own bickering with my parents when I lived at home. Over the silliest things too. With dad more than mom. Probably because my dad can be just as stubborn as I am while my mum is more accomodating and patient. In the end it's just silly fights, because deep down inside, I am so much like him.

And yup, you let me know when you want to go visit Kenya. I'll give you a personal tour. ;)

~vagabond~ said...


Nooooooooooo!! It took me forever to get rid of that other tag. And besides, if you tag me, who will I tag?

Rahi said...

strong women make strong families. all of us can owe our successes and the strength to fight failures to the women influencing our lives.

~vagabond~ said...


I agree. I know I definitely attribute a lot of my successes to the strong women in my life.